Wednesday, April 27, 2011


PRODIGY: The artist at four months

A Burgeoning Film Career Based on Random Encounters (New York Times, February 24, 2011).... Everything Ms. Nakadate has done during her decade-long career is discomfiting, and willfully so. Some will call her a narcissist, an opinion not dispelled by a display of 365 large color photographs of herself crying — one for every day of 2010 — in most cases stripped down to her underwear or less.

…..Rather than brush off the attention of unknown men, [Nakadate] would engage with some of the least appealing specimens: balding, overweight, badly dressed, pathetic solitaries in their 40s, 50s and 60s. In response to their advances, she would propose to go home with them if they would collaborate with her in making an art video. (more)

The Serial Sleepover Artist (New York Times, April 13, 2011) ....Ms. Robinson imagined a 13-week-long performance-art piece, and offered herself up as a guest (10 hours of housework included, but the host must supply the toothpaste) to anyone who would have her. (more)

I was planning to keep it secret for at least another few years, but after Keith Richards stole my title for his autobiography (that’s the last time I confide in him!) and I read about Laurel Nakadate and Kenya Robinson in the Times, I realized I had to reveal my project to the world. Everyone should know that I was there first.

So, yes, it’s called Life, and when completed, will be the longest performance art piece ever executed, as it started with my birth and will end when I’m eighty or ninety and choose to leave this body. I actually hit on the concept before I was born, since hanging out in the womb for nine months gave me a lot of time to think. The idea was to explore issues of gender, sexual identity, race, economic status, suburban ennui and the malleability of language in an extreme situation: the actual world. Luckily my father was a good amateur photographer, which meant that the first three years of my life were well documented in daily snapshots for which I often posed nude, topless, and sometimes crying. However I never felt that suffering was necessary for my work to be important. Rather I thought it would be even more challenging (but perhaps less acceptable to the art world, which associates grimness with significance) if I insisted on meeting each event that came my way with a cheerful attitude. I mean as long as I’m going to all this trouble, I might as well have fun.

And fun it has been, especially the part that anticipated Nakadate and Robinson’s work with strangers. Funded by odd jobs and fueled by alcohol and various well-chosen drugs, that segment of my practice took place over not months but years when, in the late seventies and early eighties, I regularly invited random people into my home or went to theirs, following late nights at Max’s Kansas City or Danceteria. Inventing what eventually became known as scatter art, I kept mementos of these encounters—single socks, not-so-white tighty whities, condom wrappers, ripped fishnet stockings and cassette tapes by the Fleshtones and the Weather Girls—stuffed into plastic garbage bags that would occasionally burst open, leaving their contents in piles on the floor.

The endurance aspect of my work has spanned decades, starting with having to sing “Old MacDonald” in nursery school, sitting next to Jimmy Earle as he picked his nose in Miss Reese’s fifth grade, and myriad temp jobs as a Kelly Girl (Marina Abramovic should try spending eight hours a day in the basement office of the Purchasing Manager at Evanston Hospital). Currently I've been focusing on phone encounters with customer service, notably the automated voice prompts utilized by Apple and Verizon, where I have made the significant discovery that yelling “fuck” loudly into the receiver gets me routed immediately to a live representative.

Although conceived of as a single performance, as I have grown and changed, so has my work. Influenced by the writings of Derrida and Foucault, my thinking has become increasingly post-structuralist so that now, not wanting to be confined to a single theme, I'm choosing to thrust myself directly into the environment where, unfettered by artificial manipulation or even expectation, I simply allow my work to unfold. This decision has its roots not only in philosophy but practicality, because if there's one thing I've learned from doing this, it's that no matter how much I plan, shit happens.


Rico said...

Brilliant. LMAO. Somehow I think this ties into the work of Tino Sehgal; certainly what you're working on cannot be truly bought or sold, thus you subvert market-based manipulation of your pure artistic expression. Brava!

Emily said...

Shit. It is the color, the feeling, the texture, of now! Thanks for reminding us of what it smells like when the art world becomes too full of it. A treat to read.

what I think alot of these ladies are really basking in, however, is a misguided and troubling take on postfeminism. (of course they are covering their asses by referencing everything else, as well, in their press releases). What is so empowering, so fresh, about showing your tits and/or humiliating men? Can women only identify themselves through the lens of sex, or the opposite sex? It's boring, and its superficial, and it shows that feminism in the art has been hijacked by slim-bodied exhibitionists. Can true self-inquiry through art be possible in this environment? A friend is curating a show of women painters right now, and non of the artists (save one) want to touch the f-word with a ten foot pole.

Brad Ford Smith said...

Great insight on how art can give meaning to an otherwise mundane life.

I was really starting to wonder what I was going to do with all this crap I have stored in the 2 bedrooms that I can't open the doors to anymore. All I need is an alternative gallery space and a grant to cover shipping and framing. Oh, and an artist's statement.

Pretty Lady said...


My trajectory closely parallels your own; I, too, once spent eight hours a day in the basement of a hospital, acting as temporary secretary for the Environmental Services department, formerly known as Housekeeping. The anti-establishment cartoons I produced at this time were published in an underground 'zine called 'theoryslut,' which went bankrupt after 'Fact Sheet Five' featured it in their Top Ten, producing an onslaught of demand, and the publisher (who happened to be my ex-boyfriend) discovered that his production expenses exceeded his list price.

LXV said...

After the first paragraph I had to run to the kitchen and pour a nice glass of something with rocks in it. Then I got comfortable. What a great read. I'm still laughing. Thanks.

joan said...

I liked the comments even better than the piece which I also liked!

Oriane Stender said...