I gave a talk at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, last week about looking at art. When you approach a piece of art, how does it make you feel? What does it spark in you? At the end, someone came up to me and said it’s one thing to talk about how you feel, but she still didn’t like Modernism. I realized that I didn’t address art that makes you uncomfortable. Because it often does, and that doesn’t mean it’s bad or that you’re ignorant. What it may mean is that the artist is asking questions in ways that prod you. Art makes me uncomfortable frequently. The goal is to sit with it and see what it’s all about.
Laurel Nakadate: Say You Love Me, an exhibition of several of Nakadate’s videos at the Sert Gallery at Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, is one of the most unnerving shows I’ve seen lately. Nakadate invites strange, older men who try to pick her up in parking lots to collaborate with her in making videos. They improvise scenes, like the one above in “Exorcism in January,” in which each pretends to exorcise evil spirits from the other. The scene is intimate, the acting is awkward, but the acting is not the point; the point is the dynamic between Nakadate and her collaborator. It’s an uneasy power relationship. There’s yearning, and there’s a gulf between them. Erotic undertones and a sense of threat. All quite discomforting. Because ultimately, these videos dive deep into a very uncomfortable theme: loneliness.
Also at the Carpenter Center, Harvard-based theoretical physicist Lisa Randall and artist Lia Halloran have co-curated “Measure for Measure,” an exhibit about scale and perception. When the show sticks to visual perception, it’s provocative and fun. I loved Barbara Parmet’s composite photo “Redwood with Floating Pine Needles,” for which she used several cameras and more lenses. The show takes a wrong turn when it veers into social and economic injustice. It’s timely to examine the scale that separates the one percent from the 99 percent, but these are such human problems, and everything else in “Measure for Measure” is gauged way beyond our own size.