Q+Art: Artist Natalie Lambert Reclaims Control with Fetish and Fantasy
Disclaimer: Images featured in this article are sexual and explicit in nature.
Who says pornography can’t be art? Natalie Lambert thinks it can. Working across a wide range of media, the multidisciplinary artist challenges our notions of art, sex, and the grey area where the two intersect.
With its focus on fetish imagery, Lambert’s work walks a fine line between titillation and deeper self-discovery. While erotic art has existed since cave drawings, sex and art remain uneasy bedfellows in popular culture. Defenders of art distinguish between the two with a distinct, though problematic, set of criteria. But Lambert rejects the easy categorization, finding middle ground between aesthetic appreciation and sexual expression. “The work I am making is in conjunction with my sexual fantasies and fetishes, where I am walking in a line between the art world and the fetish world, and trying to join them,” she notes in her artist statement.
In his 2012 paper, “Who Says Pornography Can’t Be Art?” University of Kent senior lecturer Hans Maes theorizes a new distinction between pornography and art: That the two are defined by how we’re expected to engage with them. We’re expected to consume porn; art is for appreciation. But Maes suggests the two forms of engagement are not mutually exclusive. Lambert’s work takes this theory and runs with it, combining larger ideas about gender, objectification, and power into work that ultimately encourages sexual consumption.
Lambert’s work focuses specifically on BDSM subcultures where consenting partners exchange varying degrees of sexual power with an agreed-upon set of rules. For Lambert, control over others through role play lets her reclaim a measure of sexual agency after centuries of misogyny and objectification. Bathed in red light, the leather-clad women in her photographs are part of a new aesthetic, one that rejects seedy smut purveyors for radical, egalitarian porn that focuses on female pleasure, sexual expression, and aesthetic beauty.
To learn more about Lambert’s work, please visit the Toula Gallery. Created by Lambert during the pandemic, the digital platform supports artists excluded from the mainstream art industry.
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Natalie Lambert discusses the unnecessary guilt surrounding sex, why making bad art is OK, and her experience opening a digital gallery for underrepresented artists.
Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Natalie Lambert: Getting Your Shit Together: The Ultimate Business Manual for Every Practicing Artist is a business guide for artists is definitely a book I recommend for any artist; it has helped me so much. From figuring out how to price, to picking a graduate program, to writing down what goals I want to achieve.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
NL: I would love to have dinner with Vito Acconci and Karen Finley.
What are you trying to express with your art?
NL: I want my art to be educational, to understand the uncomfortableness we feel around sex and have an open conversations about it. To understand that everyone wants pleasure and not to feel guilty about it.
Would you work for free in exchange for exposure?
NL: I would not, unless I was helping out a fellow friend who won’t abuse the power of my kindness.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
NL: Honestly my guilty pleasure is to binge watch TV shows for days, even while I work, if I’m not listening to music.
What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?
NL: My greatest achievement so far would have to be opening up my own online gallery platform for artists who aren’t represented or pushed to the side due to the hierarchy of the art world. There are amazing artists that we don’t get to see, so having a platform that highlights some of their work is just one step closer to changing the way we talk about and view art.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
NL: That you’re gonna make bad art, but that’s OK because it means growth. And to not be afraid to fail at first.
What is one thing you would like to change about the art world?
NL: I want there to be more equal opportunities for everyone, and that there shouldn’t be a hierarchy of art. I’ve tried by posting open calls and residencies on my instagram story for fellow artists to find opportunities that might be better suited for them rather than keeping it all to myself.
Would you rather be a historically significant or commercially successful artist?
NL: I would like to be historically significant. I won’t be upset if I never sell my work…educating and making my work is more important to me.
What are you listening to in the studio right now?
NL: I am listening to Ashniko and Brooke Candy as of lately.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice?
NL: I have been very lucky this past year and have had a studio where I could make.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
NL: I am very excited to be starting a two-year book project with people in the fetish community. As well as working on some larger performance pieces that I hope to show soon.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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