How many giraffes are in the air we breathe?

A review of Eva Koťátková’s Nottingham Contemporary exhibition

How many giraffes are in the air we breathe?

Exhibited at the Nottingham Contemporary, Czech artist Eva Koťátková’s installations immerse the viewers in a multi-sensory experience, where the boundaries between reality and imagination blur. A combination of sculpture, drawing, collage, costumes, text, and sound creates a rich tapestry of visual and auditory stimuli, creating a sense of wonder and curiosity.

One of the notable aspects of the exhibition is the inclusion of young people's arts and thoughts, which adds a refreshing perspective to the discourse. It is commendable to see the artist's efforts to engage with the local community and provide a platform for their voices to be heard. This not only fosters a sense of inclusivity but also highlights the importance of involving diverse perspectives in artistic dialogue.

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The exhibition revolves around the tragic story of Lenka, the young giraffe who endured a short and troubled existence in captivity before becoming a museum exhibit. Through this narrative, Koťátková delves into profound themes such as the exploitation of living beings, the consequences of colonisation, and the inherent violence of our modern world.

However, the exhibition falls short in providing a clear and comprehensive explanation of the underlying facts and extent of the issues it tackles. The messages conveyed often appear cryptic and elusive, leaving the audience to decipher the intended meaning behind references to "giraffes being butchered." While ambiguity can be a powerful tool in art, in this case, it hampers the audience's ability to fully grasp the artist's intended message. How many giraffes are being butchered? Some insight and facts to go away with would really add gravity and urgency to the situation. 

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Nevertheless, the thought-provoking nature of the exhibition cannot be denied. Koťátková skillfully invites viewers to question the prevailing social norms and relationships, encouraging them to reexamine their own roles and responsibilities towards animals within the larger framework of society. The immersive scenographies create an otherworldly atmosphere, where imagination reigns supreme and conventions are challenged.

A highlight of the exhibition is the collaboration with local children from Seely Primary School, resulting in an audio play that reverberates through the gallery spaces. The voices of the young narrators echo the innocence and purity often lost in the harsh realities depicted. Their narratives and responses shed light on the duality of Lenka's existence, serving as a poignant reminder of the complex relationship between humans and the natural world.

Koťátková's exhibition, How many giraffes are in the air we breathe?, offers a thought-provoking exploration of societal issues through the lens of a tragic giraffe's story. While the cryptic nature of the messages and lack of facts may hinder a complete understanding of how prevalent the issues are, the immersive installations and inclusion of young voices contribute to a stimulating artistic experience. With its captivating scenographies and profound questions, the exhibition warrants a rating of 3 out of 5, leaving viewers with a lingering sense of curiosity and a call for further introspection.

Header Image Credit: Nottingham Contemporary

Author

Elle Farrell-Kingsley

Elle Farrell-Kingsley Kickstart Team

An experienced journalist, presenter, editor, and author, Elle is a passionate advocate for youth policymaking, AI ethics, and interdisciplinary approaches. Elle has been recognised for her reporting on emerging technologies and their social impact, earning accolades such as a funded place on the Sustainable Finance for Journalists programme at the University of Oxford and the prestigious John Schofield Fellowship with a mentor from BBC World News, where she is undergoing specialised training in broadcast media.

With a humanities and social sciences background, she offers a unique perspective that encourages readers to explore the intersection of arts, technology, policy, and society.

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