Eva Koťátková: The Heart of a Giraffe in Captivity is Twelve Kilos Lighter

The Heart of a Giraffe in Captivity is Twelve Kilos Lighter tells the story of Lenka the giraffe, drawing on the history of Czechoslovakia’s acquisition of animals from the Global South in the 1950s. Interpreted through contemporary ecological and decolonial perspectives, the project builds a space for imagining a different way of relating to nature in the present day.

The story of Lenka the giraffe gave impetus to the collaborative project of one of the most significant Czech artists, Eva Koťátková. Lenka was captured in Kenya in 1954 and was transported to the Prague Zoo to become the first Czechoslovak giraffe. She survived only two years in captivity, after which her body was donated to the National Museum in Prague, where it was exhibited as a museum artefact until 2000. The project is curated by Hana Janečková and created in collaboration with Himali Singh Soin, David Soin Tappeser (Hylozoic/Desires), Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures, and groups of children and seniors. The commissioner of Czech representation at the 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is Michal Novotný, Director of the Collection of Art after 1945 at the National Gallery Prague.

Eva Koťátková’s collaborative project for the Czech representation at the 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia reimagines Lenka’s story as a poetic, embodied encounter for the audience, the invited collaborators, and the artist, but also as a place of critical intervention in the relationship between institutions and the natural world. “I see Lenka’s story as much more than an exhibition project, but also as an open framework where silenced voices and multiple, unofficial histories can be heard. I am very grateful for all the inspiring collaborations that will hopefully continue and that will keep evolving even after the biennale exhibition is over – I strongly believe that telling the story of Lenka in schools and in other non-artistic contexts is equally important, in order to stimulate imagination about other, more equal and empathic worlds,” says Eva Koťátková.

The project aims to question hierarchies, violence, and extractive practices embedded in the way we encounter, view, and learn about animals, suggesting different modes of engagement where care, imagination, and emotion are as important as historical narrative. Alongside the collaboration with artists and composers Himali Singh Soin and David Soin Tappeser (Hylozoic/Desires), Lenka’s story is also interpreted by children, educators, and seniors, who were Lenka’s contemporaries, with the installation conceived of as a collective body facilitating multiple forms of storytelling. With a contribution by the collective Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures, The Heart of a Giraffe builds a space where belonging can be formed through emotions, touch, and ecological relations instead of fixed notions of identity and nation.

Curator Hana Janečková, Assistant Professor of Contemporary Art at the Academy of Fine Arts, Prague, says: “It’s been an honour to work with Eva Kot’átková and bring her artistic interpretation of such a highly relevant subject from our recent history as the story of Lenka to the international audience. I’m especially thrilled about the collaborative and open approach the project has taken.”

Czech and Slovak art together in one pavilion 

The Czech and Slovak pavilion for this year’s Biennale Arte presentation has been temporarily refurbished so that the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic can present contemporary art created in both countries. The entire reconstruction of the building will take place by the beginning of 2026, when we will mark the centennial anniversary of the first opening of the Czechoslovak pavilion in 1926.

At the 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, after a long time, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic are presenting the projects by Czech artist Eva Koťátková and Slovak artist Oto Hudec in the same pavilion, owned by the two countries.

On the façade and in the pavilion’s surroundings, Hudec will present the project “Floating Arboretum”, addressing endangered trees worldwide and their protection. Various timelines will intersect: the climate crisis, an imaginary dystopian future, and the salvation that the artist calls for. His project is curated by Lýdia Pribyšová and produced by the Slovak National Gallery.

Alicja Knast, General Director of the National Gallery Prague, outlines the 2024 edition of the Biennale Arte: “I am delighted that this year, the Czech Republic and Slovakia will present two projects, the first inspired by the pavilion’s architecture and the second by its natural context. The Czech story of Lenka the giraffe begins in the 1950s; since then, we as a society have changed, and so has the treatment of animals and the role of modern zoos, as well as the awareness of the need for continued change. And I see it as very important that both projects correspond with the main theme of this year’s Biennale Arte 2024 – Stranieri OvunqueForeigners Everywhere’, by considering otherness as an important part of our wholeness.”

Eva Koťátková, Hana Janečková

The international exhibition of contemporary art will be open to the public from 20 April to 24 November 2024. The Czech project is funded by the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic, the National Recovery Plan, and the European Union. J&T Bank, a longtime supporter of the Czech art scene, is a new partner the Czech Republic ´s presentation at 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. 

The heart of a giraffe in captivity is twelve kilos lighter

Author: Eva Koťátková
In collaboration with Himali Singh Soin and David Soin Tappeser (Hylozoic/Desires)

Czech and Slovak Pavilion in Giardini, Venice, 20/04/ 2024 – 24/11/2024

Curator: Hana Janečková