I was intrigued by the work of Czech artist Eva Kotátková when I saw her small objects and collages arranged across a broad horizontal pedestal in the central pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale. More recently, the artist was represented in the New Museum’s Triennial exhibition through an installation of metal restraints, furniture, and collage across a yellow wall. The artist materializes how we are socially and psychically bound, and this remains true of her new work on view in the solo exhibition Error at the International Studio and Curatorial Program (ISCP) in Brooklyn. The archives of an asylum inspired Kotátková in collages, metal sculptures resembling medical apparatus, and performative objects meant to be worn on the body, all of which display the artist’s recurring concern with constraint and institutional systems.
Of the works on view, Anna (pictured above) was one of my favorites. This surreal and unwieldy marionette visualizes the psychological barriers that can separate us from others–that muffled sense of isolation that Sylvia Plath referred to as the descent of the bell jar–and is based on a record of the asylum. A psychiatric patient had drawn herself wrapped in a rug, believing that no one could see her inside. Kotátková reinvigorates the pathetic fallacy with new life, as Anna becomes a vehicle for communication rather than isolation. Anna is part of Kotátková’s Theatre of Speaking Objects, a series in which she tries to make objects function as vehicles for communication. Detailed wall text and titles clue the viewer into the historical inspiration. This familiarity is useful when encountering the video on view in the other room, which deals most elaborately with the records left by a past patient.
The artist also used records from the asylum to create The Judicial Murder of Jakob Mohr, a new video work that features an inmate defending himself in a patently artificial setting of cardboard and paper crowns. Filmed at the Bohnice Psychiatric Hospital in Prague, the video presents a staged trial performed in the hospital’s theater with professional actors, staff, and patients. The artist was inspired by a drawing in which a patient had depicted himself as a defendant on trial in a courtroom of masked doctors or fellow patients who are conspiring to betray him. Does such a drawing or video represent the patient’s perception of real events in his life, or does it suggest a personification of his mental struggles? An alternative is to ask whether such paranoia forms an apt, if Kafakesque, lens for human experience.
Kotátková creates so many objects that imply the body that it is especially rewarding to see her imagination come to life through the performances in The Judicial Murder of Jakob Mohr. In the video, like all of the works on view, her focus on the relationship between human bodies and the oppressive institutional structures that surround and regulate them is both playful and disconcerting, theatrical and earnest.
Eva Kotátková: Error is on view at ISCP until April 8.