Eva Koťátková and Dominik Lang
Curated by Tessa Giblin, with warm thanks to David Upton, Assistant Curator of Visual Arts
Wasteland is a newly commissioned exhibition by Czech artists Eva Koťátková and Dominik Lang. It is accompanied by Theatre of Speaking Objects – Eva Koťátková, an installation running daily in our Cube theatre space until 14 February.
Eva Koťátková and Dominik Lang are both fascinated by the institutional characteristics of the pervasive systems that shape and determine our lives. At Project Arts Centre, the two Czech artists are collaborating for the first time on Wasteland, a new work that will transform the gallery into a hypothetical place: a model or a testing chamber; an exaggerated or elongated study of the forms, systems, rules and restrictions which define the institutions that surround us. This place they are building suggests at once a storage yard, a ghost estate, a repository of ideas and methodologies that have passed, but whose remains prompt us towards an inner logic that reveals – or obscures – their purpose. Wasteland will be filled with ‘humble objects’ (Lang), ‘institutional rules’ (Koťátková), structures, scaffolding, geometric forms, phantoms, imagined items and salvaged things. These create a vocabulary of forms that might remain after an object has been modified or taken apart, or after an institution has been wound down – abandoned forms that remain without anyone to witness them or to respond, but which recreate the daily illusion of order through institutional rules.
Eva Koťátková’s daily drawing practice involves cutting, collaging, splicing and marking. Her installations and sculptures are underpinned by similar processes, where objects and subject matter are found, fabricated, captured or suggested, stimulated by the practices and accumulated evidence from institutions of psychiatry, education and indeed theatre, and infused with the psychological and physical effects of restraint, moulding and manipulation. Koťátková is constantly exploring the body through gesture, language (and its limitations) and architecture.
Dominik Lang has located many of his previous works in the architecture, infrastructure or politics of the artworld as social institution. The alteration or ‘correction’ of aspects of architecture (the level of the floor, positioning of a staircase or function of certain museum rooms) are areas he has sought to adjust. From the troves of Czech history of art to the overflowing shelves of his family home, the life and exploration of historical objects repeatedly surface throughout his practice, and the way in which these histories are accessed, understood, and abstracted are an enduring field of interest.
Eva Koťátková and Dominik Lang join Project Arts Centre in thanking the many individuals and organisations that have supported these projects, including the voices lent by Nyree Yergainharsian, Jose Miguel Jimenez, Robert McDermott, Cian O’Brien, Noelle Brown, Sarah Pierce and Hugo Byrne, Annette Devoy and Jasmin Maher. Further warm thanks to Christy Maher, Dublin City Council Eamonn Ceannt Park, Galerie Hunt Kastner in Prague, and to the generosity of the Irish Museum of Modern Art in providing a Production Residency for Koťátková and Lang during their time in Dublin.
Eva Kot’átková has exhibited in the recent international exhibitions of Venice Biennale (2013), Moscow Biennale (2013), Sydney Biennale (2012) and Lyon Biennale (2011), as well as making solo exhibitions at Modern Art Oxford and Kunstverein Braunschweig in 2013, amongst others. She studied at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts, Prague Academy of Applied Arts, San Francisco Art Institute and Akademie Bildende Kunst Wien from 2002-2007. In 2007 she became the youngest artist ever to be awarded the Jindrich Chalupecky Award for young artists in the Czech Republic.
Dominik Lang exhibited in La Triennale (2012), and has presented recent solo exhibitions in Secession, Vienna (2013), Kunsthaus Dresden (2012), and in the Pavilion of the Czech Republic at the 54th Venice Biennale (2010). He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague in 2008, while taking one year during his studies at Cooper Union in New York and the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague. Currently he is head of the sculpture studio at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague, together with Edith Jerabkova, and in 2013 he was also awarded the Jindrich Chalupecky Award for young artists.
Art Monthly Review by Chris Clarke
Eva Kotátková and Dominik Lang: Wasteland (Chris Clarke, Art Monthly Issue #374, March 2014)
Project Arts Centre, Dublin – 7 February to 14 April 2014
Amid the array of ambiguous forms in Eva Kotátková and Dominik Lang’s new collaborative work Wasteland, one finds a semi-circular steel arc leaning against a gallery wall, a flat patch of asphalt, stones of varying sizes, an old-fashioned postbox bound with twine, smooth white off-cuts of ramps and gullies (or as the artists describe them: ‘9 modules for hills and curves from the park, still unpacked’), dead leaves, dirt and debris. Many of the items – a bicycle propped up behind the entrance door, tree branches, sections of fencing, unknown cylindrical and spheroid shapes – have been wrapped in plain brown paper, and their seemingly haphazard arrangement suggests a sort of holding site, a place of (temporary) storage between points of distribution and destination. A metal sign lies upended across the floor, its message sheathed in this ubiquitous wrapping with only a slight tear revealing a snippet of text: ‘except for first two hours and last hour of each day.’ This cryptic phrase accentuates the installation’s atmosphere of time suspended, of objects left in a state of unending stasis, like the assorted undeliverable parcels and packages that find their way into the postal service’s ‘dead-letter office’.
