Critics Back

Made in Order to Replace the Natural Equivalent – the Existence of Natalia LL, Agnieszka Kwiecień, 2007

The origins of the unique art of Natalia LL can be traced in her conceptual experiments and in the role that she assigned to the photographic medium at the time. Here photography comes to the foreground above everything else and the artist herself treats it as her lover. However, it seems that it is rather Natalia LL’s films that contain the essence of her artistic investigations and hold the key to the interpretation of her individual works. Her video realizations, their character and structure influence all spheres of art that she explores.

The inclusion of film into the sphere of creative work causes change in the perception of reality and, furthermore, in the perception of art. In spite of close relations of film and photography, the conceptualization of art based on filmic experiments created radically new possibilities of its definition. The borders between reality and representation were erased and the time in both these spheres was held in equilibrium. Reality perceived became a mediated illusion of normality.

The film Sztuczna rzeczywistość [Artificial Reality, 1975] made by Natalia LL in order to replace its natural equivalent, can be regarded as her artistic credo. As far as the initial explorations by means of the camera go, there can be nothing more common than a simple registration of reality. The recording of images, situations and scenes taking place, for example, on a couch, the registration of events that take place in front of the camera without a script – which is quite significant as far as art is concerned – and moving through space with a camera on seems something extremely natural and primal when employed in a movie or a video film.

The analysis of Artificial Reality, bearing in mind all her earlier and later works, is especially fascinating and sheds light on the origins of the mystery present in the works of Natalia LL. The heroine of all the fragments in this series is the artist herself. She works without a script, sits in an armchair, shifts in her seat, looks straight into the lens, exposes her body, walks around her flat, lies down on the couch and performs various trivial activities. She is constantly aware of the presence of the camera, as if nothing could take place without its supervision. The simple scenes presented in the film seem meaningless, prosaic, literal; de facto we can observe in them motifs borrowed from other works, we can notice complicated symbolism and relations which make up her own artistic, individual system. Natalia LL works within the limits of the reality of art, as the reality presented here is illusory. She does not register reality, she rather explores its depths until the moment when authenticity itself becomes just an illusion, a frightening absence. “Permanent registration of reality” can only undermine its existence.

The artist sits down on the couch, naked, squares her shoulders, smiles, moves her arms and legs as if she wanted to feel her own presence, and delights in her carnality. She contemplates the status of her own body and studies its physicality, gently moving her toes. Her gentle movements conceal internal happiness and anticipation. She rejoices in her own materiality, in her position on the verge of reality and in the perceptible possibility of transgressing it – to such a degree that using filmic techniques she multiplies her body and creates its excess. The artist displays herself frequently, manifests her presence which is difficult to accept and forces us to deny what we see. Therefore, we are ready to admit that she willingly agrees to her own invisibility, but actually we are afraid of her doubled visibility, her strong, certain and uncompromising connection with the world which for us remains a surprising impossibility, and her symbiosis with the artificial reality which is equally mysterious. “Only in the reality of art do we become genuinely independent and free” – declares Natalia LL (Sztuka i wolność [Art and Freedom], Wrocław, May 25th, 1987).

The camera employed for artistic purposes becomes an instrument of cataloguing objectively existing reality that neither the observer nor the registrator can see, although Natalia LL succeeded in entering this sphere of reality – not consciously, perhaps, but physically. In the multiplied excess of reality the body of the artist remains on the border between the state of subjective emotion and an objective, independent existence, devoid of consciousness, but not of physicality.

This work demonstrates the author’s specific attitude towards art – employing an analytical, conceptual approach to reality and language (conceived as the synonym of reality), she proves their inadequacy and insufficiency as a means of description and studying reality as well as art itself. She points to the relation between corporality and subjectivity with the objectively existing – i.e. independently of all sensual or intellectual perception – reality which manifests itself in excessive freedom, carnality and visibility. Inaccessible to human cognition and knowledge it is sentenced to artistic or mythical sublimation. Its symbolization becomes eroticism and its aim is to say everything. Reality revealed replaces both reality as it is and fiction, so it turns out to be the sphere of authenticity, identical with art which discovers the existence of difference built of fantasy and fact, dream and consciousness.

In one fragment of Artificial Reality Natalia LL skins, cuts and crushes bananas – using her superhuman powers she obliterates their phallic shape like in a film called Marzenia Brunhildy [Brunhilde’s Dreams, 1991] or on the contrary, she hugs the fruits to her breast and plays with them ambiguously, like models in several scenes of Sztuka konsumpcyjna [Consumption Art, 1972]. Desire in these works is associated with destructive powers and with the destruction of the object of desire. The heroine aims her desire directly towards the object which causes consternation and we begin to suspect that the banana is only a replacement for its phallic equivalent. The artist lustfully enjoys the possibility of upsetting the viewer’s emotional balance. Absurdity is an intentional technique that disintegrates the status of the reality we perceive.

The works of Natalia LL in the act of erotic coupling combine bravery and hostility. Using superhuman powers of Brunhilde, the heroine changes into a goddess of destruction, though her aggressiveness does not rule out a kind of Platonic union which might take place after she has lost her individual consciousness. This is Natalia LL’s fantasy come true – sitting on the couch she puts on a wreath of white, artificial callas, and then, finally, as if fearfully, she embraces the destructive fruits of her ambiguous emotions and erotic practices.

In another film by Natalia LL, Impresje [Impressions, 1973], we fragmentarily see the body of a naked woman who exposes herself shamelessly in front of the camera, jumping up and down, bending over and shaking her breasts – thus the body clearly becomes the object of playful joy and the source of pleasure. Natalia LL observes and films her, letting her own imagination wander freely, dreaming about sex. A white substance slowly drips down the model’s breasts and the images become a poetic and artistic substitute of eroticism. In Artificial Reality the naked artist sits down in front of the camera and enjoys her involvement in the unlimited freedom of the body. The nude image of the body made unreal – which was achieved by means of overlapping one image of the artist’s half-transparent figure with another, as in Artificial Reality, or by means of the eradication of form, as in the case of Impression – becomes a registration, an attempt at grasping life coming into being, at grasping its movement and essence. The aim of these pursuits is to get at the existence of the body, defined by the passing of time and by duration, by individual character which is gradually erased, merges with the surroundings and moves in the direction of the transgression of individual existence. Corporality loses its clearly and plainly defined boundaries here, it becomes but an element of continuity which manifests itself thanks to the specific creative technique, used by the artist. The moving body leaves behind a trail of existence – the dawn of freedom.

Natalia LL does not register or describe reality and neither does she create an alternative reality – but she reaches its essence, its truth that hides under the illusion of artificial normality. It is difficult to achieve perfection without a pinch of madness; and it is impossible to reach the borders of our consciousness, to feel the fear – and to come back here.

Agnieszka Kwiecień, 2007

Translated by Maciej Świerkocki