In Eva Kotátková’s world the institutions have run wild. Schools and hospitals spill over and outward into nightmarish fragments and snippets. Despite being in familiar enough territory (psychiatric wards, systems of taxonomy, discipline), Kotátková manages to reconfigure the material into forms that fascinate. Imagine the collected works of Michel Foucault made animate — these systems are endlessly intriguing, especially when pulled apart and laid bare. Kotátková shows that our institutions both structure and sustain us.
Tucked away in a quiet industrial area of Toronto, this exhibition marks the Czech artist’s first showing in Canada. Somehow, this neighbourhood seems a more natural fit than the Gothic canals of Venice, where she exhibited during last year’s biennale. Her monochromatic palette hits a little harder when surrounded by train tracks and auto-body shops. While the colour scheme remains constant, the exhibition has no allegiance to medium. Wearable sculptures stand across from collages, stacked images, varied ephemera, and a monumental table installation. Kotátková pursues a feel, a terrain. Images alone offer recurring elements: birds, skeletal systems, organs, and cages surface throughout. They provide the bass line, the rhythm, to pull you in and lead you through.
Almost all of these images appear within a collage that runs across the gallery’s southern wall. Created for the exhibition, it calls to mind shadow boxes filled with the bizarre. Faces attached to globular, spine-shaped supports, school buildings, fragmented body parts, and figures (mostly children), all hanging from strings in marionette-fashion. The most interesting elements of the collage are the most minute: Kotátková’s interventions into found images (pulled from both Canadian and Czech books). Atop bodies and shapes, she alternately draws or carves geometric structures that give even the most innocuous figures a pseudo-scientific edge.
These etchings and excisions point to Kotátková’s strength: the miniature and the multiple. The collages, replete with small, intricate details draw in and captivate much more thoroughly than her large-scale installations such as Educational Model: Construction for Sitting, Reading, Writing, Drawing, and Learning (2009). Yet, Educational Model does function well within the exhibition as a whole, as it offers a moment of respite and breathing room from the hordes of objects and details.
Throughout, Kotátková knows her idols well. (And how couldn’t she, with work so contingent on the academy?) There are hints of Hannah Höch in the collages, and Franz Kafka in the bureaucratic absurdity. But there are instances when these references hew a little too close for comfort: cutout figures, for example, suspended in front of white paper sheets that capture the shadows immediately point to Christian Boltanski’s shadow-based work. These shadowy figures may also point to the influence of Czech Black Light Theatre, but their execution seems too derivative. Excepting these moments, though, Kotátková has created a world entirely her own.