While Wasteland doesn’t attempt to replicate such a space, it does share a similar logic in its preoccupation with that which escapes or eludes the institution and its systems, and this ethos is demonstrated here in a fictional framework of correspondence (albeit one which is resolutely one-sided; the responses of the recipients are absent, their letters unanswered). This narrative structure is shown as a grid of pages, in white typeface on black paper, recording the artists’ requests to transplant an existing public park to a newly proposed location. The missives, alternately signed by ‘E’ or ‘D’, suggest an increasingly convoluted series of bureaucratic and logistical hurdles and the absurd discrepancies between artistic desires and regulatory demands. ‘E’ writes: ‘Dear Sir, I am happy to inform you that we have just sent the rain puddle with a small transport company […] Please tell your staff to carry it with attention, as previously discussed it has to be carried in a horizontal position protecting the puddle from leaking.’
While the uniform packaging of the objects suggests an interim stage where the objects can neither be moved on nor finally unwrapped, the sparseness of their arrangement also evokes a sense of incompletion. In its fragmented, partial organisation, Wasteland becomes a site of failure: the curve of a climbing frame is rendered useless in its positioning (‘Dear Sir, I would like to let you know that we have just finished the installation of the playground structure according to the instructions you sent. Nevertheless, during yesterday’s assessment from the health and safety department it has been evaluated as absolutely inappropriate for children’s use.’), the sections of fencing are piecemeal and scattered, and trees lie rootless and inert. In one work, a modest gated enclosure contains a pile of rotting leaves and mulch along with a small tree. Each branch is clad in brown paper, frozen in a perpetual state of arrest.
Despite the exhibition’s inference of the dismantling of public property and its comparison to a ‘ghost estate’ in the accompanying text (a loaded term here in recession Ireland), the agenda feels less political than poetic, and not only because of the title’s duplication of TS Eliot’s modernist poem. In isolating and modifying their chosen objects, the artists suggest not only the abandonment of their earlier functions but also the disappearance of effect. Once associated with family outings, community gatherings and recreational activities, such childish things have been put away, wrapped up and silenced. Perhaps a better description is Kotátková’s classification, of these pieces as ‘phantom objects’, spectral vessels imbued with a vast reservoir of unspoken memories and caught in a moment out of time. As Derrida states: ‘What is the time and what is the history of a spectre? Is there a present of the spectre? Are its comings and goings ordered according to the linear succession of a before and an after, between a present-past, and a present-future, between a “real time” and a “deferred time”?’ These objects also seem to operate outside the continuum of time, removed from their original context and delayed from any eventual point of arrival.
Intriguingly, for an exhibition that represents the artists’ first collaboration, Wasteland offers some insight into their respective practices and prior projects. There are shades here of Lang’s subtly subversive interventions within institutional and architectural sites, as well as his powerful 2011 Czech Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, where he re-worked sculptures made by his father, an artist frequently subjected to the Soviet era’s aesthetic and political strictures. For Kotátková too, the disciplinary measures of institutions have been a recurring area of interest and enquiry, and, fortuitously, Project Arts Centre has allowed a slight overlap between this exhibition and its preceding solo show, also by the artist, entitled ‘Theatre of Speaking Objects’. Located in the darkened interior of the adjacent Cube theatre space, this immersive installation spotlighted different everyday objects, with recordings of disembodied voices emitting from their orifice-like openings: a small barred window set into a wardrobe cabinet, the aperture of a vast pot, a curled and freestanding roll of carpet. Each item was engaged in its own private conversation, stammering through the alphabet or dissecting the complexities of language yet unable to reach out to its co-habitants. Language itself is a structure, a system that confines and constrains expression. Moving from one object, then one gallery, to the other, it became evident that, while Wasteland marks a new departure for both artists, it also feels wholly integrated, a synthesis of their individual, established patterns of working. Underneath the carapace of paper wrapping, one is left unable to pick apart the seams that tie these practices together.
Chris Clarke is a critic and senior curator at Lewis Glucksman Gallery, Cork.
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