FROM LESSONS 1-10 “I was always trying to reference the everyday girl that becomes the sex object,” says Laurel Nakadate, “and how do you deal with the everyday girl acting up.”
Laurel Nakadate has danced to Britney Spears with lonely strangers and traveled the country photographing herself in fake pin-ups. In her 2000 video Happy Birthday, she pretends to celebrate her birthday with middle-aged guys who'd tried to ask her out. One man tries to make conversation, but the others are uncomfortably silent, avoiding eye contact, except when, at her request, they sing "Happy Birthday" or mumble about having another slice of cake.
>> SLIDESHOW: "Say You Love Me" + "Hungry For Death: Destroy All Monsters" <<
Over and over in her riveting, squirmy, creepy, eight-video survey "Say You Love Me" at Harvard's Carpenter Center (24 Quincy St, Cambridge, through December 22), Nakadate, who was born in 1975 and studied at Boston's Museum School (BFA 1998) and Yale before settling in New York, is the pretty young thing in tight tank tops and sexy short shorts playing make believe with dumpy, single, middle-aged men in their shabby apartments.
The unscripted situations ring stranger-danger alarm bells. We expect the men (non-actors) to take advantage of her, but Nakadate turns the tables, exposing their desperate, pitiful loneliness and desire. The videos are about the pickup game, about how we talk people into bed, about the ache for human connection.
In Beg for Your Life (2006), she asks strangers she met as she traveled across America to pretend to beg for their lives as she holds a gun to their heads and pretends to shoot them dead. If that weren't unsettling enough, she play-fights with a guy on a bed who pretends not to want to let her go home to her parents. He fake punches her into unconsciousness.
"I was always trying to reference the everyday girl that becomes the sex object, and how do you deal with the everyday girl acting up," Nakadate said at a November 17 Harvard talk. In the early videos, she said, the guys approached her first, inviting her to hang out. "I don't think they're all innocents in this." But part of the moral queasiness created by her candid camera comes from the sensation that she often seems to be picking on the little guy.
Which may make Nakadate a jerk, but a kinder person probably couldn't so harrowingly plumb the depths of danger, isolation, sadness, poverty, alienation, desire, youth, aging, arousal, heartache, embarrassment, insecurity, shyness, manipulation, and cruelty.
The legendary '70s Michigan art gang and noise-rock band Destroy All Monsters was founded by Mike Kelley, Cary Loren, Niagara, and Jim Shaw at a house party in 1973. They played their first gig at a comics convention — which they were asked to leave after 10 minutes of (in Kelley's words) their "horrid strains."
They weren't exactly influential, but they are an example of a mutation that has independently and repeatedly appeared over the years— in the likes of Ivan Albright, the Hairy Who, Gary Panter, Survival Research Laboratories, and Fort Thunder.