Anna Daučíková, Upbringing Exercise, 1996, ink-jet print, 27 1⁄8 × 19 5⁄8".

Anna Daučíková, Upbringing Exercise, 1996, ink-jet print, 27 1⁄8 × 19 5⁄8".

Anna Daučíková

What makes Anna Daučíková’s work so fascinating is its severe, even acerbic lucidity on the one hand, and its poetic refinement tinged with eroticism on the other. Both qualities were on display in the new piece that Daučíková, the recipient of the 2018 Schering Stiftung Art Award, created for the exhibition of her work at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art. Titled Expedition for Four Hands and Accompaniment, 2019, it consisted of several sheets of engraved glass, a publication commemorating the late Greek human-rights activist and drag queen Zak Kostopoulos, and a three-channel projection. Its central screen featured footage of the depths of a cave along with schematic drawings of hand positions, derived from Caucasian folk dances, whose sexual connotations evoke a world where traditional masculinity is alive and well. The left screen showed the artist’s own hands cutting glass; on the right were a man’s hands, with red-painted fingernails, carefully folding clothes. Combining hard and soft, feminine and masculine, the sharp edges of cut glass and a voyage into a dark and mysterious interior, the work was profoundly ambivalent and exuded an air of danger, sensual allure, and lyrical intensity.

This was Daučíková’s first institutional solo show outside her native Slovakia. Born in Bratislava in 1950, she studied at the city’s Academy of Fine Arts and Design with the Czech glass artist Václav Cigler. In 1979, she moved to Moscow for love and became involved in the Soviet capital’s underground lesbian scene. Returning to Bratislava after the disintegration of the USSR, she became a prominent voice of the local LGBTQ community. She identifies as transgender, leading, as she puts it, an existence “in between”—in her art no less than in her life.

Glass has remained one of Daučíková’s favorite materials, for its physicality as much as its immateriality; invisible in itself, it can serve as a barrier as well as a projection surface. A group of photographs titled Upbringing Exercise, 1996, shows the artist in a room with tiled walls, perhaps a clinical setting, as she pushes her breasts against a glass pane: Flesh yields to deforming pressure. The title of a less eye-catching piece, Chthonian Greeting for C. Paglia, also 1996—in which hands cleaning a bowl in a sink appear on a monitor—hints at the theoretical ideas that nurtured Daučíková’s oeuvre. Proposing to regard not excess but the ordinary as abysmal and inscrutable, the American feminist Camille Paglia prefers the term chthonian for anything to do with the underworld, “the blind grinding of subterranean force, the long slow suck, the murk and ooze.” And such depths lurk everywhere in this artist’s work, even in acts as innocuous as the washing of a dish.

A room divided by glass walls was especially compelling. It contained a display case with steel ornaments, minimalist representations of female and male genitals that brought instruments of the subtlest torture to mind; the photographs Ground research (sitting), 1996/2019, in which Daučíková strikes the poses of male thinkers; the slide projection 24 Kisses (performance), 1997–98/2019, featuring close-up shots of lips “kissing” a glass pane; and the three-channel projection On Allomorphing, 2017, in which the camera pans across the shelves of books in the artist’s personal library. The glass walls reflected the projected images, framing perspectives on the works while acting as invisible/visible obstacles establishing distance. Lips pressed up against glass in a sensual gesture cross-faded into the words on the spines of challenging texts; the vulgar jewelry clashed with the distinguished figure of the thinker. Knowledge, violence, sexuality—have these three not always been intertwined? Yet rarely has art rendered their relations more cogently. That this artist has so far garnered little international attention is baffling; with this exhibition, that situation is bound to change.