Thursday, January 5, 2012

Madonna of Life and Death: Nathalia Edenmont

The nice thing about big cities is that you can stumble upon hidden treasures every time you turn a corner. True, you can also fall into the clutches of a criminal gang or step in droppings of a not discernable animal, but even if those things would happen to me, I would forget them easily because of all the unexpected, wonderful things that could have happened. I am rarely this positive, so it's safe to say that I'm a metropolis enthusiast.
A perfect example of why I love cities is the trip I took last week with a friend of mine. We drove to Paris (more specifically, we sat in a car being driven) and had one day to take in the atmosphere, visit some expositions and catch up on each other's lives.
Trying to avoid big lines and touristy places we unintendedly ended up in the gallery district of le Marais. There we discovered some interesting artists. One exposition in particular really moved me because of its affinity with art history and textiles. Nathalia Edenmont (°1970) is a photographer born in Ukraine. She went to school in Stockholm after she was orphaned.

Nathalia Edenmont, Self portrait
The color of this work really struck me and instantly reminded me of the fifteenth century paintings of Jan Van Eyck, which I adore.

Jan Van Eyck, Madonna with the Child reading, 1433

 Nathalia Edenmont positions herself in the center of the picture. Her pose and robe are iconic for the Madonna theme found often in classical painting. In place of the baby Jesus she holds a rabbit as if it were a hand puppet. An allusion on the manipulation in religion? Or maybe it signifies the historical power of women, the kind of power that's not visible but was always hiding behind a male actor.
Edenmont often refers to art history in her photographs, sometimes more literal, like in this portrait of a man, were she comments on the gender problem by replacing the Maya of Goya with a male model.

Nathalia Edenmont, Portrait

Goya, The Naked Maja, 1800-1803
Or in another portrait based on Velazquez' Venus at her mirror, where she has placed her model on a shabby bed without any mattress or covers. The naked body is fragile and cold, not surrounded by luxury as with Velazquez' painting.
Nathalia Edenmont, Portrait

Diego Velazquez, Venus at her Mirror, 1650
 Louise Bossut, a Belgian photographer has also touched this subject, but puts the body in a sleeping position. The white sheets give an eerie feel because of the connection with shrouds.
Louise Bossut, Portrait

The two photographers have some other projects in common, like modern variations on the Madonna with child theme.

Nathalia Edenmont

Louise Bossut
Edenmont's view is more raw and at the same time more staged. 
Fashion and textile are very important in her work. In Paris I saw some compositions, made wholly out of butterfly wings. The colors and construction were marvelous. It's almost a textile design and I could see this being used as a print on fabric.

Nathalia Edenmont
References to historical clothing also appear in her photographs.

Nathalia Edenmont

Frans Hals, Portrait of a Man holding a Skull, 1610
The skull on Hals' Painting is a so called vanitas motif. It reminds the observer of the fleeting time and the vanity of life. Edenmont's work also holds a lot of references to death, which could have the same goal.

Nathalia Edenmont
It's important to be aware of the temporary nature of life, it helps you to live in the moment en experience it as a unique opportunity. We often forget that the things that make life wonderful aren't the things we might want, but the things we already have. So enjoy!

The Mere Alchemist

Nathalia Edenmont, 'Existence' in L'Institut Suédois, Paris 


  1. Thanks, now I really want to go see this exhibition ! I especially love the pictures with the butterfly wings, and the rabbit in a vase. There was a picture with the same theme of the little girl with a gun at the Hussein Chalayan's exhibition.
    Keep up the good work ^^!

  2. Hi there,

    I like the fact that you have a great eye for references inside the world of paintings, photographs and fashion. The links you make and the stories that form themselves in your mind are truly inspiring!

  3. Thanks Marion! The exposition was small, but really interesting, not all the pictures shown here were shown at the exposition, but still worth it!

  4. @Anonymous: Thanks very much! I'm glad you like it!

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  6. Interessant en inspirerend! Bij het zien van de laatste foto moest ik onmiddellijk denken aan het werk van Frieke Janssens, en dan vooral aan de reeks " smoking children"! Keep up the good work!

  7. @Danielle: You're doing a little thing called 'alchemisting' woohoo!! I could learn from you!;)

  8. Killing Animals is not Art!

  9. Perfect!
    Everything u wrote is just perfect!