Eva Koťátková, a Czech artist known for using her art to uplift voices, created an exhibit at the National Gallery Prague (NGP), fusing neglected stories of the human experience with artificial and inanimate objects.
The poetic installation called My Body is Not an Island captivated audiences through the live readings of the displays. Every other Saturday, the exhibit takes inspiration from the film “The Night at the Museum” and comes alive. Performers read the stories attached to each installation live, some dressing as the junction between humans and monsters and others luring the audience in with the raw emotions attached to each tale.
“I think that the mediating factor of having a human there to have eye contact with– can definitely be helpful in helping all of us at the same time process the emotions that come up”, said Glynis Hull-Rochelle, a performer and affiliate of the Institute of Anxiety, a project by Koťátková educating the public through art and the discussion of taboo topics.
The notably complicated space is laid out in a large warehouse room with tall ceilings covered in signs and red netting. The room is broken up into a fragmented body, half-fish and half-human, sharing about 25 stories. The stories range from the tale of night workers depicted as boxes with robotic faces to a circular table called “the collective body” placed in the middle of the exhibit containing statements of issues and disabilities people face written on playing cards.
The forced circumstances people are placed in by society are highlighted in Eva Koťátková’s installation, making the space emotional while confronting the viewer. The main lesson relayed to the audience is, “The simple ways of considering other beings and the Earth,” Hull-Rochelle said.
One of the 25 striking stories depicts a woman being committed to a psych ward. While attempting to explain her experience to her friends and family, the narrator found herself met with backlash and anger. In an attempt to describe this piece, Koťátková arranged enlarged pills and capsules on top of a jumbo button-down shirt creating an eyesore no viewer could avoid.
The National Gallery Prague describes Koťátková’s work as, “a platform opened with empathy to those whose voices – human, vegetal, animal – are reduced to silence, whose condition is challenged, whose life has been uprooted, and who undergo forced labeling and stigmatization.”
A key theme translated to viewers of the exhibition lies in the story within a story. Each audience member is able to read a tale and find an aspect that echoes within themselves – even the performers find pieces of themselves within the text. Laura Henderson, a performer and colleague of Eva Koťátková at My Body is Not an Island was reminded of her own anecdote among a narrative about a bush having its roots ripped out.
“For me personally, suddenly the story about the Bush pulled out by the roots resonates strongly for me as I am a foreigner and through some complicated circumstances, I am not able to leave this country and return to my native soil,” Henderson said. Later, they recalled moments in the exhibition’s stories sparking memories of love, loss and identity within themself.
Eva Koťátková differentiates their exhibit from the majority of shows found at the NGP by having an element of interaction between the art and the audience. The public has the option to lay in a cove reminding the viewer of a chest through the lines of the ribs while listening to a recording of a story. Alternatively, when ending the tour, the viewer can scribble a drawing or a personal anecdote to be hung up on a wall creating an entirely new exhibit of stories. The wall enables the continuation of My Body is Not an Island as stories are told, read and heard, awaiting its message to resonate with the next viewer.
“My hope is that hearing an echo of their own story through someone else’s story helps them feel less alone. I want people to know that many of the painful experiences they have had are due to systemic failures. Too many people’s traumas are not understood in the wider social context of racism, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, sexism and socio-economic inequality, but instead reduced to individual problems. But to quote Bishop Desmond Tutu, ‘We cannot just keep pulling people out of the river, at some point we need to find out why they are falling in.’”
My Body is Not an Island will run from December 7th until June 4th, 2023 at the Trade Fair Palace located in the Great Hall.