Friday, September 11, 2009

Natascha Libbert

A practised eye

Natascha Libbert (1973) is in the fortunate position of having to travel a great deal, as a result of which she can look at society with a cosmopolitan eye. She has been struck by the fact that people, wherever they are in the world, are bending things to their will, creating something for themselves, making their surroundings their own. This in order to strengthen or disseminate their own identity, to distinguish themselves from the masses and to make a statement about style, taste or personal signature. People construct their own surroundings, because they derive a certain sense of calm from this order.

But staking out one’s territory is no longer enough. We build walls to escape the prying eyes of our neighbours, plant hedges and cover every opening. Irrepressibly, we transform our surroundings. We close ourselves off, withdraw into our bastions. And the more we control our surroundings, the more we lose our grip on them. The more we try to be individual, the more we conform, to the average taste, to global uniformity, to prevailing norms and values. In doing so, we are alienated from reality.

Our society is filled with conflicting characteristics: loss of identity alongside image building, globalisation alongside small scale, individualisation alongside mass mentality, alongside integration of and confrontation between traditions, cultures, religions and lifestyles. A continuous reassessment of fixed and newly acquired values. People are becoming alienated from themselves and from their world in a society that offers little respite. Our senses are over-stimulated. There is no time for self-reflection or contemplation.

People find fulfilment in the material possessions they acquire. In that acquisition, there is always a goal in sight, a feeling that is pursued. The object of our desire must give us a feeling of success or satisfaction. And it does, but only for a fleeting moment. Ultimately we are unable to find permanent fulfilment in tangible possessions. Attempts to do so are as vulnerable as we are.

Photography is a medium that lends itself perfectly to the study of the constructed environment and the role of people within it. This is the area that photographer Natascha Libbert, who graduated this summer from the Royal Academy for the Arts in The Hague, focuses on. Searching for an experience and an ideal. Small or indeed monumental forms of alienation. Beauty that is often present in the human inability to maintain the setting, the way in which people seek self-preservation in this cultivated reality. Her photos speak of the alienation in our relation with the world, of our dreams and ideals.

Her images have an intriguing stratification, which they relinquish slowly and only after careful consideration, just as good wine only slowly reveals the richness of its bouquet. Perhaps this can be attributed to the practised eye of the stewardess, a positionNatascha Libbert holds part time; a quick look to assess situations, alert to anything that deviates from the norm, anticipating and dividing attention without losing concentration. The ability also to observe the less pregnant things out the corner of her eye.

© Pim Milo, 2009