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Natalia LL’s Essay on Man, Alicja Cichowicz, 2009

Brunhilda (“the one-who-fights-in-armour”) is a mythical valkyrie punished by Odin (Woden), her father-god, for disobedience. The goddess loves Sigfried, her saviour, but wishes him dead for his later betrayal of which he is actually not guilty. When her lover dies, she commits suicide in order to burn on the stake along with his body. Their bodies and beings become one in burning as if in the act of lovemaking.

Natalia LL becomes Brunhilde incarnate. Dressed in a black dress and wreath of white callas on her head she stands in a triumphant pose against the landscape of luscious greenery of Mother Nature. She recreates the drama of human passions symbolized by the myth recalled above to the sound of Wagner’s music and records her performance on a video film called Brunhilde’s Dreams, shot in 1991. The artist has at her disposal also several other props and attributes. They are a banana, a sword, a shield, a tree trunk and a human skull.

The banana, a phallic symbol, probably replaces the figure of Sigfried. Natalia plays with it in a way which unambiguously suggests an erotic reference. She caresses it, holds it against her breast, pierces it with the sword making frictional movements, sinks the blade in its flesh and then cuts the fruit into pieces and squashes it against the tree-trunk – the sacrificial altar.

The mythical tragedy gets dressed in a grotesque (expressionist and surrealist) costume – it becomes a human tragedy, domesticated and devoid of pathos. A psychoanalytical interpretation of the film in the Freudian spirit leads to its understanding as an eternal battle which continuously takes place in the human soul. This constant inner war is a stimulus to human experience and actions but it also enriches our spiritual life. Natalia-Brunhilde expresses her emotions, passions and experience common to all mankind: love, jealousy, hatred and vengefulness. Desire is connected with destruction here, with the wish for revenge and the need to destroy the object of desire.

Georges Bataille emphasized the connection between desire and death, writing: “When the relationship of two lovers is the effect of passion, it calls on death, on the wish to commit murder or on suicide. Passion is always accompanied by the aura of death.” (1) However, Brunhilde’s Dreams can be treated as a ritual resembling a mystery play and serving – if we were to refer to Jung’s analytical psychology – the experience of the transcendence of life. “In the mystery play the transcendence of life […] is shown by the example of the fate of some god or hero, who undergoes transformation through death and rebirth. […] The myst who ritually relives the killing of Osiris and the quartering of his body […] and later his rebirth, experiences in this way the resilience and continuity of life which dominates over all changes of revealed forms and is always reborn, like phoenix from its ashes.” (2)

Natalia as the myst who cultivates the extraordinary cult of Osiris – or rather Dionysus, due to its orgiastic and phallic character – probably experiences symbolic transformation and spiritual renewal, rises onto a higher level of consciousness and reaches mystical wholeness. The banana that gets cut and squashed (like Osiris/Dionysus) on a ritual tree trunk, after a while becomes in her film “whole and intact”, a “reborn” banana. From the beginning it undergoes the same erotic and murderous operations, and in the last scene gets stuck inside the skull. Therefore, our interpretation seems correct if we take into account the symbolism of the attributes used by Natalia LL.

The banana and the sword have phallic connotations, so according to Jung they are symbols of the energy of life (libido). The callas which are also a sublimation of the phallic meaning because of the shape of their stamens, arranged in a wreath bring to mind funereal associations. They are at the same time symbols of life and death. “Flower bouquets have always played the role of a temporal symbol and the symbol of life after death in the many forms of the cult of the dead.” (3) Another twofold symbol is blackness (of Natalia-Brunhilde’s dress). Among other things it reflects “the Absolute, and that is why it can express both the wholeness of life and its total absence […]. As the colour of the night it also participates in the symbolic set of mother-fecundity-mystery-death, and thus it is often the colour of the goddesses of fecundity and goddesses-mothers of Nature, as well as their priestesses.” (4) Mother-Nature (the landscape in the film by Natalia LL, who may be considered its priestess) gives life and then kills, but only in order to give life again.

And finally we have the skull which obviously refers to human mortality (especially in the tradition of Western art) and is often compared to the canopy of heaven as “the expression of the symbolic connection of meaning between the human microcosm and the universal macrocosm”. The skull is also “the material «vessel» of the spirit” and it was often used by alchemists as “a container during all kinds of transformational processes.” (5)

The banana stuck inside the skull (symbolising a hero) would therefore be the image of the unification of the body and spirit that man would like to achieve, as well as of the unification with the Cosmos, while the whole performance could be considered to be a symbolic representation of the wheel of life: of our birth and death, emotion and passion, creation and destruction, the triumphs and failures of man and finally his spiritual transformation and the hope for immortality. “I do not believe in the death of man. Moreover, I do not believe in the death of any kind of being” (6) – says the artist. This single work seems to contain Natalia LL’s philosophy as such, that is her philosophy of life and art. Her art which is extraordinarily consistent and original seems to exemplify the kind of thinking in which the world is conceived as the infinite, ubiquitous and holistic existence of all beings and phenomena, present always and everywhere.

The authoress – using her own body, as body art is for her “the most honest method of artistic expression”, “the art of truth” and the method of “expressing one’s spirit” – creates something that resembles a long essay, but which is at the same time her own, individual, contemporary myth about existence, nature and the fate of man. It tells a story of his experiences, dreams, physicality and spirituality, as well as of this extra-sensory reality that cannot be verbalized, only instinctively felt.

