2016 Plainspeak: Nathan Sharratt is a conceptualartist who uses a wide range of materials and methods to seek meaning andauthenticity in a postinternet age. His work resonates between the cognitiveand the visceral to form connections or to lament at their absence. A spectrum ofsubject matter and execution methods evoke the challenges we face in finding cohesivemeaning when mass media and the Internet—our primary sources of locatingourselves within the greater world—disseminates disparate facts as news andnews as entertainment. Any single artwork of Nathan’s may be explored on itsown, or further connected to the larger art organism. This reflects ourcontradictory desires to be unique individuals, but also our need to belong toa community. Rooted in personal experiences that range from the convolutedarbitrariness of societal administration—being an orphan for ten minutes at agefive thanks to a bizarre Massachusetts custody law—to the emotional experiencesof everyday life, Nathan’s work pulls apart social contracts and mores toreveal their causal relationships. Then, with the inner scaffolding exposed, hefolds in a complex system of signs, symbols, situations and transpositions topromote new ways of looking and thinking. The tools and systems they passthrough affect each art in meaningful ways: Bright colors and catchy slogansmimic advertising, mass media and Internet memes while new materials anddigital production methods like 3D printers speak to relationships betweenvalue, novelty and labor. His performance work explores situations of personalconnection and intimacy, while his social media art looks at discourse and thepresentation of selfhood. Nathan’s work embraces contradiction as a conduit totruth, and does not ask for forgiveness in doing so.
2015 Artspeak: I dissect social contracts to challenge personal agency within a cultural framework. I use the body as a conduit through which collective anxieties manifest using flawed technology, language, and cultural artifacts. Minimalist pop aesthetics combine organic and mechanical growth to create a hybrid human/machine monster that executes base desires while searching for companionship and meaning.
Through the framework of past, present, and (projected) future social mores, the limits of human imagination are wrought from the ether by mechanized processes; themselves subject to the limitations of human tolerances (manual labor counterpoints emerge as arguments against efficiency). Cultural currency (memes, selfies, newsclips, recorded and physical history, internet and media culture) is inserted into the vending systems of these mechanical and computer-assisted production methods (new and old) which are then broken apart, dissected, cataloged, and remixed to reveal the unique characteristics that define the timbre of the process or machine (operator née creator). These mechanical brushstrokes are then viewed as a feature, not a bug, and celebrated as a means of redefining the bidirectional lens through which we assert our identity upon the world from one that abdicates agency to one that assumes it. This forces us to acknowledge, if not accept, our individual responsibilities as being as integral as the mechanical and social constructs we inhabit, and just as flawed.
Michael Rooks; Contemporary Curator, High Museum of Art
"[In Nathan Sharratt's] work I recognize an excavation of selfhood that is painful, tragic, glorious, and revelatory."
Louis Corrigan; Possible Futures Founder
"Much of [Sharratt's] work has a playful, apparently ironic sheen. But that's mostly a disguise for his earnest exploration of human connectedness"
Barbara Archer; Owner, Barbara Archer Gallery
"[Sharratt] plays with pop culture and textuality, while addressing self-exploration and reflection that is both profound and vulnerable"
2013: I was an orphan for ten minutes.
My mother is biological, my father adoptive. When I was five my parents got married and my stepfather wanted to adopt me. Massachusetts state law at the time wouldn’t allow a child to be adopted who had a legal parent or guardian so my mother gave me up to the state, only to adopt me minutes later along with my father. I waited in limbo in the hall of the courthouse while papers were signed. My birth name was Nathan Dylan Julian Joseph Edward Stanley Kaczynski. Once adopted, my legal name became Nathan Dylan Julian Sharratt. I didn’t feel any different, yet something had changed.
When I was adopted the external perception of who I was and what defined me shifted, creating a conflict between interior identity and exterior perception. I am not defined by having one biological parent and one non-biological parent, but the intensity of the pressure that society places on choosing one identity means I am both and neither. My identity is fluid, defined as much by perception as by circumstance. My work aims to reconcile those competing forces and bridge the gap between reality and perception.
