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

A group of participants lying down inside a giant sculpture inside a gallery.
  • View of Eva Koťátková: My body is not an Island, CAPC d'Art Contemporain, Bordeaux, 2022. Photo: Arthur Péquin

Eva Koťátková’s installations invite us to enter a different kind of world – one where social rules and relationships are critically reimagined. Combining sculpture, drawing, collage, costumes, text and sound, her vast and playful scenographies centre the agency of the imagination.

Storytelling sits at the heart of the exhibition How many giraffes are in the air we breathe?, which explores the tale of a young giraffe called Lenka. Captured in 1954, Lenka was the first ever giraffe at the Prague Zoo, but survived only two years in captivity. Her body was then donated to the Natural History Museum, only to be exploited as another visitor attraction.

Lenka’s 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 Prague’s main public square. This exhibition explores this story and all its symbolic possibilities: as an image for the colonization of our bodies and of the non-human world, as well as for the violence of the modern human condition.

The exhibition consists entirely of a new body of commissioned work, including an audio play produced in collaboration with local children from Seely Primary School. This sound work, presented across both of our galleries, voices a collection of narratives and responses related to Lenka’s dual lives as a living animal and as a museum object.

Developed in collaboration with Nottingham Contemporary’s Learning and Exhibitions teams, the exhibition invites visitors to enter into the story of the giraffe and participate in Koťátková’s exploratory world. Create your own version of the story in the giraffe puppet theatre; sit, listen and daydream under a giant suspended net sculpture; and contribute your own stories to our collective story board.

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