Get to Know Artist and Photographer Natalja Kent

September 5, 2019
by Rebecca Tokofsky, Myki Arntson

Get to Know Artist and Photographer Natalja Kent

During her Camera Obscura studio residency from August 7 – November 13, photographer Natalja Kent is continuing a project titled "Movement Artifact". This project follows the changes that can occur as people engage with their bodies and with art. Natalja’s project and the public events during her residency invite participants to engage in sessions of movement and meditation followed by photography and other image-making.  

We spoke to Natalja about her practice and plans for her residency at the Camera Obscura 

How would you classify your practice?  
I consider myself an artist/photographer. I grew up in a home of artists and took to oil painting and photography from an early age. This has informed my trajectory of experimentation and openness. For a time, my work was more installation-based. I played in experimental rock bands, I hosted multi-media events, I made sculptures. I believe being an artist is deeply rooted in listening to one’s intuition – and that guidance will take one to the right places to work, whatever that may be.  

Caption: Natalja Kent, photograph with digital drawing, 2019  

What connects your visual art and body-based work? 
For me, meditation is the space I open for my intuition to become a stronger, and integrating it into my art was a natural progression. While going through a particularly rocky time in my personal life I decided to take a class in Mindful Based Stress Reduction Meditation. There I learned the tenets that gave space to my body and feelings in a way I had not had access to before. I began integrating this mindfulness practice into most areas of my life, eventually weaving it into my art-making. 

Can you tell us a little more about your Movement Artifact project?   

Movement Artifact represents the intersection of my most intimate mediums: photography, research and embodiment practices. Chromogenic prints serve as artifacts of embodied performances held in solitude within the pitch-black darkroom. 

In 2013, during a Jin Shin Jyutsu body-work session, I was advised that I needed to release an internalized fear embodied by my maternal line from generations of totalitarian and oppressive rule, most directly through my mother, an immigrant to the U.S. from an oppressive communist regime. This lead to a flood of research into various forms of embodiment techniques, including Mindful Based Stress Reduction Meditation, Feldenkrais, breath-work, Zero Balancing, Janzu, Acupuncture, singing, somatic therapy and cranial sacral therapy, with particular interest in the research of Dr. Amy Cuddy, Dr. John Kabot-Zinn and Dr. Mario Martinez, whose work with biochemistry, body movement, meditation and neuro-immunology are opening new terrain into embodiment practices. 

By bringing these aspects of research and method into my practice, I draw forth a body of work that questions the role of the artist’s presence, embodiment and the materiality of chromogenic paper. Large scale prints serve as traces of movement, singing, light and meditation in a private, blackened space. The final prints bring forth a sense of an open channel into an unseen realm in which the artist is active. On the surface, one can interpret the prints solely on the aesthetic plane, while further investigation reveals something uncanny at work. This space of slippage, opening and the unknown lies fixed into the silver halide surface. 

Caption: Natalja Kent, chromogenic print from “Movement Artifact” series. 

We can’t get over the vivid colors you use. How do you do it? Do you subscribe to any particular theory of color and the mind? 

The vivid colors are the outcome of digging into the materiality of chromogenic paper. This color, analog, darkroom paper is made of very basic, high saturation, light-sensitive layers. When one uses the basic elements of colored gels (plastic sheets) and light to expose the paper you can get all sorts of color ranges. The coating and silver halides make the colors very rich and luminous. 

In terms of color and the mind, I have noticed that I am particularly sensitive to color and light. Certain light and color arrangements can make me feel very calm, safe and happy, while others might stimulate a feeling that something is wrong. I became aware of this sensitivity at a young age and would experiment with it in my mother’s painting studio with colors and light. Today I notice a sense of “rightness” when something is harmoniously lit or has a color orientation that I enjoy.  I believe many people are like this, whether conscious or not, and that’s why we enjoy nice lighting, well-shot films and beautiful imagery or even time by the ocean. 

Caption: Natalja Kent in her studio 

What do you want to accomplish working with participants at the Camera Obscura?  

I’m greatly looking forward to opening up my process and methods with the hopes that it may spark creativity, curiosity and joy with which others can spur their own projects. I have a set of tools I use to access my creative flow, and I’m always curious to see what other people do to make their work. Because artists often work alone, there isn’t a lot of shared information about those processes. I hope to open that up by sharing my embodiment and art practice with the public, and by inviting three other practitioners to collaborate on workshops. My exciting guest facilitators are Sondra Au, Kristi Karou and Bree VanZutphen. Each of them will bring their meditation/embodiment and art practices into the workshop for aexploratory experience. 

In the end, I have no expectations about a specific goal but I believe the journey will be fascinating. I’m excited to see what people do and make and creative in this open forum of experimentation.  

To find out more about Natalja Kent and RSVP to her culminating exhibition on November 9, 2019, visit santamonica.gov/camera. Santa Monica Cultural Affairs is dedicated to promoting artist involvement in the community. For information about artist opportunities, including residency programs, visit santamonica.gov/arts. 

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