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American artist Laurel Nakadate's decade-spanning retrospective at 176 is her first UK exhibition. Her themes involve the body, sexuality and media representations, with her work being stringent and schematic – a sort of direct embodiment, in which the artist performs various roleplays in front of a static camera.
Her videos generally fall into two categories. In one sort, she collaborates with strangers met by chance or through classified ads (mainly, it has to be said, middle-aged men of the overweight, sad, and desperately lonely variety), their activities ranging from the vaguely salacious – romping with feather pillows, pretending to be dead, dancing to Britney Spears – to the overtly sexual or threatening – such as a tit-for-tat striptease, or asking to be followed around a gas station at night. In other works, she performs alone – dancing to pop music in various locations and states of undress; or, as a kind of logical conclusion to such teasing abandon, performing sex acts with an imaginary partner in the rooms of Japanese ‘love hotels’.
All of which might sound like a fairly straightforward illustration of theoretical ideas to do with the ‘male gaze’, were it not for the sense of Nakadate’s own power and enjoyment, the way she clearly revels in the vulnerability and yearning of her co-performers. Her photographs, especially, are wonderfully unsettling – particularly her project of meeting strangers in the desert in total darkness, the camera flash itself constituting the only moment of sudden, stunning exposure.
Laurel Nakadate continues at Zabludowicz Collection untl December 11 2011.