Marietta Mautner Markhof (2020)

The work of Catalina Chervin differs significantly from art movements that project concepts and content onto their imagery by means of language, material,  mathematics, or digital technology. Over the past forty years it is these that have characterized the art world.

Chervin’s drawings represent a complete antithesis to this approach without ever being “expressionist”: From her “surrealist” drawings mirroring bodily inner feelings of the late 1980s and 1990s until today, the basis of her work is within the human body in general and her own body in particular, as opposed to its outer appearance.

In Chervin’s central body of work About the Apocalypse, living contemporaries of the catastrophe of 9/11 can revisit it as a physical experience. The collapsing “towers” appear like two halves of a human torso, their connecting spine dissolved. The surrealist organs of the 1990s have become organelles, “catastrophic bodies” plunging into darkness like torrents of ash and smoke. Reminiscent of a teeming mass of plummeting figures, this calls to mind depictions showing the Fall of the Damned in Christian iconography.

The transfer of bodily inner feelings to the experience of the outer world continues in virtually all of her later drawings: The “organelles” transform into concentrating or intertwining linear marks that model the architecture of the Written  Landscapes. In the works from About Darkness they again inhabit the gloom as surreal heads and body parts. In the transparent, often untitled works of the 2010s, the former organelles have morphed into obsessive whirls and hatch marks, engulfing the picture space; the shadows of collapsing bodily and towerlike architecture are distinguished by the “empty trace” evoking the dissolved spine. These empty traces also structure the Mixed Media Diptychs, in which Catalina Chervin integrates collages from her previously drawn formal inventions.

The extraordinary tenacity with which she probes human physical existence and, modified according to different perspectives, makes this accessible to the viewer, allows the emergence of something akin to a series within these distinguishable work groups. But these are not subject to any system.

The contemplation of the human organism and the immediacy of the feelings and memories this awakens seem to be a richer source of art than any concept related to the inventive mind.


* Dr Marietta Mautner Markhof
is an Austria  art historian . She has worked in Vienna as an assistant and lecturer at the Institute of Art History and also taught the Master Class in Restoration and Conservation at the University of Applied Arts, and has lectured at the Écoled´architecture in Paris-La Défense. She was a curator at the Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts – Museum Moderner Kunst and the Albertina (1993–2018) in Vienna.)


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