Language is an important element of my process. Short statements are integrated with visual cues that allow for the reconfiguration of meaning. My “True Stories” series of stainless steel plaques feature short phrases from my past that sound false or exaggerated but are true, such as “I Was An Orphan. For Ten Minutes.,” and “Jack Bauer Gave Me A Lap Dance On My 30th Birthday.”. With these statements I play with reversals of perception and reality: By locking these recollections in metal, I create a sense of authority and history. Authorship is confused by polishing the surface of the text to a mirror finish, bringing the viewer into the work not only visually but cognitively as the viewer reads the text. The content of the language begins with me, but becomes embedded in and assumed by the viewer. This forms a bond between us.
My solo exhibition titled, “Come Inside. Me.” grew out of a desire to forge connections between my personal experience and the viewer. The exhibition was installed in a vacant shotgun house. Each room held art and installations that reflected the perceptions of home and family, and the experiences and relationships that shape identity. The range of perceptions associated with the word, “Home,” spans a wide gamut. A home can be a place of intimacy, security, safety, and love, or it can be a place of nightmares, secrets, shame, and violence. These opposing identities occupy the same space and compete for dominance as the reality of what happens inside the home conflicts with the perception of the home and its occupants as viewed from the outside.
I approach these confusing and contradictory ideas from a place of sensory reaction. In “Breathe Together,” my grandmother was dying because she couldn’t breathe, so I breathed for her. By recreating some of her final breaths, I was able to connect the perception of the past, when she was alive but looked like she couldn’t breathe, to the present reality, when she isn’t alive and can’t breathe. The video of my grandmother’s image and my breathing sounds was installed in a bedroom for the “Come Inside. Me.” exhibition. Her leftover oxygen tubes hung from the ceiling in a tangled mess while the ceiling fan reminded viewers that even though air is all around us, we won’t always be able to access it.
In “Shave Piece (My Grandfather Cut John F. Kennedy’s Hair),” I again looked to my family as a starting point. My grandfather was a barber who once cut JFK’s hair, and I wanted to examine my identity through this link to history. I wanted to connect with my grandfather through his profession that brought him into contact with a person who had a significant effect on history. In the performance, I used my grandfather’s antique straight razor to shave a beard I had been growing for six months. Never having used a straight razor, I asked my grandfather for instructions. His instructions turned out to be vague and incomplete, so I supplemented my knowledge through YouTube tutorials. I tried to shave with the antique razor, but failed because it wasn’t sharp enough. I had to complete the process with a new, disposable-blade straight razor. My desire to connect to the past by recreating it collided with reality and brought a new level of complexity and meaning to the work that would not have existed had everything gone as planned.
This process of discovery is inherent in my work. I seek understanding through connections, set up a framework based on my preconceived ideas about what I want to learn, and through execution allow for reality to alter the course however it may.
2011 Artspeak: I am interested in exploring common denominators on a primordial level; how we're all connected at the most basic human levels. My work varies widely in form, function and media and maintains a network of conceptual connective tissues that resonates between the cognitive and the visceral. Through this network I encourage a favorable combination of circumstances to simultaneously elicit responses from the personal and the universal. I set the stage and impel the viewer to discover their own connecting truths. Agitating the micro exposes sinew in the macro and vice versa; this diametric harmony drives me. In coming into contact with my work, whether static or participatory, the viewer encounters a façade that belies an additional layer of emotive catharsis. While some works strive to strike directly at exposed nerves, humor, wit, and play often fill the role of emotional safety net. Through these comfort tools, I urge the viewer to lower barriers and tap into a deeper level of their authentic self, consciously or otherwise; I want you to feel safe going in so you don’t mind opening yourself up to the possibility of deeper truths. I often use myself as the vehicle through which the viewer and I are able to achieve a state of symbiosis. It is my goal that in this cathartic state the viewer has the opportunity to cross the stopgap lines in the sand that prevent us from making new connections, and are better able to blur the boundaries between me, you, and us.
2011 Plainspeak: I'm interested in truths which we most try to deny. This involves digging into some deep, dark and scary places, so I work to create multiple entry points and often use playfulness and humor as disarming agents. I use performance, installation and interactivity as a way to break down artist/viewer boundaries so that new connections may be formed. I’m also very interested in stories, both expressed and experienced, and the infinitely branching paths each life has. I find that there is a resonance between the cognitive and the visceral, particularly in the nuances of interpersonal communication. For example, things we think versus things we feel. What we say versus what we do. Or how language is incredibly effective, yet so capable of misinterpretation.