Laurel Nakadate, Strangers and Relations @Leslie Tonkonow

JTF (just the facts): A total of 20 large scale color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung spotlit against dark grey walls in the entry hallway and the main gallery space. All of the works are Type-C prints, made between 2011 and 2013. The 3 works from the Star Portraits series are each 40×60, in editions of 3. The 17 works from the Relations series are each 30×45, also in editions of 3. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Laurel Nakadate’s photographs of DNA-sharing distant relatives are a kind of backwardly reflecting, composite self-portrait. Following the path of her maternal lineage through various genealogy websites, she contacted far off “family” all over America, and then traveled the country making nighttime portraits of these strangers. In each image, there is a sense of search, of trying to piece together the underlying connection between this seemingly random person and the artist. It’s a tenuous, somewhat lonely exercise in identity building, where each diverse portrait might (or might not) offer a clue to a tiny part of who Nakadate is or might become.

Drawing on the foundations of her previous Star Portraits project, Nakadate photographed her Relations subjects in open fields and empty back yards at night, where long exposures capture the starlight and the last glow of the day against the enveloping blanket of darkness. Each relative stands bathed in the bright glare of a hand held flash light, spotlit like a classic sucked into the sky alien abduction or a deer in the headlights cinematic moment. The effect is something like a snapshot examination, or the surprising result of a forest canvassing for a missing person.

Nakadate’s DNA kin are about as diverse as one could imagine: a friendly doctor with a stethoscope, a serious man in overalls toting a high powered rifle, a baby in a bassinet, an older woman with several dwarf ponies (wearing a May the Horse Be With You t-shirt), a black girl with a jaunty orange felt hat, a young woman with orange and pink dyed hair wearing a dress covered in galaxy swirls, an older man in a blue polo bathrobe and cowboy boots, the list goes on and on, with seemingly no pattern or identifiable commonality. What we are left with is the eccentricities of everyday America, a melting pot of races, outlooks, and ways of living, all of which somehow tie back to Nakadate and who she is. Each face of a stranger is a seeking, an attempt to follow the breadcrumbs to missing answers and long forgotten reasons.

Nakadate’s artistic career to date (both in photography and video) has often probed the depths of her relationships with strangers. What’s different here is that now the strangers are “of” her rather than apart from her, somehow already on her side as opposed to being in conflict or contrast. The chasm to bridge and the general wariness are still there, but the uncomfortable tension is lessened somehow. When we see everyone related to everyone, we are more likely to look for (and find) commonality not difference. While Nakadate’s indirect self portrait is still a bit forlorn (am I here? or here? or here?), there is something quietly optimistic about seeing the world with so many potential lines of connection.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are generally priced based on size. The 40×60 prints are $20000 each and the 30×45 prints are $9000 each; apparently the images are available in multiple sizes (some not on view), so the prices here reflect what was shown on the walls. Nakadate’s prints have not yet reached the secondary markets with any regularity, so gallery retail is likely the best/only option at this point for those collectors interested in following up.

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Read more about: Laurel Nakadate, Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects

One comment

  1. Anonymous /

    Isn't that already a show on HBO (Family Tree)?

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