An odyssey of pattern and rhythm, the video Primavesi House begins with a still
image of Viennese modernist Josef Hoffmann’s 1913-14 country house built for
his patron Otto Primavesi. This, one of the last remaining photos of this house
which was destroyed by a fire in 1922, shows an empty foyer and its component
objects (lamp, mirror, bureau), all of which are covered in a repeating black
and white pattern, the mauerblümchen or wallflower, designed by Lotte Frömmel-
Fochler of the Wiener Werkstätte. As the sound of footsteps rises, the camera
begins to pan, zooming into the wall until the pattern fills the frame.
Gradually, we are immersed in a wide expanse of the mauerblümchen, meticulously
redrawn digitally by Dornner. The pattern begins to shift and move, and we are
taken into a pulsing, mutating dance of the black and white motif.
An utterly euphoric animation by Dornner, the video takes us on an exuberant
romp into design and form. Using post-twentieth century tools of motion graphics
the artist offers a new potential for the density of pattern and expressionism
that were essential to Hoffmann’s early 20th-century gesamtkunstwerk. Seated on
Dornner’s elegant interpretation of a bench destroyed along with the Primavesi
house, one is taken into another world. The viewer imagines herself visiting the
Primavesi family’s country home, robed in a garment patterned with the room’s
motif (following the custom prescribed by Hoffmann), and miraculously delving
into a hyper-real, hallucinatory experience. Set to an instrumental tune of Ryan
Paris’s, La Dolce Vita, this hard-edge vibration of busy pattern is transported
to the early 1980s, where the italo-disco soundtrack speaks to another kind of
liberation and joy.
This uninhibited and restless dynamism easily shifts to a consideration of
hysteria and mania. Considering modern Vienna as the backdrop to the dawn of
psychoanalysis, the context of this décor is inseparable with the historical
cases of hysteria. This highly decorated room becomes emblematic of the domestic
space, thus the woman’s space: the domain of hysteria primed for a psychotic
experience. Dornner cites the influence of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story, The
Yellow Wallpaper, about a woman’s decent into psychosis, hallucinating within a
wallpaper pattern. Dornner’s playfully buoyant video reinforces the flexibility
of perception and the destabilization of the self within reality.
Sarah Dornner was born in 1979 in Valencia, CA. She studied at the University
of California, Los Angeles and later received an MFA in Sculpture at the Yale
University School of Art in New Haven, CT. Her work has been shown at Casey
Kaplan Gallery (solo), the Albright Knox Gallery, Rachel Uffner Gallery,
Thierry-Goldberg Gallery, and at IFF Gallery in Marseille, France.