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Nathaniel Gordon-Stables, Where I stand, where I sit
Spread across pink silk, mounted to a ceiling, is a conversation. Nathaniel Gordon-Stables has created a discourse. The projected image — his bare feet, twinkling upon homely, ’70s-patterned carpet — invites (the audience) into a private sphere.
Nathaniel Gordon-Stables (Ngāti Kurī) is a fourth year Fine Arts student, and a working artist based in Wellington. Nathaniel is tangata ira tāne as well as takatāpui; a queer trans artist who spreads his work across topics of gender identity, te ao Māori, and intimacy with the self.
In a softly-lit studio, Nathaniel and I sit and talk about his work.
Where I stand, where I sit is a multi-format piece suspended from the high ceiling above us. An image is projected upon paper-thin, beige-pink fabric screen. We see Nathaniel’s naked legs and feet, restless upon rather ugly brown carpet. During the video, Nathaniel undresses; his nondescript black shorts tossed aside, almost out of frame. At the end, Nathaniel’s feet carry him off-camera. A seam, ugly and wide, splits the screen at an irregular angle.
At an early point in our discussion, I come to understand that Nathaniel’s work is about texture. His hands pull at his sleeves while answering my questions — and in his work, the act of touching is key. His work makes its home in the question: “what does it feel like?”
Nate points to the billowing silk screens and tells me: “I wanted this fabric to be ‘skin-coloured’. I wanted it to represent my skin.” The material used to create the screen is milky, Caucasian. We laugh a little bit even though it’s not really that funny. We’re standing in the dark. Over and over, Nathaniel’s black shorts slip onto the off-brown carpet. Quickly, undressing becomes entirely commonplace.
I watch it for a while, while Nate tinkers with a fancy, Massey-owned DSLR camera. To be honest, it’s hard to resist touching the hanging screens — Nate’s work leads us straight to our tactile senses. The fabric floats daintily in the studio draught. Despite being beautiful and ethereal, the screens aren’t perfect. The foremost is split by a crudely stitched cleft. I ask about it. Nate says: “the seam is about my binder — it’s something that holds me together.”
Dialogues of self-love and self-care are critical to those struggling in their body. This piece of art reflects intimacy with the self, focusing on rituals around clothing and skin. To Nate, nakedness and exposure are acute. As he tells me, Nathaniel is well acquainted with feelings of discomfort within his body. Expressed through unveiling his skin, Nate confronts the audience’s expectations of a queer body. And here it is, the unwritten, fundamental discourse: showing the trans* body without spectacle. More than this, however: Nate is in control of the audience’s gaze. Equally in control of the audience’s level of intimacy and scrutiny, his work shows the intimate rituals of his body, set against a familiar backdrop. He contextualises his body within the space. The overarching question here is: “how can I make my body feel safe?”
There’s a strong sense that Nathaniel, and other local queer artists, are on the cutting edge of change and social progress. Nathaniel’s work comes from a new school of thought — the artist using the artist as a subject — creating conversations and statements through the body. He’s answering the question: “what does my body feel like?”
Through ritual and process, Nate is describing his relationship with the self. I ask him why. “It’s about giving trans* and queer people the message that their bodies are powerful.”
Indulge in my vanity
A space where my body exists to be free
A whare you may or may not understand
You belong here, with me
Don’t mourn for our loss
Kare they are with us
Takatāpui they are with you
— Nathaniel Gordon-Stables