Dakota Gearhart on Birth, Blobs, and the Surreal, Pornographic Nature of... Nature

The first time I saw one of Dakota Gearhart’s videos (the one above), I almost cried I laughed so hard.

Her work is sort of like avant-garde Dada nature porn. When I say “nature porn,” I don’t mean that in the same way people say “food porn.” No, these are not beautiful HD images of canyons and waterfalls. When I say “nature porn” I mean dirty, voeyuristic films in which Gearhart comes on to birds and trees like a scummy San Fernando adult film director. They are disorienting, surreal, and funny.

She’s a recent grad of the Masters in Fine Arts program from UW, and will be showing her work at Interstitial Theatre’s special Pop-Up gallery in Belltown, a Storefronts Seattle project, opening this Friday from 6-9 p.m. The show, RINSE|REUSE|REPEAT, is “a video art show dealing with the the tension that builds through the repetitive actions we take in an effort to achieve happiness.”

Below, I talk to Gearhart about nature, porn, birth, blobs, and the intersection of cynicism and wonder:

Seattle Weekly: Tell me a bit about the tree porn? And the bird porn? Is voyeurism the conceptual glue that binds your work together?

Dakota Gearhart: I just feel like a lot of times in my experience as a human being, it’s a really pornographic experience, y’know? It’s funny, but it’s true. It’s sort of like these sacred things, or things that kind of make existence possible are commodified and judged and turned into desire.

SW: What do you mean?

DG: Well, I don’t know, I kind of enjoy it. Like this hanging potted plant over here (gestures to plant hanging from light pole) you know, there’s something really desiring about it. Something really commodified about it. But you know, that’s a piece of nature right there. That’s a whole ecosystem just growing, and we found a way to kind of commodify it and compartmentalize it as a little treat for us.

SW: Well, is it like the horticulture section at Home Depot? Do you feel the same way there?

DG: Oh my gosh, that’s even better. That’s something I really like to do with my videos. You know, take something like the horticulture section at Home Depot, and maybe put a voice or some other layer on top of it that’s like a really intimate point of view. I think those things are really intimate. A flower is really intimate, you know, the things it suggests. I’m really glad it’s funny, because I’ve struggled to be funny all my life.

SW: It was funny, but in a really unsettling, confusing way, which is my favortie kind of funny. Is that sort of initial confusion your intention?

DG: My intent is what I’d call “bittersweet wonder.” I think imagination is wonderful, but I have to admit that I’ve been alive long enough to harbor some cynicism, which I try to harbor with my “wonder” because I think it makes for a much more interesting formula.

SW: What do you mean harboring your cynisicm with your wonder?

DG: Well, I think it’s really easy to be cynical, and it’s a lot harder to be wonderful. Too much of either one is uninteresting to me.

SW; Too much wonder and then you’ve got Amelie.

DG: Exacty. And that has it’s time and place, but you know, I can watch Amelie, and then also watch and really enjoy a documentary on sweat shops. Life is really grey, and I’m interested in those nuances. What I’m doing is trying to explore where the nuanced shades of grey in wonder and cynicism intersect.

SW: Where’s the cynicism come into your work? Is that the pornographic nature of the work?

DG: It comes in just with the Home Depot thing we were talking about earlier. Or, you know, the pornography thing, I don’t know about you but I think porn is really depressing. It serves a purpose, but I find it really depressing. I think it’s kind of sad, a tragic commodification of love and sex and reproduction. A connection with another human being in a literal way, both physically and spiritually. It’s really weird. When I see bugs doing it, it really freaks me out. I remember being 11 years old and seeing the porn channel on late at night with all the static. That was salacious and wonderful for me. The static kissing and the two bodies, like this sort of static haze over it all.

SW: Well what was it about the static haze over it all that you dug?

DG: I just think a little bit of imagination goes a long way.

SW: I know some of your other work explores the idea of birth, what’s that mean to you?

DG: Well the cold hard facts here are that I can split into two. I need help, of course, but what a bizarre, incredible thing! I have skill, it’s straight talent, I can split myself and make another human being. I was trying to detach that from all the other things that came with it, you know, (speaking in a breathy wistful tone) “Oh, what’s it like to have a baby? I’m bringing another life into the world! Oh oh!” You know, I wanted to look at just the facts. The biological facts. The wild ability I have to transfer life. It makes my ego swell. I can split in two and then the second thing will come out of my vagina. That happens all the time. It gets taken for granted. It’s not about birth or being a woman, it’s just about how amazing that fantasy reality gets looked over. Like, what if a table split in two?

SW: I know you also like blobs a lot.

DG: I love that form. It’s a symbol for me of mutation and regeneration. It’s kind of a symbol of sex in a way, this anthropomorphic thing that makes the imagination run wild with what it could be. And you know, there are all these artists who make blobs, but one time I read this article called “Bubbles” by Peter Sloterdijk that really changed me, and not only because Sloterdijk is an incredible last name. This article was about how I’m a blob, I’m a bubble. And this sandwich is a bubble. They all are just made of these bubble blob molecules that work together and mutate and make this greater thing. It’s so wild. The Earth is just a blob, we’re all just blobs floating around.

RINSE|REUSE|REPEAT Opening reception: 6-9 p.m. Fri., Oct. 11. Belltown Collective, 2231 1st Ave., Seattle, www.storefrontsseattle.com, Through Nov. 8.

 
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