Secretum et Tremor
The Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art opens a monumental exhibition of one of the most remarkable and original contemporary Polish female artists, Natalia LL, legend of Polish contemporary art, prepared by Ewa Toniak.
Nowadays, her works are on display in Tate Modern in London and in Centre Pompidou in Paris. The show at the Ujazdowski Castle will be the largest solo exhibition of Natalia LL in the last 16 years, which will also offer new ways of understanding her practice. The show entitled Natalia LL. Secretum et Tremor, juxtaposes early works of the artist - created since late 1960s mostly using the media of video and photography, in which she unabashedly explored the areas of eroticism and female subjectivity - with the most recent and at the same time relatively the least known artworks from the 1990s and 2000s that touch upon existential and eschatological topics.
The exhibition begins with a series of photographs from 1972 entitled Sztuka konsumpcyjna [Consumer Art] wich became iconic for the art of Natalia LL: it shows a model - a young, attractive girl - devouring a banana, while photos are taken of subsequent stages of that process. The most frequent interpretations of that artwork focused on a woman’s sensual pleasure, as well as an ironic allusion to the art of pornography, and finally the consumption mentioned in the title, which in the times of real socialism, when all kinds of goods were lacking, was interpreted as condemnation of the regime. In the times of PRL (the communist rule in Poland), bananas - the favourite prop of Natalia LL - were a widely desired product that was almost impossible to get.
Consumer Art from the archives of Zachęta in Szczecin, composed of 20 photographs 40 x 50 cm, until now has always been presented as a monumental whole, covering the surface of 200 x 200 cm. It is presented, for the first time, in the form of a frieze. In the next rooms the new protagonists are: a Valkyrie - the artist herself embodying a mythical female warrior - and Odin, with whom we enter into the circle of Germanic mythology and of the most recent works. Odin, the Norse god of war and warriors, wisdom, poetry and magic, co-creator of the world, also known as the Shifty Eyed, the Masked One or the Terrible One, had the gift of reading people’s minds. He was depicted as an old man with two ravens sitting on his shoulders, with a wolf at his feet and a spear in his hand. Yet, the Odin of Natalia LL does not inspire fear. Photographed in front of a green hedge, wearing a pink boa and a wig, with a plastic chair from the supermarket instead of a throne, and with pink wings on his quite plump shoulders. But he is not able to cover his naked body, which we identify as the body of a woman. She is looking at us from behind her mask. And after seeing her smiling face and the mischievous gaze from behind her sunglasses, we can recognize Natalia LL. In the second photo, her features are also present on the death mask with painted lips that covers the face of the master of this carefree world of mortals. The mythological deity, captured by pop-culture imagination, adds theatre-like characteristics to its earthly presence in front of the camera, posing as if for a post-mortem photo.
The actual Odin, Odin the old, looks at us in the subsequent stagings on three colour photos hanging on the wall nearby. Transpolation of Odin, a work made in 2009, features Andrzej Lachowicz, a neo-conceptual artist and Natalia’s long-standing partner both in her professional (the Permato group) and personal life. We see him as Odin the senile, the feeble, whose flabby body can be scrutinized in this large blow-up print. The old body, that remains hidden in contemporary culture, is perceived by the viewer as obscene (because it is invisible, unseen, stays behind the scenes), but also fascinating. He is posing, but at the same time it seems that he wants to cover himself from our gaze by turning his body sideways and looking away. He's not leaning on a spear, but on a cane. One has the impression that he helplessly surrenders to the requests of Natalia, who is photographing him. Both of them are taking part in an intimate ritual. Thus, the exhibition Natalia LL. Secretum et Tremor is also a philosophical narrative about passing, about the fragility of human body and existence; especially vulnerable nowadays, as referred to by the Ptaki wolności (The Birds of Freedom) cycle inspired by the September 11 attacks.
The exhibition’s atmosphere is due to the exceptional space design by Małgorzata Szczęśniak, one of the most talented European scenographers, who co-creates Nowy Teatr in Warsaw.
The show is accompanied by a vast exhibition catalogue and a guide, as well as a programme of events including film screenings (some of the movies were chosen by the artist), performances and lectures devoted to different aspects of her work (performance, the context of art in Wrocław in the 1970s or in Central-Eastern Europe).