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Reviews

Eva Kot'átková at Modern Art Oxford

Eva Kot'átková A Story Teller's Inadequacy, Modern Art Oxford.

Eva Kot'átková straddles the genres of collage, sculpture and performance in a paradoxically elegant showing at Modern Art Oxford on the subject of inarticulacy. Underpinning elements of the work are weighty notions, based on the philosophical works of her father P. Kot'átkov and the plays of Samuel Beckett.

Her use of the Upper Gallery at MAO is beautifully poised but within the poetic restraint threatens a riot. It is visually stunning, approaching minimalism yet generous in line, detail, texture and interplay of materials. Those familiar with the gallery will know that it is a glorious space, but one which is challenging nonetheless. Many sculptural works shown there struggle to find coherence, and can fall - leaving the viewer seeking a visual hang dissatisfied. I think this is particularly so when sculptural works are not specific to the site.

Like Abraham Cruzvillegas, another truly successful hang for the Upper Gallery, Eva works with the space and claims the floor with a curiously shaped charcoal coloured surface inspired by a diagram from a book which lies open on a bench, which forms part of what appears to be an impossible and eccentric playground inhabited by odd 'furniture' and grown-ups. The fluid, puddle or ink blot like shape containing this melange of equipment turns out to be a face in profile, Picasso style.

As a playground it's never going to pass the health and safety standards of today and harks back to school 'apparatus' of the 1960's and 1970's. Yet none of the pieces are quite standard. Fashioned from a delicate-looking iron is what looks like bird cage with a trunk or open slide and a curious hooped pair of arms for arms to slot into. You wonder if this is designed for enjoyment or restraint. There are many such pieces of 'apparatus' embedded in what looks like smooth school tarmac and the work is entitled "Speech organ of Anna, a girl who pronounces words from the middle, 2013".

A glance at the gallery notes tell you that the grown ups are performers, their movements and gestures, poses, dance and pantomime fragments are attempts to animate the speech organ, but they are doomed to failure. They can't coax the parts of the organ into coherence and Anna's wrongly articulated words remain thoughts trapped in the mind. On the day of my visit there was only one performer (usually there are two) and this perhaps increased the sense of graceful futility and isolation.

I like this notion very much, and yet I responded more to the work through another of the themes Eva works with picked out in the gallery notes of "a disaffected world in which rules must be obeyed but are not understood." For me this phrase embodies the compelling nature of the work and the sense that it gives of a 'primary' experience, more redolent of early childhood, when we must perforce follow the rhythms, routines and rules in adult-led environments without full cognition. The rules from this perspective can seem floating and senseless and yet we are obliged to follow them through neither having choice nor knowing choice exists. For me this instantly chimed in with autistic experience of social rules we must live by, which have to be followed without a sense of the shared neurotypical assumptions that govern them. I feel the show could contain significant resonance for autistic viewers, where the struggle for coherence and communication are core.

The long rectangular glass-fronted cabinet to the right of the 'playground' when approached from the staircase contains dozens of cut-out figures suspended with string. String lines are drawn over the figures, often extending the line and reinforcing the sense that these part and whole figures are 'tied-up', bound and sometimes gagged puppets. All of the figures appear to come from vintage photographs and magazines, they perform gymnastic feats or strike physical poses in gym wear and hand knits. Eerie and beautiful, you find your gaze drawn in repeatedly to wonder at the string. It's a simple device, set in an quasi domestic case, and yet it's narrowness and the length of it together with the stringed figures within form a frieze not unlike a battle tapestry. Our senses are not completely fooled by the quaint vintage contents and attractively oddball staging. There is a quiet violence at play. Endless figures are suspended, parts of them bound. The spooky articulacy about inarticulacy continues and you begin to sense Beckett's shadow.

The Middle Gallery 1 houses the 'Narrator in good shape and a Narrator in decay lecture-performance, 20013' which I saw without the live performance, which takes place on Saturdays at 2pm. I hear this is the riot that threatens throughout the show, it's the moment of break out. Even without the performers the piece stands. Gracefully staged and humorous it builds a sense of expectation with empty chairs, lecturn, chalkboard and the use of recordings of a P. Kot'átkov lecture with spliced audience interruption and raucous laughter. The lecture begins, collapses and continues, but was ever barely audible so that the content was hardly in danger of being understood from the off. I loved the discovery of this space and the way the sound carried into the small ante room that is Middle Gallery 2 interrupting the "Black theatre (Stage for the fragmented body) video in 3 parts, 2013".

That Eva uses her father's work within her own work is fascinating. It is not only an exciting instance of intertextual cross generational work, but also adds a dimension to the show whereby the inarticulacy between generations is hinted at, yet there is the opportunity for repair through the device of incorporation into a new body of work. The good shape and decay of the title suggest a poignancy also found in Beckett - the hope and the helplessness combined, of waiting and aging, of speaking and failing to be understood. The rules which have been set up for the dissemination of knowledge are subverted in ways many of us might wish for in reality. There is not only the imperfection of communication to consider but also the impermanence that threatens a body of work or a vision.

The video in 3 parts is fittingly shown in the intimate space of Middle Gallery 2, a three seater white bench thoughtfully provided shines out in the cosy gloom. Sophisticated simplicity shines also from the screen as you are lulled back into childhood spaces once more where blacked out hands position a seemingly endless sequence of cut out body parts in a game of constant surprise and mismatch. It's enthralling, rhythmic and absurd. A visual poem to fragmentation and the attempt to reassemble. There is a pleasing game to be had in identifying these body parts in the class cases in Middle Gallery 1. In these cases the figures are pinned not hung. Like butterfly specimens the bodily fragments are classified by part, trapped and displayed for our curiosity. Not for the first time in this show, I found myself running excitedly between spaces like a child.

I visited the show with three generations all of whom were charmed by the vision and drawn in by the layers of meaning.It seems we could all relate to the underlying coherence of this work about incoherence, much of which is communicated by the visual poetry within Eva Kot'átková's aesthetic.

My one regret is that no catalogue accompanies this show. My one wish is for an Eva Kot'átková cut outs book. The work is crying out for both.