Lonesome States

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Lonesome States

For the third time in five months, I'm writing about another female artist with ties to Iowa. Mendieta and Ewing both attended the University of Iowa, and Laurel Nakadate lived there before moving on to Boston's Museum School and Yale.

Only The Lonely is the first major museum exhibition of photography, film and video by Nakadate. Now at MoMA's PS1, the show premieres her recent photographs, 365 Days: A Catalogue of Tears, a series in which the artist documented herself before, during and after a performance of daily weeping. Nakadate's work deals with "voyeurism, loneliness, the manipulative power of the camera."

The main character in most of her work (with the exception of two feature length films), Nakadate relies on her nubile body and those captivated by her girlish whims. From the description of Little Exorcisms, the artist explains her work as "...little performances in which I investigate how small rituals, personal exorcisms, actions, and visceral reactions bump up against the larger world and the strangers I meet as I navigate through transient places."

Laurel Nakadate, Exorcism in January, 2009. From Fever Dreams at the Crystal Motel. Copyright Laurel Nakadate. Courtesy Leslie Tonkonow Artworks+Projects.

For the majority of her work, Nakadate has engaged men who mack on her. But not your average guy. She specifically seeks out strangers invisible to society: the older, unfit, dismayed and unattractive loner in towns most of us haven't heard of. Nakadate talks back and turns them into her captive audience, her mesmerized collaborators. She meets them on the street, at grocery stores, or in parking lots—Home Depot lots are especially sociable.

Initially, she started going into men's homes with a camera and creating performances. Like a telephone game of sex talk, or games of playing dead as seen in Beg For Your Life. In another construct of pretend, Happy Birthday shows Nakadate in the homes of three men, each singing Happy Birthday to her as she sits by, candlelight flickering in her eyes, a gaze proving her own lucidity by affirming control to the camera. And lucidity is key.