Inscrutability, Hospitality, and the Parasitic Performance of Laurel Nakadate
Notorious for staging scenarios that maximize awkwardness, Laurel Nakadate might be thought of as a contemporary artist who sculpts loneliness and discomfort as her materials of choice. As she once stated in an interview, Nakadate has a penchant for putting herself in places she does not belong, with people she seemingly does not belong with. The artist’s costars and subjects predominantly fall into one of two groups: the first, people whom one critic describes as “beer-bellied, awkward loners who seem remarkable mainly for how unremarkable they are,” and the second, pretty and bored teenage girls in domestic and rural spaces. Whether Laurel is accompanied or alone, however, the challenge and urge to belong remain recurrent themes in her work. While critics have described some of her co-stars as being pathetic and the activities practiced in her videos as exploitative, Nakadate has insisted that her work is optimistic and collaborative.
This talk will focus on Nakadate’s three-channel video installation Oops! (2000) in order to discuss the relationship among Asian/American femininity, inscrutability, and hospitality in her filmed encounters dancing alongside male strangers to Britney Spears’s 2000 smash hit. I will turn to writings on hospitality and the parasite by Jacques Derrida and Michel Serres to ask: if Orientalist discourse produces and eroticizes an affinity among Asianness, femininity, inscrutability, and hospitality, then can attunements to hospitality and inscrutability perform Asian femininity otherwise? How and when is inscrutability a useful aesthetic mode for minoritarian subjects, and can performances of inscrutability enact ethical modes of being?
Vivian L. Huang is currently the Gaius Charles Bolin Fellow in Comparative Literature and Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at Williams College. She completed her doctoral work in performance studies at New York University and is working on her book manuscript entitled Some Island Unknown to the Rest of the World: Inscrutability and Asian American Performance. Huang’s writing has appeared in the Journal of Asian American Studies and Criticism: A Journal for Literature and the Arts.