1) What is the inspiration for Bloodbrothers?
This goes back a ways. In 2004 I was living in New York City and working as a designer and photographer in the magazine industry. At the time, I didn’t really know who I was as an artist or where I was going or what I even wanted to do. I just knew I had a lot of shit building up inside that had no way out. Since I wasn’t finding any success with external sources, I started looking internally to the things that created the greatest personal emotional response. A big one was my family. No matter how much crap life threw at me (unemployment, homelessness) they were always my rock of stability. I had just finished a book by Margaret Atwood on writing called Negotiating With The Dead, and in it she talked about how the dead wanted our blood. Dead being our ancestors and blood being a metaphor for life and creativity. At least that’s how I choose to read it. I had also read an interview with Stephen King, where he was asked how he, a family man with children, could imagine and write such horrific stories. He replied that if he wrote it, it wouldn’t happen. So I decided to use those sources as a starting point. I took a color-printing class with a coworker at the International Center for Photography, and used that as a way to explore these themes of family and protection. I drove upstate to my family’s home in Cooperstown and took some portraits using a borrowed plastic Holga camera. I gave each family member, excepting my father, a tool from my father’s workshop and covered them with fake blood (http://nathansharratt.com/section/215401_Family_Portraits.html). At the time, the fake blood was an analog for real blood, and the portraits were meant to be a protective mantra.
It took another 4 or 5 years before I started examining family in my work again, mostly at the behest of my sculpture professors. This time I began to get really interested in fake blood and the whole concept behind its existence. We, as humans, are obsessed with not spilling our own blood, yet we have such a bloodlust that we’ve created this blood analog to be used strictly for entertainment purposes. We love watching violence as long as it’s pretend. Action and horror films are just public executions and gladiator fights without the actual death. I started realizing the vast amount of content available in using fake blood as a material. The difficulty was in the execution, how to elevate fake blood as a fine-art material and have it be seen for what it is—and what content it brings to the table—and not just as a non-biological blood substitute. I made some object-based art using fake blood, So I started making connections between the constructed qualities of fake blood and my own constructed family history: my biological father (Robert) left before I was born, and my mother met my non-biological father (Dwaine) when I was two, and they’ve raised me ever since. When I was five my non-biological father wanted to adopt me, but Massachusetts’ state law didn’t allow adoption for a minor with a legal parent or guardian, so my mother had to give me up to the state for all of ten minutes, or however long it took to fill out paperwork, then they both adopted me. I remember sitting in the cavernous marble hallway of the statehouse while all this was going on. I was no longer Nathan Kaczynski, I was now Nathan Sharratt. The connection I felt to my parents had not changed, only some paperwork. So the idea of a constructed family led me to think about constructed bonds in general, and how we create this social construct called “family.” The fact that my father isn’t my biological father is such a non-issue in my family that my mom even forgets sometimes, and warns me about genetic health issues on my father’s side. There are no “half-sisters” or “step-fathers,” we’re just family and we love each other and in my opinion that’s how it should be.
2) What is your obsession with blood in general?
For me it’s a material, so it’s kind of like asking a painter what is their obsession with paint? Any material has a pre-existing connotation that viewers carry with them, and many materials were resisted in their initial introduction as a fine-art material (David Smith’s welded-steel sculpture comes to mind). Blood is one of our most primal common denominators. It’s also the challenge of using a material that isn’t traditionally associated with fine art, and seeing if I can find ways to elevate it to make new connections that maybe viewers hadn’t thought of before. Also, I went pretty in depth about it above.
3) You are interested in creating multiple layers in your work, what do you think is the most missed meaning/layer in 'BloodBrothers'?
Probably the connection to my personal history. I don’t make that a large part of the performance because the whole installation is about me, so when I’m bonding with a new Brother, I want to make it as much about them as possible. I give my Brothers my absolute undivided attention during the ritual, and try to be a mirror through which they can see themselves. I make my name really small on the ticket so that when it’s pinned to the wall you see their name most prominently, not mine, and I give them the opportunity to share their story through the www.wearebloodbrothers.com website. However, I will be adding a few new hidden clues to the room for sharp-eyed viewers to find.
Interview with Casey Lynch for Burnaway.