Critics Back

Consumption Forecast, Adam Sobota, 2004

In one of Natalia’s LL published statements we find the opinion, that art by no means solves existential mysteries, but in the peculiar way points at them. Still in the essay Art and Freedom from 1987, she defines art as the quest for freedom, saying “ Freedom’s aim is freedom, and art is a way to realize it.”

From both statements, we may conclude, that freedom is not understood by the artist as breaking from life determinates, but as unbounded inquiry into its mystery. Authentic creation should be in this inquiry unrestricted, thus, it must be individual and should refer to experiences of an individual. The artist assumes, that intelligibility of even the most subjective manifestations of art is guaranteed by unavoidable correlations of an individual and society, especially when they strongly articulate fundamental problems which shape human consciousness on different levels.

Artistic works of Natallia LL strongly accentuate problems, categories or ideas, which touch on basic dilemmas that diametrically differentiate human consciousness. It might be a question of spirit and body unity or duality; counter positioning of ideal and eternal form (so called Platonic) with material beings vulnerable to time destruction; difference in experiencing reality through ideas or images, vitality as death opposition, or intimate against external. Sometimes articulation of such opposites is supported by the use of media set against each other (e.g. photography and painting). Commentators of Natalia’s LL art often indicated this artistic strategy as very characteristic element of her works.

For example, in the forward to the catalogue of her exhibition from 1990, Lech Karwowski, wrote:” Duality is the core and obsession of Natalia’s LL grand catalogue of masks. It demarcates the area of her creative reflection, that explores the moment of unity, but always from dual point of view […] Duality is felt by Natalia LL as a deep wound cut on ego by existence. Treating opposites as real, she copes with the problem of material nature of Evil, its demonic presence.”

Also, Grzegorz Sztabiński, (in the forward to exhibition catalogue of Natalia LL in 1993) wrote: “ The abundance of meanings, often contradictory or eliminating themselves, personal character and distance, irony – these elements co-exist in series of Natalia’s LL works and installations in 80s. There, the artist joins what seems to be in contradiction. She shows, that at the same time, a thing or a substance is such and different. We should admit, that in the last decade, Natalia LL executed her postulates from mid-70s by putting together elements of the material world with the world of ideas, which do not fit to each other, are separate, but at the same time correlate.” One of the category, which contains utmost contradictory possibility of interpretations and appears within creative works of Natallia LL, is consumption. This word appeared between 1972 – 1975 in titles of her works from series Art of Consumption, and in 1975, also called Art of Post-consumption. These were photographs and films showing women’s faces ostentatiously consuming bananas, sausages or fruit jelly. The consumption motif appeared again in works of Natalia LL at the end of 80s, as a head devouring dolly-like objects and exposed to various manipulations. At this time, she made a comment on it in the text named Theory of a head (published in 1991), writing: “Head is not only home for brain. It is also a thing that has the cavity which absorbs outside world, solid and liquid nourishments, smells and sound waves. The ability to absorb outer substances is unbelievable mystery of head, it literally reveals the principle of bread turning into flash and wine becoming blood. Without this principle the idea of Christianity would be impossible. The mystery of absorbing external world appeared to me so clearly, that all my works since 1972 had been connected with the conceptual consumption game.”

An artwork, in the form of consumption act photography, can be perceived as provocative glorification of banality, especially when out of context, for example, when it does not refer to documented customs or to symbolism of feasts portrayed in many classical paintings.

Such provocation may result from the need to oppose the exclusiveness or abstractionism of artistic message, which allows a viewer to identify an artwork by current conventions assigned to art. In this respect, Natallia’s LL Art Of Consumption is close to her earlier works, such as Permanent Registration, 24 Hours, or Intimate Zone. These works, from 1970–1972, were based on assumption, that art is permanent process, which “permanency” and direct character can be compared to such life’s processes as sleep, eating or moving in distance.

The claim, that art is permanent, was supported from 1970 by the art group “Galeria Permafo”, which besides Natalia LL, gathered such artists as Zbigniew Dłubak, Andrzej Lachowicz and Antoni Dzieduszycki. Their strategy assumed the achievement of exceptional qualities required by art, through subjects connected with ordinary situations and documented in the most direct way.

However, this analogy – as proved by artist’s works – can refer only to certain aspects of external appearance of art, but not to mental sphere. On the mental level, art must touch on the essence of life processes, and only then, banality becomes art medium, and thus, something unusual.
In all works of Natalia LL, banality becomes intriguing, because it is intensified by series of repetitions and ostentatious sincerity generating vague eroticism. Ordinary and personal facts, presented in such way, can both fascinate and repel, as in contemporary TV reality shows. They become distressing, because in a more or less conscious way, we identify them as a top of an iceberg made of phenomena and desires which usually are suppressed and hidden.

Characteristic to the atmosphere of 70s, was interpretation of Consumption Art through structural and semiotic theories concerned with creation and functioning of signs. On the one side, it helped to oppose excessively emotional and purely sensual interpretations of art. But on the other, limited interpretation possibilities of these works on the base of symbolic and allegorical traditions in art. Discernments on possibilities of physical acts transformation into signs – through photography – tended to stop on operational level. Of course, as far as new media (photography, film, video) were breaking stereotypes of Art identification and evaluation, it made sense. In 1973, Antoni Dzieduszycki wrote: „ In works of Natalia LL, registration focuses mostly on activity, actions changing into signs […] Sense of these actions is particularly visible in “Consumption Photography”, the latest series of Natalia’s works. Ambiguity of an action, which from simple act of eating changes into somewhat sophisticated eroticism, and then into almost magical gesture, into system of signs that seem to be commonly used, although in unknown code, not only intrigues, but generates reflection on a sign, on codes commonly used to achieve mutual understanding. And this reflection, which finally becomes the reflection of Art on Art, belongs undoubtedly to the greatest artistic achievements of Natalia Lach-Lachowicz.” (“Photography”, no. 7/1973).

