Adriana Czernin

Adriana Czernin’s early videos, such as the one in which she ties herself to a wooden stake like a goat, certainly make an impression: Over and over again we see her try to break out of the circle, but she is always held back by the rope. In another video, she continuously and ceremoniously winds a long scarf around her head. The Bulgarian artist, who lives in Austria, typically sets out to film constricting situations. A theoretically infinite space becomes a limited surface. The space she delineates with the rope or the head scarf finds its counterpart in the tight focus of the fixed camera. In her newest video, Dandelion, 2001, Czernin matches the title with a manic, even absurd plot. We see only her legs, with a simple flowered smock coming into the picture now and again. In a little patch of meadow she hops from flower to flower and smashes each little dandelion blossom with her foot until the meadow is uniformly green. The hedonistic, boisterously naive skipping of a happy woman in a flowery meadow (or so the cliché goes) is transformed into a destructive act.

Czernin continues this idiosyncratic disruption of feminine behavior patterns in the four large-format drawings she exhibited along with Dandelion. She treats the video medium as a kind of preliminary study for the drawings that follow. Even though it is not possible to present movement in drawing, let alone create the effect of the short sequence endlessly repeated in a loop, Czernin does achieve a similarly intense claustrophobic feeling with her sketches. In one of these untitled works a woman hovers in a place devoid of any spatial perspective. The pictorial space is filled entirely by a nearly unbroken ornamental pattern of identical flowers that continues in the woman’s dress.

Floral forms have been among the most common types of ornament in art since antiquity; in modern times flowers took on special importance in the vocabulary of the Jugendstil. Czernin uses this tradition with vigor and even extends it: Her ornaments are clearly vehicles for meaning. It almost seems as though the artist takes as her inspiration the title of Adolf Loos’s famous essay “Ornament and Crime” (1908). Her tortured body position, the cramped poses of her hands and feet, clearly fly in the face of ornamental elegance. The flowers, representations of harmlessness, instead become threatening, their pattern expanding into a corset into which the female body has been laced and from which it is trying to free itself. The necessity of this attempt is exactly the point made visible, subtly but relentlessly, in Czernin’s drawings.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.