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The Same But of Many Faces. Mythical and Symbolic Incarnations of Natalia LL Małgorzata Jankowska, 2008

Natalia LL’s art consistently explores the depths of human and her own, personal, creative, free and limitless nature; it marks the fascination of the artist with the “power of the human mind”, of “human spirituality” and, as Alicja Kępińska has written, of giving way to “elusive impulses that persuade her to produce art, conceived as transcendence of something that goes beyond the workings of pure intellect.” Duality of the universe and the search for unity has its analogy in the personifications of the artist’s successive incarnations. Beginning with the early photographic portraits like Existences and Mirror (1964) up to her last series called Eroticism of Fear (2004-2006), Natalia LL manifests the joy of living, though at the same time “fear” and the eschatological end of man. Creating a special pantheon of characters the artist “who is the same but of many faces”, and symbolically and iconographically represents the unity of spirit and the body, appears as a “ritualistic”, “cosmic”, “symbolic” or “primal”, woman, or a woman “watching”, “uttering”, “acting”, “dreaming”, and “receding”.

The model of the first, “receding” heroine, whose triple image we encounter in the photograph called Mirror (1964), can be found in Greek mythology, in the figure of the goddess of magic and sorcery, Hekate, usually represented as a woman with three faces. The woman in Mirror seems distant, absent, but “submerged” in the reality of the external world. The composition of the photograph, divided into different planes in which the woman’s face is shown from several different angles, suggesting that she moves her gaze from her own image to the viewer watching her, repeats the motif from Greek mythology. Hekate – a chthonic goddess – appears at the forking of the paths which symbolized the intersection of two worlds: the world of spirit and matter, of people and gods, of the earthly and the divine.

This self-portrait in a mirror refers to a symbolic, complex interpretation of the motif of a mirror, of which Mieczysław Wallis has written that “it enables us to look at ourselves and therefore helps us to realize our bodily and – indirectly – psychological uniqueness and separateness.” The motif of a mirror appeared in literature and art as a damned motif of conceit but also as a medium that makes us our own double, turning our attention to the sphere of hidden, unconscious psychological and spiritual states. The character from the Mirror – a contemporary Hekate, begins her journey towards creative fulfillment, looking for an analogous way of expressing thoughts and emotions.

In 1974 in Natalia LL’s art a “ritualistic” woman appears – free and conscious of her own body who more and more clearly begins to play the role of the medium mediating between the external world, art and internal sphere of human experience. At the same time the artist begins a series of sittings/actions performed before a live audience, or private sessions recorded on film tape or photographed. One of the first such sittings was called Sounds of Art (outdoor in Osetnica, 1974), during which the artist in a forest landscape, naked, with long, freely flowing hair played the flute. The woman-nature represents in this context strength and creative power, while playing the instrument seems analogous to the formulating or perhaps the freeing of content. A variation of the “ritualistic” woman appeared in the sitting called Pivot Points carried out in the National Park in Pieniny mountains (1978) and later in the Dance of the Scorpion and Flight (1985). The artist played in them the role of an earthly-bodily and pagan-ritualistic goddess, describing the higher stage of the process of the recognition of the real world and the spiritual and cosmic energy of the world.

In 1978 Natalia LL presented her next incarnation of the “symbolic” woman, starting the series called Dreamings in which she played the part of a shamaness united through her corporality with her unconscious. Natalia LL returned in those pictures as Hekate or a pagan goddess dressed in a long white tunic and with a flower wreath on her head. This time her body became a mediator between the sphere of dreams and unconscious fantasies, and the external world.

Dreaming allows us to reach the higher stage of spiritual development. It is also the moment of discovering the most secretive, unconscious desires and aspects of the human unconscious. The dreaming Hekate-artist reached the mystery of human and her own existence, ambiguous feelings, transient experiences and epiphanies, touching – like in the Mirror – spheres unknown, but at the same time close to her. Natalia LL’s dreamings and her sleep, like the rituals, were preceded by a “dance” and gestures made in a specific space: a cylindrical, transparent construction, a glass globe, a translucent tent or a model of a pyramid. These structures formed “enclosed” spaces which the artist prepared for her to sleep in, “taming” them with soft, fluid movements, dancing and symbolic gestures. A special role in those mysteries was attributed to the pyramid which has always been believed to possess some unidentified power and whose shape contemporary science uses to study certain physical, biological and psychological processes.

After 1978 those “dreamings” also took place in the model of the pyramid, built on the outskirts of Wrocław. In this way sleeping sensations were supposed to be amplified and subject to the influence of nature incorporated into the ritual. Dreamings created a new kind of a “ritualistic” woman – a “sorceress” and “shamaness” planting herbs of soporific qualities.

In literature and feminist theory of art a sorceress is an “active” feminine figure, a personification of the “creative woman” who combines the energy of the body and spirit. Natalia LL’s incarnations carried out at this time are emanations of both these spheres, united by one body and completed with symbolic and iconographic elements. Their “predatory” versions – the witch and the mythical Valkyrie – appear a few times, for example, in the work called Apage Satanas (1986) and Brunhilde’s Dreams (1994), as well as in the contemporary version of the “dominating” woman in the film Live Gallery (1975). Their “soft” forms may be the enthroned “sorceress” and “Brunhilde” from the works called Brunhilde I, Brunhilde 77 (1973) and the Sorceress (1993), in which the artist wears a wreath of herbs or flowers and holds a bunch of fresh and dried herbs in her hands. Both images are presented in the scenery of luscious and fecund nature, both figures are dressed in black and equipped with attributes of magic and powers of nature. Their central positioning and the stances they assume clearly form the axis of the composition, which along with the funereal iconography – like flowers and the skull – let us recognize those representations as the “axis mundi” or the “tree” – which both symbolize the form of the universe which combines the earthly/real world with the heavenly/spiritual one.

The pantheon of characters created by Natalia LL is broad and extraordinary. The iconography and symbolism of her successive incarnations calls for detailed study and analysis, as here I can only point out the problem and some of its possible interpretations. However, regardless of whether we have to do with dark Hekate, Brunhilde, Lilith or a ritual shamaness, or whether we return to the early, mysterious self-portrait of the artist, all those incarnations represent the “power of the human mind” and the energy of creative, feminine nature.

Małgorzata Jankowska