The problem with writing about Laurel Nakadate is that it’s impossible to tell how serious she’s really being. An Iowa-raised Texan, Nakadate, even in her thirties, resembles a prototypical American high schooler: freckles, barely visible eyelashes and zip-up hoodies. Most of her work is short video, the colours slightly faded like an old family home movie. ‘Get up,’ she chants, lying next to a dead bird on the pavement, ‘get up.’ Teenage girls armed with their art department’s handheld camera usually grow out of trite death exploration by the time someone beats them over the head with a copy of Candide – is she one of them or is she mocking them?
The exhibition at the Zabludowicz Collection (a beautiful venue, converted from a church and subsequently faux-dilapidated) chronicles ten years’ worth of work. Many of her videos are collaborative. She travels the US, asking the people she meets (invariably middle-aged men) to take part in her projects. Some stand awkwardly while she recites the choreography from that one Britney video; another paints her in the semi-nude with her hair bunched in pigtails. The captured relationships are bizarre; part ephebophilic, part sarcastic, part naïvely innocent. Ultimately, none of it appears to serve any purpose except to reiterate the gender dynamics everyone is already acutely aware of.
Nakadate’s photographic work is slightly less exasperating. The Star Portraits, shot long-exposure against a rural night sky, are aesthetically beautiful – but also contextualised by her refusal to meet her subjects in the daytime. Another project chronicles exactly one year of crying: 365 days of intentionally ‘taking part in sadness’. While the idea is interesting conceptually, a lack of any greater implication or explicit thesis leaves it indistinguishable from the thousands of other girls doing the exact same thing on MySpace.
Where You’ll Find Me and Love Hotel are probably the most interesting works. In the former, Nakadate recreates crime scenes. The choice to video rather than photograph the results draw attention to a social apathy towards death with a subtle humour. In Love Hotel, she (as the title suggests) visits Japanese love hotels and acts out sexual trysts with ‘invisible, absent lovers’.
There are two problems with this. First off, it sort of looks like she’s never actually had sex. Second, the constant eye-fucking of the camera (present throughout the exhibit, in fact) detracts from any intended subtext of voyeurism or solitary self-exploration the piece may have had.
Having said all that, Nakadate could very well be a brilliant artist and the exhibit an ironic mirror to the banality and repetitiveness of some particularly misguided artists attempting to explore the world from a shallow feminist perspective. However, without a single hint, however subtle, that this may be the case, she only hurls herself into the same pit as those she might have satirised.
Laurel Nakadate’s exhibition runs until December 11th at:
176 Prince of Wales Rd
Tel: 020 7428 8940