You are an unwanted intruder in the dark red silk-draped walls of the Colloredo-Mansfeld Palace, a long-time neighbour of the Charles Bridge in Prague. Ancient floors squeak under your feet, cracked muddy mirrors distort your reflection and abnormal cold gets under clothes: the atmosphere of intimacy and mystique reigns over the premises of the palace’s Baroque wing. It’s a perfect place for an exhibition titled “The Rabbit and the Queen.” Yet you leave the site with a sense of disappointment, not impressed by the works of Alena Kotzmannová.
Kotzmannová, a Czech artist and photographer, assembled an exhibition specifically for the Colloredo-Mansfeld Palace, grouping together the palace interiors, photographs, videos and everyday objects. The title suggests that the installations are thematically linked to Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” However, only a children’s porcelain cup with a picture of a rabbit that hangs from the ceiling by its handle and a tea table with green stuffed chair in the first room remind of a famous phantasmagorical fairytale.
“This exhibition addresses the space for which it has been created,” said Kotzmannová in the press release. “It does not intend to merge with it, but it does not take a critical point either. The architecture and decoration of the Colloredo-Mansfeld Palace exhibit a high degree of presence of historical elements with additional layers of modifications, adaptations and interventions of diverse styles and qualities.”
The installations are forced to fit the premises: in some cases it impresses, while puzzling in others. A photo of a man’s legs in black leather shoes and classic trousers through matching lines becomes a part of the palace’s ornamental wainscoting, making a visitor stop and closely examine Kotzmannová’s work. However, a flat TV screen showing light-blue clouds installed in front of an old fireplace is a trivial, hardly experimental jest.
A little more exciting is Kotzmannová “Hall of Ancestors”: parts of ornamented red silk that covers the walls are cut out to reveal pictures of complicated mechanisms, similar to a structure of water supply system. From afar the installation looks like the palace’s veins and capillaries, breathing the life into an old, abandoned building. The gallery’s caretaker seems to admire the installation: passing it by, she shrugs her shoulders and says in broken English with a sigh, “This is art.”
A true piece of art is the palaces’s Baroque-era ballroom, elegantly decorated with sculptures, mirrors and grand-chandelier. Its vaulted ceiling is embellished with a fresco depicting the “Assembly of Olympian Gods,” which survived through the years in an exceptionally authentic condition. Kotzmannová used the room as a space for “An Attempt at Regaining Reality VI”: eight pictures of rocks printed on semitransparent flag cloths. The installation looks like mini-Stonehenge hidden in the centre of Prague.
Kotzmannová’s other works are less mystically looking: most of her photographs depict everyday objects and situations. Black-and-white pictures of carefully folded bathrobe, male black leather gloves, wine glasses on a white tablecloth, black-hooded man in a forest, and a duck gliding on the glossy surface of a pond cover tables and walls of the Colloredo-Mansfeld Palace.
Ordinary is not what you expect to see at the exhibition titled “The Rabbit and the Queen,” but it is still worth visiting, even just for the beauty of the Colloredo-Mansfeld Palace. Kotzmannová’s works will remain there till Jan. 29, 2017, and admission is free.
Photo courtesy of Anna Pleslová