Lavatory Self-Portraits In The Flemish Style - Nina Katchadourian - 2011

Nina Katchadourian travels a lot. She’s clocked up 102 flights since March 2010, mostly for exhibitions, projects, teaching and lectures. She could, as many of us do, drink gin and tonic, watch five films back to back and sleep. But Katchadourian makes better use of her time. Using her camera phone, she takes photographs of amusing still-lifes improvised from the objects around her. The series, Seat Assignment, includes more than a dozen sub-projects: in Provisional Shelters, Katchadourian builds edifices from crackers; in Buckleheads, she snaps portraits of her neighbours reflected in her seatbelt buckle; and in Sweater Gorillas, she has created abstract, simian faces from the folds of a black sweater. They’re the sort of daft things a bored teenager might come up with, but Katchadourian’s gonzo-style shots and the repetitive, taxonomical nature of each study lend her otherwise slightly silly photographs a certain thoughtfulness.Lavatory Self-Portraits In The Flemish Style is her most creative vignette. On a flight from San Francisco to Auckland, she put a paper toilet seat cover on her head and took a picture in the mirror. Well, who wouldn’t?
The image, she realised, evoked 15th-century Flemish portraiture. So she experimented: a neck pillow and napkins serve as a medieval wimple; and an eye mask, napkins and a paper cup echo Vermeer’s Girl With A Pearl Earring. Katchadourian often strung up her scarf as a background, and insists she didn’t hold up the queue for the toilet, making her forays mostly when other passengers were asleep.
Aspects of Seat Assignment were first exhibited in February 2011 in Dunedin, New Zealand. In what is probably an artistic first, the bulk of the work was created on the flight from New York. Katchadourian is currently on show at the Turner Contemporary in Margate, and may well inspire visitors to get creative on their summer holiday flights this year.
Photograph: Nina Katchadourian/Catharine Clark Gallery


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