The concept of consumerism came about in Natalia LL's works in the 70ties. Depicting aesthetic and erotic processes of consumption, her works on the topic have a fascinating and yet perverse allure.
The series Sztuka Konsumpcyjna / Consumer Art and Sztuka Postkonsumpcyjna/ Post-Consumer Art consist of a set of black-and-white and colour photographs, along with films of women eating a variety of fruits in a suggestive manner: bananas, hot dogs, jelly. The models are sensual blonds with doll-like features, which endows their movements with a somewhat perverse and certainly erotic character. Through repetition of a series of frames, the stages of their activities can be traced. Displayed in a matter-of-fact fashion, the physiological activity of consumption is juxtaposed against the sterile elegance of the meticulous photo print.
A work of art that presents the trite act of eating can be considered provocative, particularly when the activity is taken out of context, as a feast would have been in the art of the past. It can be deemed an attempt to face off against the arrogance of artistic communication, which ensures that a certain piece will be identified by its audience on the basis of existing concepts that relate to the subject presented. Natalia LL's Consumer Art would thus be close to her earlier works, such as Rejestracja Permanentna / Permanent Registration, 24 Godziny / 24 Hours or Sfera Intymna / Sphere of Intimacy from 1970-1972. These were the result of an absorption of the idea of art as an ongoing process, whose permanence and directness could be compared to the nature of the processes of life, such as breathing, sleep, eating or moving around.
'Permanent Art' was a movement touted from 1970 onwards by the Permafo group, with whom Natalia LL collaborated, along with Andrzej Lachowicz and Zbigniew Dłubak. Their strategy was based on references to subjects related to universal, common situations, which were documented in the most direct way possible. The concept was associated by critics with Pop Art, particularly with the cinematic poetry of Andy Warhol. In the case of Natalia LL, the association was true enough in that Pop artists referenced icons of mass appeal and took up the subject of capitalist livelihood and widespread pro-consumer propaganda.
The sense of such an undertaking was, nonetheless, a dubious move in Poland at that time, where the socialist economy of scarcity abounded. In this climate, it comes as no surprise that Natalia LL's work wasn't given proper critical consideration. From today's perspective, however, the 1970s in communist Poland comes across as a period of a fierce awakening of the consumer appetite and the opportunity to create visuals to help sate them. In reality, the possibility for consumption was severely limited, but paradoxically, this fact only confirms the political statement issued by the artist. Consumption, which in the decade of Gierek was a political tool, and controlled inventory that appeared on store shelves in moments crucial for the government's agenda, existed in the realm of expectation and imagination for society and steering it was one of the ways in which to hold a firm grip on power.
In order to obtain a critical angle on Natalia LL's work, researchers took the erotic character of the photographs into particular consideration. Piotr Piotrowski wrote about the ostentatious relation between eroticism and consumption, perhaps even a 'consumptive eroticism', of the works. In his opinion, the reification of eroticism exposed within them was an integral part of mass visual culture. Moreover, he deemed the work critical with regard to the carefully masked misogynist propaganda campaign led by the government in socialist times, which was only one of the symptoms of a greater problem - a negative stance towards women that is deeply rooted in Polish culture, in its myths and stereotypes. On the other hand, Agata Jakubowska in her interpretation of Natalia LL's works took on the perspective of Lacanian psychoanalysis, which led her to observe that the model in the photographs takes on an active role, whereas the masculine element – the phallus – is reduced to a symbolic object, a product for consumption. The active role of the female is set against the objectification of the male, thus the traditional cultural and social roles are reversed.
What's important is that the woman in this piece is the subject of the presentation, creating her own vision of reality, snatching the role of the photographer. The spectator, traditionally reserved for the male, for whom women would 'present' themselves, bestowing him with the power of surveillance. In this work, the gaze belongs to the women, understood not only as the photographer. The model in the photographs has her eyes wide open, focused straight into the lens, and through that lens, with the viewer. The works are constructed in such a way that the gaze of the viewer drifts between the lips of the model and her wide-open eyes. Watching, observing is in this way identified with consumption, but here the power lies with the woman, who does not only eat up the symbol of male dominance, but controls her own gaze and her own image.
- Natalia LL. Sztuka i energia / Natalia LL. Art and Energy, catalog, eds. Andrzej Lachowicz, Adam Sobota, National Museum in Wrocław, Wrocław 1994
- Agata Jakubowska, Kobieta wobec seksualności - podporządkowana, uwikłana czy wyzwolona? O kilku aspektach twórczości Natalii LL z perspektywy psychoanalizy Lacanowskiej / Woman in the Face of Sexuality - Subjugated, Entangled or Liberated? On Several Aspects of the Works of Natalia LL from the perspective of Lacanian psychoanalysis, Artium Quaestiones, No. VIII, Poznań 1997
- Piotr Piotrowski, Znaczenia modernizmu. W stronę historii sztuki polskiej po 1945 roku / The Meaning of Modernism. In the Direction of Polish Art History after 1945, Poznań, 1999Natalia LL
- Sztuka konsumpcyjna / Consumer Art Photography Series 1972-1975
Author: Magdalena Wróblewska, November 2009. Translated by Agnieszka Le Nart, November 2010.