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Touch Me! The Softness of the Animal Art of Natalia LL, Agnieszka Kwiecień, 2008

Ages ago in archaic times man lost his permanent fur and thus was forced to cover himself with animal skins and furs. Today he dresses somewhat differently, but fur and animal skins still remain a very popular, be it controversial kind of material with the clothing industry. Natural fur is usually considered a luxurious and expensive outer wear as well as a fashionable or extravagant extra. Associated with the rich and the beautiful of this world it becomes an object of affluence. In Poland of the seventies and eighties it was an object of desire in women’s fashion and supposedly confirmed the resourcefulness and cleverness of its owners. Natural fur is still considered practical – it keeps us warm and at least partly protects from mechanical injuries.

There is a large colour photograph called Sztuka zwierzęca [Animal Art, 1977] which shows a young naked woman sitting on the sofa and hugging a magnificent fur coat. Her face is covered by very big dark glasses. The authoress of the work is Natalia LL.

A woman in fur seems intriguing, especially if she is wearing nothing underneath – then she becomes a source of fantasies and erotic pleasure. An attractive lady in a long fox fur coat is an image that heralds the desired ecstasy. A man suffering from zoofetishism can get excited only looking at his woman partner dressed in furs. At least in our culture man dressed in furs is treated in a completely different way: his dress has no unusual sexual subtext, is associated with the practice of protecting the body from severe cold and has been adopted as such by fashion. We should also mention the shaman dressed in furs and leather, as well as the magical quality of all natural matter. Let us take, for example, Joseph Beuys – a shaman wearing fur probably could not arouse anyone.

Around 1636 Peter Paul Rubens painted The Fur, showing Helena Fourment covered with a fur coat. She, a lusciously shaped female, is barely dressed and stands almost naked. Such an image of his wife must have been beautiful and desirable for the artist, and perhaps even let him fantasize about her boldly. The woman is sensual and attractive, and the strength of this scene lies in the whisper coming both from the fur and the body: touch me!

There are pleasures and desires hidden in the mutual relations between the surface of the body and the fur. The feeling of softness is a source of sensual pleasure. Delicate, warm and plush materials are especially pleasant to the touch.

Sztuka zwierzęca – Seans dokamerowy [Animal Art – Camera Sittings, 1977 – 1989] are photographs of a sequence of poses which Natalia LL strikes on the couch in front of the camera. Key elements of this work are furs, extremely big glasses and knee-high boots. The viewer is “given” the whole figure of the woman – furs actually do not cover her, but rather conceal in order to reveal. This trick means complete freedom and lack of restrictions. The artist is playing with the viewer’s gaze – she covers herself in order to stress the fact that the power to reveal is hers only. She seductively spreads her legs, covers her crotch with fur, inspires and controls erotic fantasies. Like Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Fur she can change into a slave who fulfils hidden and refined desires but always dominates. Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (author of the story of Venus in Fur) describes daring erotic experiments, connected with carnal suffering, which begin when the man agrees to become a woman’s slave.

Rabbits of foxes are trophies. How did Natalia LL come into their possession? Which of her triumphs made someone give them to her as a tribute?

The title Animal Art may mean art that presents animals as its objects or art that is inhuman. The second case might bring negative connotations as whatever is inhuman is obviously unworthy of a human being – or is created by an inhuman hand. Natalia LL calls her works Animal Art and in this way elevates animality – i.e. the instinctive and archaic sphere of human personality. When fur touches the naked body we are made to think of expressive behaviour, unrestricted by any social contract, and the spontaneous and direct contact with reality. A naked woman in a fur coat is identified with Nature. Womanhood combined with animality is the dark side of delicate femininity which uses fur for the purpose of playing erotic games. This seems heavily ambiguous – a woman puts on a mask of seductive beauty for whose possessing one must pay a high price. One can only approach her with a gift – a magic fetish.

The artist hugs and nuzzles the furs, takes them between her legs and touches them. She is aware of the constant presence of the camera, strikes new poses all the time, bored, relaxed or studied, and sort of puts herself on display. She treats the furs tenderly – they make her happy when they touch her naked body and when the potential observer sees her and realizes that she feels great pleasure from direct contact with fur. The naked woman served as if for supper is not merely the object of erotic consumption. In her Śniadanie na futrze [Breakfast on Fur] Meret Oppenheim used a fur coat and a teacup to create a fascinating work, enchanting thanks to their hidden sexual meaning. On the photograph Animal Art (1978), our artists’ figure is completely covered with a big fur coat, only her naked feet, hands and nose are visible. She is almost completely wrapped, like a present. The picture seems quite comical, actually, and we feel that the authoress is having fun. Her spontaneity and unpretentiousness are charming, while naturality and studied poses combine like in some surrealistic teacup. Dreams and overpowering fantasies play a crucial role in Natalia LL’s works.

She strikes different poses and as if challenges the lens of the camera. She is bold and uncompromising.
Not long ago Natalia LL produced new works in which she returned to her Animal Art. Large-format self-quotations from the negatives from the 70s show pieces of fur put together into pictures entitled Miękkość dotyku [Softness of Touch, 1977-2007]. They form abstract compositions, combined from different kinds of furs, and resemble patterned fabrics or kaleidoscope optical images, created by means of multiplied and inverted reflections.

Natalia LL has returned to the roots of her fascinations and confronted her own intimacy, sexuality and corporality. Fur coats again become her desired object of manipulation. Their scale changes, because the fur grows now, pushing everything else away from our field of vision. The hairs make up symmetrical, concentric patterns with a central point. Our vision is almost entirely absorbed by those special points which resemble animal anuses.

Individual elements make the viewer glance at the soft surface and concentrate on the impenetrable internal centre. We can almost feel the warmth and softness of the furs. We wanted to look a them but now we also want to feel them against our skin, we want to touch this animal hair which forms the promise of Poczwórna puszystość [Quadruple Fluffiness]. If we want to forget about our alienation its perspective we should explore the structure of the Softness of Touch.

The pleasure evident in those works is also quite alarming, as fur carries with it the memory of a bloody killing scene and reminds us that man belongs to the animal kingdom. A fur-clad figure shows how it is possible to unite the animal with the human. This primordial reference makes us think of archaic mysteries in which many hybrid creatures participated. Natalia LL’s art emphasizes spontaneity and naturality. Her photographs let us see and make us want to feel pleasure not only looking, but also touching. They lead us towards unrestricted happiness that is born of independent nature and the human desire to experience it.

In the photograph called Autoportret – Sztuka zwierzęca [Self-portrait – Animal Art, 1977], Natalia LL poses in a T-shirt with her name on it, dark glasses and fluffy fur. The work is the result of studied self-creation. The artist shows herself in an ordinary pose, turned straight towards the camera, and as such it seems an unexceptional portrait that simply registers trivial reality. But ultimately important in this picture is the “furry matter” and the hiding of the artist’s eyes behind dark glasses, as those elements introduce a mysterious atmosphere in the otherwise banal scene. The fur also introduces chaos and instability of meaning into the act of perception, and points to the possibility of having different relations with the world, based – among other things – on the senses. Photography, showing a motionless figure, demonstrates the impossibility of identification with one’s own creation, reeking of unconscious and incontrollable influences, as well as complicated relations with the structure of the matter of this world.

Agnieszka Kwiecień