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Is It Art? Laurel Nakadate: Provocateur, Manipulator, Lolita...

Laurel Nakadate may be this decade’s most inspired, prescient, and provocative video artist and photographer. Or, she may be the most exploitive, manipulative, and narcissistic artist of her generation. She has been described as both by art critics. Although her art can be polarizing and controversial, it refuses to be easily dismissed.

Nakadate, based out of New York City, is perhaps best known for her videos and photographs, which depict the artist in constructed scenes of seduction with middle-aged lonely hearts. The men selected for these encounters with the stunningly attractive artist, are the types who go unnoticed by the female gaze in daily life. These works examine male self-delusion, loneliness, gender roles, and the predatory and dangerous nature of chance encounters, to often-unnerving effect.

Nakadate is as much the focus of her work as the men she interacts with. As a viewer, it is sometimes difficult to separate the artist from the hyper-sexualized participant. Like artists Cindy Sherman and Hannah Wilke-who also inject themselves physically into their work-this ability to transcend “self” while infusing so much of it into her art, is what makes Nakadate’s work so compelling. The erotic subtext of much of her films and photographs might be better understood as pretext.

These images seem to subvert conventional ideas of what constitutes "intimacy" between people. The artist seems to be commenting on the distance sexual needs and relationships can create. Many societal taboos concerning violence, death, and suicide are sexualized. Nakadate often casts herself in the role of "Lolita" in her work. Her art requires that you reconcile primal reactions to what you see with the intellectual genesis behind them.

Most recently, Nakadate has completed her first feature length film as director. The film, entitled “Stay The Same Never Change”, is due to debut at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009. This medium should prove an interesting canvas for the artist to expand and meld the inherent narratives and visual sensibilities of her art. The film was cast entirely with non-professional actors. Stills from the film convey the alienation and subjugation of life in small-town America. These themes are perfectly suited to the artist’s well-trained eyes and ears, as exampled by her body of work thus far.

Laurel Nakadate’s art is particularly relevant for a time when social networking, self-documenting, and reality based programming dominate our culture. The by-product of a people living an increasingly virtual existence, often removed from actual experience by camera lenses and computer screens, can be a profound loss of connectivity-the very thing these technologies are designed to enhance.

Nakadate often stares unflinchingly into the camera, as the men in her films fixate on her. This level of self-awareness would appear to mirror the virtual world so many prefer to inhabit. Laurel Nakadate is at the fore of asking uncomfortable questions that elicit equally uncomfortable answers.

For further reading on Laurel Nakadate see links below:

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