Natalina Zainal, One Million Dollar Hotel

a cura di Prisma Studio e Francesca Busellato 

5 Ottobre – 18 Novembre 2023


In the tale in images for One Million Dollar Hotel, the environments portrayed are abandoned spaces into which male and female subjects are inserted: The Reader, The Loner, The Dancer, The Boxer. Figures portrayed within a desolate and decadent environment. Natalina Zainal’s photographic work ( aka me is niza ) leads the viewer into unattended spaces that evoke stories in places that had their own identity that has been lost in abandonment.

The impression one receives is alienating: one questions the realism of the situations, only to lean into the narrative imagery created by the artist, until one revises one’s impressions. A real short circuit is created in which the dimension of the real and the fictional narrative intertwine. This is precisely what Zainal’s work is all about: raising doubts, questions, not reassuring.  And also to give an opportunity, to these figures, representative of various social categories, to evoke personal or collective experiences.

The project started in 2016 with part of the shots and continued in 2020 a few months after the end of the Italian lockdown. In the run-up to the pandemic lockdowns, the artist was a guest at an artist residency in Ticino where she took the shots for the Ticino fa vacanze project. She also had the opportunity to get to know the border town of Luino, (Varese), and discover the spaces of an uninhabited and long-neglected villa, where she took the other part of the shots for the One Million Dollar Hotel project. The rooms visible in the shots were chosen by Zainal as effective in creating the right atmosphere to express her narrative.  The photographer then returned on a second moment with the subjects portrayed playing a role and emotion she researched. Other photos from the project were taken in Switzerland’s Ticino in Bären and Verenahof in Baden at a hotel that was being renovated.

The Swiss artist has explored the world of photography since her early training in the arts and has deepened it, always in a logic of creative and design autonomy. Her professional experience in the world of film working in the set design led her to tour several countries, refining her gaze and interest in the relationship of subjects to space.

If in the world of cinema the dimension of the work requires a commitment and a broad collaboration with different professional figures that go to build a filmic narrative, in photography the artist finds his stylistic and realization figure, where she can best express his point of view and his personal poetics. There is not intention to make a reportage but rather to evoke with the shots, made digitally and a subsequent post-production work, a dimension of storytelling at times fantastic where the very construction of the set is guided and structured. 

The post-production itself in certain images is deliberately loaded, in some cases almost pictorial because it is an action in which the artist changes tones and colors at will to give a certain kind of effect that is also emotional. Bellboy for example is a man portrayed almost pictorially; he is kneeling in an old bathroom, made grim and repulsive by the visible dampness, but from which an elegant past is discernible. It is the environment that exacerbates the thoughts of a finely dressed figure who from his pose shows a melancholy attitude, but is also cornered, pressured by the stresses of the world. It is a photo that deliberately plays between realism and fiction. Zainal’s subjects refer to universal stories, not claiming biographical reflection but concealing visions of possible experiences. Even the most uncomfortable ones that society does not want to see.

In the Ticino fa vacanze project  are the spaces that have their own dimension of expression. Always close to lockdown, the best conditions were to immortalize places normally crowded and overloaded with physical and intangible presences, such as sounds and noises, immersed in a total serenity dictated by the forced absence of human presence. The choice of shots fell on benches, slides, and swimming pools that seem to finally take possession of their space, and are also celebrated by clean and bright photography.  Zainal expresses in these two series all her experience on film sets as photographer and artisan that explores the world. Inspirations, for style and color, also come from the world of advertising photography while from the world of contemporary art and cinema for storytelling and the atmosphere of the environments and the visionary enclosed. ( Francesca Busellato )

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