Critics’ Picks

Eva Kotátková, Speech Organ of Anna, A Girl Who Pronounces Words from the Middle, 2014. Performance view, Modern Art Oxford.


Eva Kotátková

Modern Art Oxford
30 Pembroke Street
November 30–February 2

Using black-and-white collage, as well as film and live performances, Eva Kotátková playfully enacts the inner lives of Oxford University’s student population in her current show at Modern Art Oxford. First, she constructs an installation comprising both large-scale prints of vintage photographs that have been doctored and marked and metal sculptures that alternately resemble doodles and diagraphs. Drawings that could be the notes of a frustrated researcher line the ground under these sculptures. Then, for her performance installation, Speech Organ of Anna, A Girl Who Pronounces Words from the Middle, 2014, an actress is strapped inside a spherical metal cage that’s a bit like an enclosed hamster wheel; inside, she rolls around on an area of the floor that is paved with chalkboard, upon which a detached door and a ladder have been erected. These objects stay far removed from her activity in the wheel, as if inaccessible symbols of opportunity and escape.

Finally, as the exhibition’s centerpiece—a weekly lecture-performance—an actor, assuming the role of a professor, delivers a monologue inspired by a talk that Kotátková’s father (a professor of philosophy at Prague’s Charles University and a visiting scholar at Oxford) delivered on literary narrative traditions from Balzac to Beckett. During the piece, hecklers planted in the audience intervene and argue with one another, the authors, and the professor. For the viewer, it is like watching live-action thesis writing. And for research scholars whose work is solitary and often haunted by similar angry internal debates with primary and secondary sources, Kotátková’s performance cuts close to home. During several of the recent performances, audience members have reacted to the hecklers with resistance, discomfort, bemusement, and encouragement—perhaps animated by their own struggles with the scholarly process.