Natalia LL’s solo exhibition ‘Probabilities’ gathers works from the early 1970s created during the onset of Poland’s ‘consumer communism’ initiative and massive borrowing from foreign countries to modernise their industrial economy. The Polish People’s Republic workers were incentivised through significantly increased wages, imported consumer goods and relaxed restriction on cultural expression (other than direct political critique), which laid the ground for Natalia LL’s ‘Consumer Art’, 1972-1975.
In the film and similarly titled series of photographic portraits that dominate the space of exhibition, the artist and models gaze into the camera or at the intended male audience, oscillating expressions between coy and seductive – and suggestively consuming bananas, sausages or dripping creams. Although the works risk flirtation with self-colonisation and exploitative exoticism, the perodic critique of commodity exchange of the body is successful through a refusal to expose it fully.
The well-regarded, feminist pioneer of contemporary Polish avant-garde prioritised unique individual gestures and an assertion of female figures to confront objectification. The film ‘Impressions’, made in 1973, embraces sensual, physical expression in response to Western conceptual art’s cool, male dominated vocabulary. Carolee Schneemann’s ‘Fuses’ immediately comes to mind when watching the film, which also aimed to imbue and physically manipulate the material, visual experience of film with internal, bodily energy and differentiate authentic female pleasure from pornography.
Subjective positioning is echoed in the vinyl text piece, ‘Natalia (!)’ where the letters of the artist’s first name are rearranged to produce 5000 new semantic possibilities – claiming ‘deconstruction within the boundaries of the work’, while producing a ‘novel experience’ through employment of the gallery’s features. The text piece is an apt exploration of the artist’s visual vocabulary in various forms and an illustration of the exhibition’s understanding of her practice through the methodologies of probability theory.
Given the limited critical context of her work generally, however, it is the artist’s essayistic texts written alongside the making of the works that elucidate her intention of the body as a primary medium for action and the camera positions as ‘points of support’. Although not included in the exhibition’s selection, the video ‘Points of Support’ (1970) underlines Natalia LL’s priority to physically mediate complex systems related to human activity. In the omitted film, the artist creates positions with her nude body on the grass in the Pieniny National Park to mirror 18 celestial constellations – a bold series of public actions at a time when other non-conformist ‘performances’ (in now Eastern Europe) were held only in private, undisclosed spaces. In fact, during this same period, Natalia LL co- founded PERMAFO (abbreviation for permanent formalisation), an eponymous gallery and photoclub in Wrocław, alongside Zbigniew Dłubak, Andrzej Lachowicz and Antoni Dzieduszycki to provide a space for experimental art.
Overall, the exhibition’s interesting proposition of reading of Natalia LL’s work through the theory of probability is slightly overshadowed by her emblematic ‘Consumer Art’ series – although meant to be operating within the show’s premise through their potential for random configuration. ‘Probabilities’, nevertheless, does assert a valiant and important contribution to sustaining interest in artists who have been largely forgotten during a permanent formalisation of the canon – and hopefully underlines a need for continued revisionism.