At first she shows youth, then the inevitable passing of time and the changes taking place in the bodily and psychological being of man; finally she also refers to the intellect, our consciousness and subconsciousness. And she does it “totally” – writing theoretical texts, producing photographic works, sometimes combined with painting, organizing artistic séances and performances, body-art and video films. She refers to literature, philosophy, accounts of various mystics, the Bible, myths, mysteries, magical rituals, her own dreams, intuition and symbols.

Jung stressed that thanks to the references to myths, archetypes, symbols and the fact that they are transformed into modern, contemporary images, an artist can communicate his own experiences to the world and in an almost mystical way identify himself with being as a whole. This means that he can speak to any man, disregarding cultural differences. (7) In Erich Fromm’s opinion “symbolic language is the only foreign language that each of us must know. Its understanding lets us get in touch with the most essential source of wisdom: the myth and the deeper layers of our own personality.” (8) He also claims that the knowledge of myths and the contents of one’s own subconscious lets us understand the foundations of experiences common for humanity as a whole.

Natalia LL starts from the portrait of man in his prime, emanating sensuality, in order to reach spiritual transformation by means of a sequence of (self)portraits expressing existential fears. She does this because “the artist’s obligation is to define and name the longing and despair, fear and terror, but also Hope and Love which are worthy daughters of Goodness.” (9)

The artist has made the inevitable passing of time the “hero” of her work called Permanent Registration – 24 Hours (in 1970). In Intimate Photography and Consumptive Art from the beginning of the 1970s she presented the joy of living, springing from the delight in the beauty of the human body and the consumption of both food and erotic love. In Live Gallery, on the other hand, Natalia becomes an aggressive goddess of sex. Her next realizations from the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s, which seem the result of the need of deep reflection, introspection and the “internalization of art”, mark the beginning of her turning towards variously conceived meditative, ritualistic and magical actions.

In her performance called The Fulcrum (1980) by means of various positions of her body the artist tried to represent different constellations. She combined her own bodily and spiritual energy with the force of the Cosmos. Her body-medium became the point in which the microcosm and the macrocosm became united. The séances of Dreamings entered the sphere of the subconscious and of the most intimate human experiences which cannot be translated into any kind of external language.

The consequence of those artistic actions was States of Aggregation in which Natalia Lach-Lachowicz wanted to “become aggregated with herself” and to “achieve the state of reconciliation”, because aggregation is the “energy of infinite development of our soul and spirit”. (10)

The aim of man’s activity, especially of the philosopher, scientist or artist is cognition. However, in order to know the world one must first take a good look at himself.

Natalia LL’s series of works from the end of the 80s and the beginning of 90s, like Panic Fear, Mystical Heads, Visional Heads and Destructs, expresses her existential fears, the feeling of passing time and of the biological changes in the successive phases of human life.

They are poignant self-portraits of the artist, deformed and misshapen because Natalia has put on an elastic mask and because she has introduced some painting additions and appendages into those works, treating them with what looks like wounds, bloody scratches or scars that symbolize the internal image of all spiritually injured people. In Panic Heads we see similar images of the artist with her tongue sticking out while in Panic Space they have been scattered around on a set of chairs. Self-destruction is combined with irony in those works, as if the authoress attempted to mock the inevitability of getting old and scorned death, trying to domesticate it while still being alive.

Initially the goddess of sex, in the séances of Dreamings and States of Aggregation the shamaness “talking” with the sphere inaccessible to sensory perception, she now becomes a contemporary image of the goddess Kali. In the next phase of her career she will become Brunhilde possessing the dual nature of Devi which at the same time symbolizes the creative (fecundity, life, joy) and the destructive element (sadness, destruction, death). She also becomes the initiated myst conducting her mysteries, transformed and spiritually reborn, and then relives Birth According to the Body and Birth According to the Spirit (2000), and finally thanks to her total art she turns into the bird of freedom (Birds of Freedom, 2000-2003). Thanks to her total art – which for Natalia LL is the means and essence of existence.

Alicja Cichowicz

(1) G. Bataille, Świętość, erotyzm i samotność, in: Odmieńcy, M. Janion, Z. Majchrowski eds., Wydawnictwo Morskie, Gdańsk 1982, p. 345
(2) C.G. Jung, Odrodzenie, in: C.G. Jung, Archetypy i symbole, Czytelnik, Warsaw 1976, p. 123
(3) Manfred Lurker, Słownik obrazów i symboli biblijnych, Pallottinum, Poznań 1989, p. 107
(4) Leksykon symboli, edited by Marianne Oesterreicher-Mollwo, Wydawnictwo Rok Corporation SA, Warsaw 1992, p. 27
(5) ibidem
(6) Natalia LL, Stany skupienia, in: Natalia LL, Teksty, Galeria Bielska BWA, Bielsko-Biała 2004, p. 80
(7) See C.G.Jung, Psychologia i literatura, in: C.G. Jung, Archetypy i symbole, op. cit., pp. 381-396
(8) E. Fromm, Zapomniany język. Wstęp do rozumienia snów, baśni i mitów, PIW, Warsaw 1972, p. 31
(9) Natalia LL, Luźna przestrzeń, in: Natalia LL, Teksty, op.cit., p.102
(10) Natalia LL, Stany skupienia, in: Natalia LL, Teksty, op. cit., p. 81