CM: Natassa Poulantza's Portrait 1917 is part of an installation in progress comprising portraits of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (1870-1924), better known as "Lenin". Launched in 2007, it is based on published photographs of Lenin from the age of four to his death from stroke at 53. As in her preceding series of flower portraits, which gave a sense of shape, Poulantza aimed to present images from different moments in the life of Lenin with no agenda, wishing to explore the emotions and reactions they arouse in each individual viewer.
Poulantza created this portrait from a photograph of Lenin she found on the Internet. Here, Lenin is 47, and it is 1917. Wearing a wig and clean-shaven, he has disguised himself as a farmer to elude the Tsar's agents in Finland. It should be noted here that - unlike the figures of Stalin and Hitler that were blemished by history - Lenin's figure symbolizes the human necessity of the Bolshevik Revolution. The fact is, however, that the revolution Lenin instigated collapsed over the years. Now that the fears of communism and fascism have been overcome, Poulantza is interested in exploring through her work the significance of Lenin's image to people today.
Portrait 1917 is not realistic, but varies from the original source. The color, dominated by fuchsia, places this work in the category of pop art. The pose was chosen to bring to mind something other than the stereotypical image of Lenin - a very important person of Hollywood with a degree of superficiality. Embodied in a corner vitrine, it clearly refers to the well-known kitsch installations containing memorabilia of idols - such as those that Americans fans keep of Elvis in their homes. The choice of corner for the vitrine is also reminiscent of the traditional tendency of Russians to make a corner of their homes into a sacred iconostasis. The corner as a location identifies a point between humanism and empathy, which is simultaneously peculiar and inconvenient.
Poulantza placed Portrait 1917 on one side of the corner so that the viewer would not see it head on, while on the other side it is reflected in a mirror so that the real picture is not viewed directly and so that upon the viewer's approach the picture gets confused with his own reflection. Thus, the viewer enters into a state of illusion and is forced to neglect the dimension of the work as a monument. The vitrine is white, as becomes this work's purity. Also, owing to its simplicity - that is, the absence of that wealth of extra ornamentation that customarily fills displays devoted to religious or other idols - Portrait 1917 inspires an inner calm, which expresses Poulantza's position - to leave the work open to interpretation by refraining from commentary, irony, or suggestion.
Portrait 1917 was presented for the first time in the exhibition Which Way to Utopia? at the Municipal Market of Kypseli in Athens in 2008.
[Megakles Rogakos 01/2008]
ROGAKOS, MEGAKLES Silent Dialogues: Multimedia Portraits Throughout Time 2008 The American College of Greece - ACG Art, Athens
ARETI LEOPOULOU & THEODORE MARKOGLOU Personal - Political 2009 State Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki