Discussion Topic: Old is New Again with the iPhone-Nina Katchadourian’s airplane bathroom photos

Nina Katchadourian, Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style

What do you do when you’re stuck on a long plane ride without wi-fi or a good book? If you’re the performance artist Nina Katchadourian, you construct a good photo with airline magazines, sugar packets, or toilet paper, which she uses copious amounts of to construct ‘fancy’ headgear for her airplane bathroom portraits. Evoking the stiff and uncomfortable headdress seen on many Flemish portraits of women, Katchadourian creates Flemish-like hats out of the limited material available on your typical flight. This may remind you of Duchamp’s readymades and how he recycled material with an ironic twist. Explore Katchadourian’s website with her airplane bathroom portraits and compare them to an iconic Flemish portrait by Hans Memling, his stellar portrait of the young 14-year-old bride Maria Portinari in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What do you think of Katchadourian’s self-portraiture? What do you think she is saying about herself?

Hans Memling, Maria Portinari, c.1470

Seat Assignment: Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style

Link to Hans Memling’s portraits of Tommaso and Maria Portinari at the Met

A Video of Katchadourian’s Seat Assignment


Please post your responses by Saturday, May 12th. 

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15 Responses to Discussion Topic: Old is New Again with the iPhone-Nina Katchadourian’s airplane bathroom photos

  1. When surfing Katchadourian’s website, I really got reminded of Duchamp’s readymades. They both make use of simple things and give them a whole new meaning. Duchamp saw what many didn’t in a porcelain urinal; while for many is just an object used by men for urinating, for Duchamp it was more than that; it was a piece of art that resembled a fountain. Likewise, while for many people toilet paper is used no more than for cleaning purposes, Katchadourian saw something else in it. She saw the way to convert simplistic material or objects into pieces of art. With mostly the use of toilet paper, toilet cover seats and a black scarf Katchadourian made a set of photographs that evoked 15th-century Flemish portraiture. In her pictures, Katchadourian does take into consideration many of the Flemish portraits’ standards like the black background seen in most of this kind of portraiture. Besides, she uses the toilet paper to get a religious look, which was very common for the time. She also simulates the heavy draperies with voluminous folds wore during the 15th-century. Her treatment of space along with the figure proportions within her portraits made her pictures really approach to Flemish portraiture from the time. An example of this is Hans Memling’s Maria Portinari. Memling’s painting is similar to Katchadourian’s portraits in the position of her hands, the scale and perspective in which the photo was taken, and the serious look on her face. Finally I think Katchadourian is reflecting her sense of irony, humor and creativity, which is really admiring.

  2. Katchadourian’s self-portrait made me giggle at first. It is always humorous to see how some people make use of their time, especially in scenarios like airports where waiting is part of the traveling process.

    In comparison to Memling’s portrait of Maria Portinari, Katchadourian seems to be saying, “I can do that, too.” Or, maybe she wanted to mimic the image and take on Maria Portinari’s persona delivered through Memling’s painting–that of a stellar, beautiful young bride of high class status. Katchadourian succeeds, embodying the poise and heir of Maria Portinari–but with toilet paper and sanitary seat covers (which, honestly, is what makes me laugh). I can definitely see how Katchadourian is successful with her career as a performance artist.

    Katchadourian makes art with things found in airports and on airplanes, which I think is fantastic. The creativity displayed in these pieces shows how one can not only make good use of their imagination, but also of their time! Airports require (sometimes) hours of waiting, and making creative masterpieces is a great way to be productive.

    • sarah52 says:

      I agree with you. She is creative and knows how to use simplest thing to depict the typical art. And her expressions on each and every single photos are to die for. what surprises me the most is even if she was bored, how she thought about mimicking Memling’s portrait of Maria Portinari.
      we all appreciate a good art and good sense of humor. Katchadourian has proven us how to make a dull, boring time to a useful time and a pinch of the imagination can give you something really creative and awesome stuff out of it. And I think she did enjoy what she had done as we did.

  3. mohsensoofi says:

    The self-portraiture speaks of itself. It seems Katchadourian’s playful mood with the papers. However, it could also be the projection of the old costumes and clothes which reflects the photographer’s nostalgia about the different designs of bygone ages, she has made out of paper. The use of phone camera must be accompanied with an eye for the subject and that is reflecting quite appropriately in the pictures shown in the video. The pictures of the daily mood and life of people and objects is portrayed very appropriately and that reflects life.

  4. jcrawford says:

    Ok 1st off, for the sake of not barfing, I’m just going to magically assume those bathroom tissues weren’t used, due to lack lack of “evidence.”

    Secondly, I personally find this to be more creative than Duchamp’s work (that poor-excuse for a toilet pic in particular). At least the artist found a more constructive way to utilize random crap. So kudos to her ingenuity and creativity.

    Thirdly, all due respect to the artist – I appreciate the enthusiasm,
    but you can’t sit there and tell me you wouldn’t die laughing if you just randomly walked in to a woman wearing a crown made of urinal accessories.

    I know I’m not the only one. . .

  5. Alexis Y says:

    When comparing Nina Katchadourian, Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style and, Maria Portinari portrait by Hans Memling, if I didn’t know that was toilet tissue she was wearing, then I would say that Nina was wearing Flemish style clothes. It is rather fascinating to see that she just uses material around her to recreate images and make you look at them differently. She is what you call a post modern artist. Although it fascinates me at how creative she can be when recreating images with just the materials around her, I believe for her to start doing this in the first place was because she had to be bored out of mind.

  6. zee215 says:

    Nina Katchadourian’s use of appropriation in the creation of new art work shows creativity. The fact that this was done in an airplane is pretty impressive and goes to show you that art can be created anywhere. We are lucky to be living in an age where this is possible with smartphones, and the Internet as a medium which you can reach a wide audience within minutes of posting your work.

  7. superartist says:

    Now this is a real artist that is what she is saying through her photos.Nina Katchadourian, Lavatory Self-Portraits speak that she as an artist recreate the photos that are most admired and make it into her own style. She reminds me of cindy sherman because cindy also has the ability to portray different characters and she uses herself as the person that is being photographed cindy sherman herself has also recreated portraits of herself using the same style . I think that Nina is on to something and something big. I believe that her ability to recreate portraits like these show her creative ability on her being an artist.

    This is my post!

  8. mzambrana says:

    I really enjoyed reading this piece on Nina Katchadourian’s airplane bathroom photos. I found it to be very playfull and in a way rejunivating. We barely see photographers take a leap from the usuall studio or outside photos. Instead Nina Katchadourian’s showing her viewers that one must not have the expensive camera or the expensive decorating pieces to stage. In contrary everything that you need is right in front of you. For Ms. Nina Katchadourian it was the Lavatory. She really should the ability to recreate and make a alreade made portrait in to her own. Comedic!

  9. mzambrana says:

    Camera Phones are truly becoming popular these days. Especially with hipstamatic, instragram, retrocamera.

  10. ahna0812 says:

    the self-portraiture speak everything for the photography. Katchadourian’s had shot a lot of different angle of the self-portraiture. also, Katchadourian got a lot of different accesory in the pictures. and this accesory very attract other attention when looking at the pictures. this is very unique for other kind of photography, because Katchadourian using the weird thing to cover the hair and make people attention.

  11. sarah52 says:

    The way Katchadourian has improvised the materials around her to mimic flemish style photography it was humorous however, I think she was successful. It is interesting to see that even she has done her photography in a plane’s lavatory with her cellular phone, we could see how she portrait the typical expressions in her photos. In a long fourteen hours flight she made something creative out of boredom. And I think she sees art on everything and she thinks no matter where you are you can play with whatever you have and create something artistic.

  12. kathrynli says:

    The photographs were cute and entertaining. It is amazing how somebody can be so creative with limited resources. Nina Katchadourian used a number of different angles to match her poses and the character she is trying to portray. If I have not read the description, I would not have known that she was in a plane lavatory at all.

    I would love to see what she is able to do with other objects from a plane. Perhaps a fork, spoon, tray? It would be even more entertaining if she had a sidekick to play along as well. She could use the light from the windows to contour and contrast the background as well.

  13. aleckzzz23 says:

    The airplane art of Nina Katchadourian’s is really unique. The technique she uses for production of some photographs including the self-portrait series, I would call an instant appropriation. She makes a new art having the images of Flemish master pieces in her head, using the current surroundings and random objects. Although Katchadourian’s airplane art appears very simple and easily reproducible, it is smart and I believe required some sort of off plane preparation.
    I think that Nina Katchadourian is a true creative artist. Her works are full of irony and made with high level of creativity. What is the difference between artists and ordinary people? A good artist looks at the world differently and is able to see things from the different prospective.

  14. asensog3 says:

    I can say that from these various images, Nina is very creative. I have tried taking portraits of myself using the bathroom mirror and they all turn out to have the same or similar pattern, even with the many materials available at home unlike the bathroom on the plane.

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