ArtsATL > Art+Design > Review: Nathan Sharratt takes over a house to pay homage to his family, “warts and all”

Review: Nathan Sharratt takes over a house to pay homage to his family, “warts and all”

A video of Nathan Sharratt's dying grandmother is part of his "Come Inside. Me." (Photos by Batterman Photography)

With a punning title that is welcoming, self-referential and salacious, “Come Inside. Me.” is a very personal project by Nathan Sharratt.

The Atlanta artist, who has filled a small house in Peoplestown for the temporary installation, describes it as “a love letter to my family, warts and all.”  Its six parts are inspired by “all the wonderful, crazy, sad, awkward or terrible experiences that happen inside a house that make it a home.” That’s a lot to tackle, but he succeeds in covering a range of life experiences, including adolescence, sex and death. Certain elements are conceptually or materially thin, but overall it works.

Visitors first encounter “Untitled (Under My Roof, For My Father),” a striking miniature roof structure attached high on the wall and extending several feet into the room. Tarpaper laid on the roof and wall bears rows of scribbly graphite squares that, it turns out, accord with the spaces between the words on pages of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” Here Sharratt gets tangled up in his personal iconography, drawing a tenuous connection among himself, the monster and his construction-savvy father. A more obvious association would be the popular parental admonition “not while living under my roof.”

In the front bedroom hang the tubes that Sharratt's grandmother breathed from before she died.

The most impactful installation is in the front bedroom, where the artist has suspended a snaking, vine-like formation of clear oxygen tubes that belonged to his late grandmother. Playing on a monitor in the corner is a video of her in hospice on what would be the last day of her life. She lies propped up in bed, laboring for each breath, seemingly unaware of the family members milling about, waiting, essentially, for her to die. (Sharratt has overlaid his own breathing sounds for emphasis.)

Like A.A. Bronson’s haunting portrait of an emaciated Felix Partz taken a few hours after he died of AIDS, the video is heart-rending (and arguably a bit exploitative), discomforting in its familiarity for some of us and serving as a memento mori for all of us.

Dominating the living room is a large sofa – a popular venue for teenage “transgressions” — emblazoned with the jumbled text “You Didn’t Know, We Were Having Sex, Innocent.” Gracing the mantel over the fireplace are a series of “True Stories,” cast stainless-steel plaques with such confessional texts as “I Lost It at 13” and “I Can’t Remember All the Girls.”

But the back bedroom is where the real action is. A headboard cuts diagonally across the small room, forcing viewers to walk around it to see a projection of a 1970s porno film — a projection of a projection, actually. To make good on the work’s title, “Let’s Keep It Kid-Friendly,” Sharratt filmed his silhouetted hands moving in front of the video as he tries, with varying degrees of success, to hide the naughty parts — hands wide apart to cover a close-up of breasts or stacked vertically to conceal oral sex. It’s a comical take on the on-the-fly censorship parents attempt by covering their children’s eyes.

The kitchen, the site of so many family gatherings, gets short shrift: a refrigerator covered with magnetic words that visitors can arrange into sentences. The dining room insinuates more familial interaction, though again, the relationship of parts to whole can seem forced.

On a small table, iridescent blue gumballs spell out “And Then What Happens?” Visitors are invited to chew one and then stick the wad under the table on nails installed to read “And Then What Happened?” You can ruminate on that while viewing, on the surrounding walls, “family portraits” of bloodied individuals holding things like a machete and a baseball bat. This is not your average dysfunctional family.

Sharratt's video “Let’s Keep It Kid-Friendly."

Sharratt himself appears in a video rear-projected in the bathroom mirror, where he goes through the ritual of shaving with a straight razor given to him by his barber grandfather. The act references a boy’s rite of passage, though Sharratt is clearly no beginner at shaving. He tells us that it’s a recently acquired skill, though a nick or two would’ve been more convincing.

Partly funded by Fulton County Arts & Culture, “Come Inside. Me.” is an ambitious project undertaken with an economy of means. Dashboard Co-Op, which presented this project, has mounted larger group exhibitions of emerging artists, but this is its first by a single one. Dashboard Managing Director Beth Malone said the organization always works with a “tiny budget and finagles like crazy.” Given a bigger budget, could Sharratt have fleshed out the work more? Money helps with execution, but the most important currency is an artist’s idea. This is a good start.

On view at 30 Ormond Street, Monday-Friday 7-9 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday 1-4 p.m. through July 25.

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