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The Performative Heart of Sadness

Is everyone on Facebook really happy all the time? Performance artist Laurel Nakadate doesn't think so, and in her photography project 365 Days: A Catalogue of Tears,  she set out to photograph herself experiencing sadness every day for a year. The pictures hang in MOMA's PS1 as part of the artist's first major museum show, titled Only the Lonely. Nakadate revolts against the idea of faking happiness and instead swings the other way-- deliberately experiencing sadness as a ritual of endurance, just to 'see where it gets her.' Luckily for us, she has chosen to document this process, and the results are equal parts hilarious and heartwrenching.

In Buddhist philosophy, happy and sad are not opposites. Nakadate addresses this non-duality in many of the works currently on display at Ps1. Can something be hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time? Nakadate goes out into the desert and 'dances for Britney Spears' as a ritual to help the musician through her spate of personal and professional problems. (Exorcism 3, Dancing in the Desert for Britney, pictured) Nakadate spoke about this during a presentation at Union Docs in Brooklyn, where she mentioned that she wanted to know what it meant for her to perform a personal ritual for a big star who would never know her and never know what was being performed for her. I personally see this as a little similar to my own meditation practice. When I am meditating on, say, taking on the suffering of those in Japan, I know that no one who is in Japan right now and suffering because of recent events will ever know that that's what I am doing, nor do I really hope or expect any particular fruition of my 'labors.' But can it change me? Can it mean something? I don't know. When I watch this video at PS1, I do start to think that these personal, feverish moments can meet the world at large in a way to extends beyond whatever it is that I consider to be my 'self.'

Much of Nakadate's work is the product of chance. She  seems to operate under the principle that we are all already equipped with the tools necessary to navigate our world. In her works where she meets men in Home Depot parking lots and then goes home with them to participate in dance routines or exorcisms, she is addressing the sheer excruciating nature of taking a chance encounter and trying to turn it into something 'real,' or lasting. These videos are artifacts of a moment in time which, to her, is just as valuable as any lengthy emotional connection (which, by the way, is something she does sometimes maintain with some of her subjects.) This, of course, brings into question just what is a 'real' encounter with someone. What is genuine? Is it ironic that we can learn something about being genuine and real from an artist who is performative by nature, enacting a hybrid of the real and the fictitious? Maybe that's what we're all doing all the time. Nakadate says it best herself when she characterizes her body of work: "I think the one theme that runs through all of my work is the desire to connect with strangers and the beauty found in that desire."

Laurel Nakadate's show will be up at PS1 through August, and the artist has some new work going up at Leslie Tonkonow Gallery starting May 7th.

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