review : Natalia ist sex

Natalia ist sex Installation image, by Natalia LL

Imagine a rebellious and strong-spirited woman. A woman performance artist from Conservative Poland in the 1970’s. A woman transgressing the societal hurdles put on her sex. A woman who fulfils her intellectual, spiritual, physical, and sexual needs, prioritising self-development over the limiting judgement and oppression of society. A woman who sees herself as art, who invents herself as the medium and the subject of expression. A woman who created a deeply complex character out of herself and who devoted her life and art to the research for her own truth. A woman dedicated to answer a question to herself:

Who is Natalia LL?

No one but the artist herself could come up with a better answer to who she is than herself. And in 1974, she declared: Natalia ist sex.

The 70s - Natalia LL

Natalia LL created “Natalia ist sex” (Natalia is sex in German), an installation of photographs of a performance exhibited at the Berlin Gallery. The photographs represent Natalia LL and her husband who is also an artist Andrzej Lachowicz having intercourse. The series of photographs are arranged into the shape of the letters of the eponymous statement. Natalia is sex. This is the artist’s statement. She is a sexual being, she is a woman having sex.

The scale of the writing makes the installation of photographs look like a commercial banner that can be read from afar. The rigid font of the statement offers more distance to the intimacy of the action. In the distance, each photograph looks like a blurry pixel that gets clearer as we approach it. The statement of the artist is boldly written in a way that leaves no choice for the viewer to read. We can read through the text the lust of an artist who pushes her ideas as far as she can. The eyes of the viewer are intuitively driven to tracing the letters of the intercourse and follow the performance.

The association of visual art and text is interesting as words represent an important part of the creative process of the artist. Natalia LL often writes texts about art and philosophy, here this work shows an interesting combination between the two. The statement is the image, and the artist is the statement. Because it is the name Natalia and not Natalia LL that is inscribed, we could also interpret it as an allegory of sex. The name Natalia is in hues of grey whereas the rest of the sentence is in colour. So Natalia perhaps takes a universal value, this work is not about Natalia LL the individual yet it is about Natalia in general. I find it interesting that the name Natalia is nowadays very common in Poland compared to when the artist chose it. It could be read as “Natalia is sex just like anyone else could be sex”. With “Natalia ist sex”, the artist makes us question the subjectivity of pleasure. To what extent is a sexual performance considered as pornography? In her written work and interviews, the artist expresses her awareness of the very fine line between the erotic and pornography. The difference between her art and pornography is its form.

Natalia Lach-Lachovicz started by taking pictures of herself and pushed this idea further by exposing herself to a variety of situations to find out who she is, close to Cindy Sherman. The artist created “Natalia LL”, her own character by re-inventing herself and cutting her last names to initials. Natalia LL is an artist who is deeply passionate about exploring both the unseen and the most common things of human life. Natalia eats. Natalia drinks. Natalia sleeps. Natalia has sex. She tends to document her performance through photographs and videos while she performs as the subject, the material, and the concept of her own reality. Natalia LL sometimes uses props such as fruits and vegetables, clothes, materials and performs actions with explicit connotations. The question of identity and the erotic is often raised with wit.

It is clear that Natalia LL is a rebel of the patriotic system oppressing women, an intellectual and artist of her own life with an exhilarating desire for truth. Natalia LL is an ambitious and smart woman with a deep sensitivity to her emotions and sense of self, a profound understanding of philosophy as well as a remarkable capacity to listen to her body’s needs. Natalia LL has gifted the world with art exploring her own sexuality. As the Polish art historian Izabela Kowalczyk had put it : “Natalia LL pointed to what was absent in the reality of the times: to the discourse of a liberated woman, aware of her sexuality, dedicated to giving herself pleasure.” In the context of the Polish society in the 1970’s, Natalia is a symbol of bravery and integrity as she defines herself in an environment that leaves no voice to women. Being true to herself as a woman in the public sphere becomes a radical and revolutionary act despite the fear and consequences of the constraints of rejection, judgement, or violence of her society. Through this performance in which the artist is having sexual relations with her husband, Natalia LL is raising questions of identity, role and sex. The artist is not submissive to the diktat of society nor to the power of her partner. This work is showing the independence and empowerment. The work seems to hold more or less existential feminist values as the normalised gender roles of domination are reversed : Natalia is a woman who experiences desire and pleasure, she does what she desires to do and she is who she wants to be. In opposition to most representations of women, Natalia LL is not sexua-lised, she is sexu-al.

Natalia LL is staging her body in a way that defies the limits put on her gender. Observing the artist’s self-discovery journey through empowerment inspires me new ways of performing, aware of the condition of being a woman performance artist in a world dominated by men.

Credits for the images :

  •  Natalia ist sex Installation image, NAtalia Lach-Lachowicz, Date: 1974/1974, Poland, photo installation, w60 x h60 cm (Photograph), origin : CoCa in Torun
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