The Provocateur: Laurel Nakadate

Laurel Nakadate, Still from Oops!, 2000Photo: Courtesy of Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, New York

A lot of Laurel Nakadate’s work involves middle-aged men who try to pick her up. The artist then takes them home to “collaborate”—resulting in projects like Oops!, a video in which she and those sad-sack guys dance to Britney Spears. Her recent MoMA P.S. 1 survey also included 365 Days, a series in which she photographed herself crying daily for a year, and Good Morning, Sunshine, in which she orders young women to strip down to their underthings.

Critics have called your work exploitative and predatory. Is it?
The minute you aim the camera at human beings, particularly non-actors, you’re part of that conversation—that Photo 101, Susan Sontag exploitation problem. Their harsh reaction is part of the performance, because it raises questions and struggles to answer them. After hundreds of years of art history, a young half-Asian girl meets older white men, and she’s the predator? Suddenly no one can take it?

You’re also attractive, and that bothers people.
Anybody who attacks me for that is anti-­feminist. I have the right to make these performances with the body and the face I was given.

For 365 Days, you photographed yourself crying every day for a year. Narcissistic?
It was, in some ways, a reaction to the early criticism of being a narcissist. I was playing off the idea of narcissism in self-portraiture in contemporary times, with the iPhone at arm’s length. We’re all sort of narcissists now.

And you have had a lot of attention paid lately. What was different about showing at P.S. 1?
Space! When Klaus Biesenbach first invited me, I envisioned some little project room. Then he shows me the whole second floor and goes, “Will this be enough space?” He wanted people to spend time with each piece.

Did the show change anyone’s opinion?
I got lots of e-mails from people apologizing for judging my work too harshly early on: “This is the first time your work really made sense for me.” It’s one of those strange compliments, because you’re like, “Well, then, I guess maybe you didn’t get it ­before?”

The Provocateur: Laurel Nakadate