Consumption art could arouse some associations with pop-art, the trend which had been developing from 50s, where artists consciously used models of mass.

Culture and took definite standpoint to the concept of capitalistic affluence and propaganda of widespread consumption. Generally, in Poland of that time, with its socialist economy of shortage, the sense of such art was questioned, but on the other hand, 70s in Poland, was the time of strong consumption needs stimulation and promoted simplified means of satisfying them. Even with limited social potentials, the standards of visual encouragements to maximal consumption, were fully understood by Poles. In works of some artists associated with pop-art ( Mel Ramos, Allan Jones or Sigmar Polke) we can find analogies to ambiguous way in which Natalia LL treats material and aesthetic consumption processes. The artist constructs her works as mental clusters in which trivial and transcendent, literal and metaphoric are mixed. During 70s, she was using models, who in an ostentatious manner, were consuming bananas, sausages or fruit jelly and whose dolly-like beauty underlined by sterile elegance of glossy black and white or color photo prints, gave the act of eating somewhat perverse character. She aims at making viewer’s attention to revolve between mouth of an eating model and her wide opened eyes looking into the camera, as if to unite the idea of looking and consuming. As a matter of fact, this technique is extensively used in advertising, to fix in memory a product’s name on the level of simple visual and emotional associations. However, works of Natalia LL, are just like ideal models of such situations, presenting ingenious connection between extreme effects: literal presentation and possibility of their highly general interpretation (hence the word “Art” sometimes appears on prints). The result of this strategy is as much original in expression as universal, and is proved by the success of Consumption Art on numerous exhibitions in Europe and America. In 70s, young generation of Polish artists, like Zdzisław Sosnowski and Zygmund Rytka, also used forms of mass-media culture to negate values promoted by it, but they did not achieved convincing results. It may be, because social subjects they dealt with (sport or political idols), could not be easily turned into timeless visual symbols.

In the 80s and 90s, in many works of Natalia LL, consumption category starts to take distinct metaphysical or even mythical sense (series Panic Fear, Flaffy Tragedy, Eschatological Landscapes or Platonic Forms). These are enlarged photographs of the artist’s head, often with expressive make up, where tangles of lines and grimaces additionally deform the face, and opened mouth expose teeth or tongue. Contrary to previously used models’ faces, whose wide opened eyes expressed state of satisfaction and external activity, here, half-closed eyes of the artist suggest inner tension, simultaneity of sleep or trans with aggressive absorption, struggle to survive and eruption of energy. The shown person – represented by a head – seems to be struggling for its life and position, consuming objects and energetic fluids. At the same time, it is stressed, that the person is being simultaneously consumed, as we can see symptoms of time passing in biological body existence. Additionally images are destructed by various forms of physical aggression into photographic substance.

Images of heads, with mouths cracking figurines of dolls, seem to refer to mythological sense of consumption. This brings to mind myths of “eating of gods”, for example, Greek’s myth of Titan Kronos, who ate his children to prevent the prophecy of his lost of power. To famous illustrations of this myth in Art history belongs painting of Francisco Goya from 1821, called Saturn devouring his children.

Myths, religious tales, confessions of mystics, are such transitions (hand downs) of knowledge, which describe archetype situations and fundamental impulses of human consciousness, on the base of certain anecdote, certain visualization, although with wide range of generalization. Natalia LL decided to refer to this sphere of experiences already in the second half of 70s (through series Dreaming and Points of Support), and in this way she broadened the meaning of consumption category, which earlier in her works tended to be more literal.

Realizations of Natalia’s LL in last two decades, serve as post-modern reinterpretations of her earlier creation principles ( and as such, may also be considered in broad meaning of consumption). The same elements and strategies appear in new attire, but with different accessories and arrangements. Bananas, sensually consumed by models in 1972-75, later appear as objects brutally destructed by mythical Brunhilda, sometimes impersonated by Natalia LL. Bananas appear also as elements of installation with skull and flowers (Voracious Skull from 1994), or as their multiplied reproductions which decorate long bends of fabric spread in a gallery space.

One of Wrocław shows of Consumption Art in 1973, consisted of two parts: one part comprised of large-scale photographs with faces of eating models, the other – located in another gallery, large-scale boards with multiplied name of the artist, covering entire floor (additionally, the tape recording of verbal description of works in the first part of exhibition was played). Suggested in this show (and many other works), possibility of exact meaning preservation, regardless of the form of self or other people recording, is the same as pointing out to possible analogies between simple, banal action and mythical, transcendent act.

But, as I have already mentioned, in case of Natalia’s LL works, such comparison serves also to reveal the dramatic divergence in character of these states, which makes their simultaneous actuality to be an enigma, or even the cause of existential fear.

Thus, consumption, understood in all aspects and dimensions, is the category through which major threads of Natalia’s LL creation can be seen. Understood in the most general way, this process is multidirectional and penetrating the entire existence. Understood concretely and in details, it is no less controversial; it is absolute biological necessity, but also dulling burden of social order, we would like to break away from.

The complexity of human psychical reactions to these conditions is accurately grasped by the aphoristical title of Natalia’s LL exhibition – installation from 1998.The exhibition, on the one side, refers to previous year big flood (in Wrocław), on the other, to Norwid’s text treating about spiritual loss – sinking. The title of this exhibition three times repeats the same set of letters, which in different arrangements mean different things: Toniemy / To niemy / To nie my (We are sinking / This is dumb / It is not us).

Adam Sobota, 2004