In the works of Natalia LL one encounters an artist whose inspiration and artistic force field is are her own countenance – her self-portrait, again and again. Self-portraits have existed ever since women have been painting and working as artists. Without going straight into the matriarchal past, we might recall the portrayals of Angelika Kaufmann, which could easily be called self-portrayals. Paula Modersohn-Becker’s entire life’s work is marked by the search for one’s own path in the portrait of oneself, and Frieda Kahlo nearly built an entire secondary existence for herself with the help of self-portraits.
Natalia LL discovered the protected framework of self-portrayal and photography situated between reality and artificiality, with its apparent depiction of the “real world” and its formative effect on our everyday visual experience, as a possibility for experimenting with external appearance, self-image and the image of others as well as with individual experiences and foreign, typifying projections.
Since the early 1970s Natalia LL has consistently pursued this field of artistic experimentation. Ulrike Rosenbach, Valie Export, Cindy Shermann, Colette and Rebecca Horn, for example, work similarly. In the series “Platonic Forms” from A – M, which the artist created in 1990, she alienates her own countenance. She conceals what is individual, positions the head at various angles – enface or in strict profile – on the white background of the photo canvas. Platonic forms are projected onto the eye, nose, and mouth as essential sensory organs, with the help of which the artist refers to the respective meaning of precisely these facial structures, encourages concentration, and at the same time recommends using one’s own senses again and again.
Her face becomes a projection surface. The content of the photograph is no longer the photographic representation of the face, but rather the material that is subjected to additional artistic editing processes. The photographic image seems to evolve here from a means of representation towards a work of art in its own right. The face as a mirror and the courage to look into it; to discover, to accept life lines.
The woman of letters Virginia Woolf fought for an extreme differentiation between self-portrait and the image of others. “People should not have mirrors hanging in their rooms.” This sentence begins and ends her story “The Lady in the Mirror.” This is not about shame, but about the deceptions of reflections in the eyes of others. Virginia Woolf refuses copies, because she sees herself, she does not need mirrors.
Natalia LL wrote about her installation “Panic Sphere” in March 1991: “My installations “Panic Sphere” are images of the head on chairs. The ephemeral matter of the head image is executed on photographic canvas, because it is a secret image of the true image (veraikon) of the essential. The chair is for me a kind of key to reality: it means not only to sit or to settle, it is a symbol of concreteness and calm.
The “Panic Sphere” is a call for freedom. Humans experience pain and are fragile, they must not be crushed by the primitive. The human mind is the principle of what governs the world.” Chains of associations to Veronica’s napkin can build up in the viewer. This self-reflection of the artist, aimed at gaining new spaces: the necessary intimacy that makes these spaces of artistic and also gender identity possible, sheds light on “public” space that does not always allow the object to be the subject.
Women photographers like Natalia LL have this space, and they fill it completely. Whether they find themselves reflecting or losing themselves in it, the images do not reveal. They are not documents that want to capture stages and processes, not testimonies of “securing traces”, since they refer entirely to the moment – timeless and yet at a specific time: as unique moments.
Text: Carmen Lode