Freaks: Lusus Naturae brings out the beauty
Review by Natasha P.

Lusus Naturae

“Lusus Naturae”, meaning “freak of nature” in Latin, is an online exhibition by the BcmA Gallery in Berlin running from 21 January - 7 February, exploring unconventional beauty bordering on the grotesque. Curated by Berlin-based curator Vanessa Souli, the exhibition aims to highlight the forgotten appreciation for the deformed and the ugly. Exploring Frankensteinism, a group of established contemporary artists express their individual ideas on what it means to look for beauty in the ugly, and - from an objective view - if ugliness exists at all.

Society today has unlimited access to a visually pleasing world shaped by social media, and as a result we no longer appreciate unconventional beauty. We have turned a blind eye to non-conventional creations that would have been appreciated - and celebrated - by the generations before us. These so-called “freaks” have greatly influenced folklore, literature and art, and without them we wouldn’t have the gargoyles, sprites and toyols in the stories that we grew up with.

maniacal.grin - Joanna Buchowska
The Beauty, The Beast 2 - Mascha Naumova

Of the selection of paintings from the wide spectrum of artists presented, the first one to catch my eye was Japanese artist Katsuhiro Matsubara’s “IT #48”, as his use of colours in his 3D oil painting reminded me of the human digestive system. Funnily enough, I thought his use of the colour pink in a square frame was very cute but the red, to me, looks like the presence of bleeding, or a deformity like a tumour. Perhaps the “It” in the title hints at this uneasy presence. The red bleeds into other parts of the painting, like the spread of cancer cells from one part of the body to another.

Polish-born artist Joanna Buchowska’s acrylic paintings immediately strike me as ominous, and bring to mind the time of the plague. The creatures in the paintings look like they are wearing a variation of a plague-era doctor’s outfit. The paintings, of course, were only just created in 2021, so it could be a reference to the current pandemic plaguing humanity. Her piece “maniacal.grin” features a Grim Reaper-like being staring directly at you, the audience. Its unrecognisable form, in an all black get-up, stands in sharp contrast to the more picturesque background. The piece is as beautiful as it is disturbing. Another piece, “freewheeling”, reminds me of creepy vintage halloween costume photos in the way they are lined up.

I_m so tired. - Semra Sevin

Berlin-based artist Katharina Arndt’s marker on fabric works feature varying frames of a woman taking a selfie on her smartphone. The titles, “Who am I #1, #2 and #3” all represent the collective lack of identity in an individualist society. In an age where it is an open and common practice to surgically alter yourself to fit a very strict standard of beauty, there is a glaring lack of range. Once our images are put on the internet, do we have ownership over our image? Or do we exist solely for the eyes of others? Her use of white marker to draw lines on black fabric strike me as play on the fact that there is not much room to push out of conventional standards of modern beauty.The woman is drawn with her pupils largely dilated to express the high from the dopamine rush we get from cheap validation that social media provides.

Russian performance and video artist Mascha Naumova’s self portraits “The Beauty, The Beast #1 and #2” contain very strong imagery. Known for her thought-provoking art, she depicts herself in a tub of milk with slabs of chicken skin over her face and breasts. It represents the yin and yang in all of us - the balance of good and evil within morality that can quite easily go out of balance. The portraits are undeniably stunning but the chicken skin, to me, feels like a reminder that beauty is often garnered through unethical means. It also strikes me as a possible critique of consumer culture and the damage to the environment caused by industrial farming. Human greed prevails over our empathy for other creatures, as seen in the chicken skin and milk which are used only to enhance the beauty of the human subject.

Supernatual femme fatale - Anna Nezhnaya
Who am I #3 - Katharina Arndt

While representing a smaller section of the exhibition, the sculptures featured are all very unique and attention-grabbing. Also Russian-born, Anna Nezhnaya’s “Supernaatural Femme Fatale”, featuring a female demon locked in a cage, reminds me of how demon imagery - temptresses, succubi, and devil women - has been used over the course of history to label sex-positive women.The cage surrounding the female demon represents the societal shackles that have been placed upon the free woman.

German artist Semra Sevin’s “I’m so tired.” is a simple work, with just “Tired I’m so” written in red on a broken mirror, yet it is affecting, as anyone in this day and age can definitely relate to being permanently exhausted. Just looking at your own reflection in a broken mirror can be jarring.

The oddities presented in all their glory have made this exhibition one of my favourites. Pretty art is easily digestible and pleasing to look at, but we often forget that art is meant to be thought-provoking and a way to push the boundaries of norms. Personally, I found the exhibition to be intriguing. As I deconstructed the symbolism in each work of art, I found myself diving deeper into the depths of my own psyche.

The “Lusus Naturae” Virtual Opening Tour can be watched on IGTV via the BcmA Instagram (@bcma_berlin).

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Natasha P. is a participant of the CENDANA - ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

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