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“Animals I’m Scared of: …(Collection of Anxieties)” (2016), wood, paint, metal, string, plastic funnel, stone, chalk, paper, and glass, dimensions variable (all images courtesy of Maccarone, unless noted)

Playful and disquieting, the installations constructed by multimedia Czech artist Eva Kot’átková are critiques of social, bureaucratic, and governmental structures. In the form of collages, drawings, sculptures, photographs, videos, installations, and performance pieces, the works in each installation draw from different sources of anxiety and fear (whether personal experiences or those of a larger group). By making hidden thoughts corporeal, she connects her audience to her psychologically charged objects.

At Kot’átková’s current exhibition at Maccarone, a mouse’s home is the snake’s body, the gallery is crowded with several complicated installations that reference imprisonment and restriction. With her work, constraint correlates to the rules and expectations set by societal, institutional, and systemic structures, as well as the anxieties that result from them. With a dark humor that partially stems from her youth in the former Czechoslovakia, she explores the private self within institutional and ideological constructs. Visitors must walk carefully to observe all her detailed, bizarre objects without hurting them; in this way the works become obstacles through the large space. It is almost as if the gallery has become the set for a play, with the cautious viewer becoming part of the installation and the narratives within it. The viewers are conditioned to reflect on the relationships between people, ideologies, and the larger structures created by the installations and our society.

“Group Therapy of Office of Delusional Ideas” (2016), wooden chairs, metal, string, books, textiles, shoes, paper, and glass, dimensions variable

“a mouse’s home is the snake’s body” (2016), metal, string, wood, paint, paper, dimensions variable

a mouse’s home is the snake’s body evolved from art workshops Kot’átková held with children at a large psychiatric hospital in Prague. She developed motifs for her work and the exhibition from many of the drawings she collected, which feature the children’s anxieties and fears, rendered via creatures like snakes and physical barriers such as fences and walls. The artist then turned these motifs into collages and large wire sculptures, the multiple installations unsettlingly enlivening traditional fears and those specific to institutionalized children.

“Body in the Fence I” (2016), metal, textile, paper, and glass, 49 x 87 x 19 inches (photo by the author for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)

Several of the Dadaistic collages from the exhibition, in which the fusing of objects and bodies evokes both fascination and discomfort, were included in Kot’átková’s recently published two-volume artist book, Pictorial Atlas of a Girl Who Cut a Library into Pieces (JRP|Ringier, 2016). The first volume, based on a fictive schoolbook from the 1980s, includes approximately 300 photographs of schoolchildren playing with collaged objects or being constricted by them. The second volume features archival documents of rules and regulations from a range of public institutions in Communist Czechoslovakia with all the verbs obsessively removed, effectively turning these documents into totally ineffectual scripts. By pairing a substantial amount of valueless archival regulations with drawings and collages that reflect the harm caused by these outdated rules, Kot’átková disrupts decades of restrictive structures. The deconstruction physically manifested in her drawings, collages, and installations contribute to both their absurdity and the unraveling of the frameworks they originated from. In this exhibition and in past ones — the physical archive of anxieties in Asylum at the Venice Biennale (2013), for example — Kot’átková’s creation, recontextualization, and deconstruction of restraining ideologies and structures provides an opportunity to reconsider and reject them.

Kot’átková has been able to translate her personal experiences under Communism for a broad audience. While it is in part a reflection of her own psychodramas, there is also a universality to her work. Her focus on strict systems and their effects on the individual is applicable to many repressive environments. Rules can be restrictive, expectations can be high, and fears can cause consternation, but Kot’átková proves that by dealing with these pressures head-on, we have the chance to work through them.

“Untitled (a mouse’s home is the snake’s body)” (2016), collages on paper, glass, wood, and paint, 24.5 x 150 x 9 inches

“Preparation for a Speech” (2016), metal, string, paper, and glass, 85 x 44 x 30 inches (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

a mouse’s home is the snake’s body continues at Maccarone (630 Greenwich Street, West Village, Manhattan) through June 18.

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Ashley McNelis

Ashley McNelis is a writer, curator, and art historian based in New York. Her published work can be found on her website.