Tiger Tiger Burning Bright: Interview with Laurel Nakadate
Adam Berner: What led you to this project, and how did you arrive at the decisions you made?
Laurel Nakadate: When I set out to make this work in 2009, I wanted to create a performance in which physical evidence was created out of the actions of the performance itself. I had long been struggling to find ways to record my performances outside of simply videotaping them. I wanted physical documentation, made from within the performance, to exist after the performance ended.
Adam: Many of the images in “Lucky Tiger” have an American-West aesthetic. Why?
Laurel: The landscapes in these images are the images of cowboy movies, fantasy Western dreamlands. I wanted the landscapes to play into the over-the-top pin-up calendar, girlfriend-in-a-landscape, road-trip feeling.
Adam: You claim that the photos are intentionally ‘bad.’ What sort of men did these ‘bad’ photos attract and did any of them surprise you?
Laurel: When I say “bad” I mean that they fall closer to the category of vernacular photography of a girl in a bikini than to high art photography. Nothing really surprised me, because I had no idea what to expect when I began. When I shot my films, I leaned heavily on this idea that the chance encounters and last-minute reveals would be the beautiful things.
Adam: Where did you have the men meet you and how did they interacted with the images?
Laurel: The passing-of-the-images-around-while-fingerprinted part of the performance was performed a number of times. On one occasion it was performed with a single man in his home. On another, it was performed with men I met via Craigslist in New York. I sat in the room with the men and asked them to each cover their hands in fingerprinting ink. I then took out the stack of photos and asked them to pass them around as they discussed what they saw in each image.
Adam: In many of the photographs there are fingerprints which cover your face. What are your thoughts on this objectification of yourself, or at least of your image?
Laurel: I found it endlessly fascinating to observe where and how the men touched the images. We’re always told not to touch the face of photographs. I was fascinated by the placement of their fingerprints which was both telling and also vulnerable.
Adam: Your work clearly draws upon gender, sexuality, and power. Do you view your own artwork as feminist activism?
Laurel: The work is absolutely feminist. I hope that my work has added to and complicated the conversations surrounding gender discourse. I hope that I've left a small bread crumb trail that resonates. The work means different things to different people; it has been imitated and re-performed. It has brought me great joy as an artist, and for me, that is enough.
Adam: Why is it that you feel so drawn to working with strangers?
Laurel: I like working with people who I didn't know moments before the performance began. I love watching people meet for the first time, I love learning about people from the ground up. There is still everything to learn about a stranger, which is so thrilling.
Adam: While the series itself is entirely based upon imbalances of sexual agency, do you think it undermines those imbalances themselves, and if so, how?
Laurel: I actually see the performance as an uncomfortable and complicated seesaw of power. I wanted the work to raise questions and to take the viewer through many twists and turns.
Adam: Do you believe that there is a thread that runs through all of your work?
Laurel: Longing. Everything I’ve made has been about longing.
Adam: Is it your longing, or longing in general? If it is your longing, what do you long for?
Laurel: Everyone's longing. The space between what we have, and what we want. Longing for imaginary things, longing for lost loves, longing for worlds that don't exist, longing for childhood pets, longing for sunsets, longing for childhood, longing for parents, longing for summertime, longing for the state fair, longing for a best friend, longing for darkness and stars, longing for tears, longing for the American West, longing for rooms that have forgotten us, longing for all the people we've ever met.
This interview has been condensed and edited. To read our full conversation with Laurel, check out our latest issue RISK.