Eva Koťátková: How many giraffes are in the air we breathe?

27 May-3 Sep 2023
PV 26 May 2023, 6.30-9pm


Eva Koťátková's exhibition explores oppression and imagination through storytelling at Nottingham Contemporary

Eva Koťátková’s installations invite us to enter a different kind of world – one where social rules and hierarchies are critically reimagined. Combining sculptures, collages, costumes, texts and sound, her vast and playful scenographies centre the agency of the imagination. A giant bush is given voice; children befriend monsters; animals, plants, objects and people enjoy equal rights. For Koťátková, the imagination is not about reverie. It is a critical tool to envision how the world could otherwise be, freed from the forms of oppression, inequality and violence that keep us captive within normative structures. Often activated through performance and storytelling, her installations present a cosmological worldview ruled by a different set of empathetic relations.

Koťátková’s exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary consists of an entirely new body of commissioned work, produced specifically for two of our large-scale galleries. Storytelling sits at the heart of the exhibition. It centres on the tale of a young giraffe called Lenka, which the artist first discovered as part of her project at the National Gallery in Prague, where she gathered over 200 stories from members of the public.

Lenka was captured in 1954 and was proudly presented as the first ever giraffe at the Prague Zoo. She survived only two years in captivity. Her body was then donated to the National History Museum, only to be exploited as another visitor attraction. However, her life as a museum object was complicated by blunders in the preservation process, which caused the release of toxic gases and the temporary closure of one of Prague’s main public squares. The exhibition will develop this story and all its metaphorical possibilities: as a cipher for the colonization of our bodies and of the non-human world, as well as for the violence of the modern human condition.

Co-developed by Nottingham Contemporary’s Learning and Exhibitions teams, the exhibition will directly engage local communities and audience groups by inviting them to participate in Koťátková’s exploratory world. An audio play, produced in collaboration with local children from Seely Primary School, presents a collection of narratives and responses related to Lenka’s dual lives as a living animal and as a museum object. This sound work will be hosted within a large-scale installation that includes a net-like rope sculpture suspended from our impressive 9 metre-high ceiling, as well as a floor-based textile where visitors are invited to sit, listen and dream, and contribute their own stories. Throughout the summer season, the exhibition will be further activated by workshops, activities and prompts devised by the artist and our Learning and Live Programmes teams.

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