The premises at 63 Wspólna street, a con­tem­porary art gal­lery (as decided by the local authorities of the Warsaw Śródmieście district), was turned by the Czech artist, Eva Kotátková, into a para-​scientific laboratory institute specializing in studying the physical, vital and social func­tions of ver­tebrates. The institution, however, has been closed until fur­ther notice, as the UN Inter­national Coun­cil on Para-​Scientific Activities deemed the research car­ried there, recen­tly focusing on the ethically fascinating question of volun­tary and forced imprison­ment of animals and humans, dan­gerous to the existing social order. Kotátková has been analyzing such issues as the architec­tural struc­tures organizing the work and behaviour of people in office and school cir­cum­stan­ces, as well as the solutions applied in zoo­logical gar­dens – pad­docks, fences, cages, etc. – which provide absolute security to the animals living there, as well as to ergonomically divide the living space available to each of the species.

The par­ticular inc­lination of the ver­tebrate to use dif­ferent cor­rec­tion tools or con­struc­tions limiting the natural habitat has been the motif of a number of ear­lier works by the artist. In con­trast to many other resear­chers, she sees this peculiar ten­dency as a pre-​cultural gesture. Its origin lies in the cor­poral con­struc­tion of the ver­tebrate, where the car­rying element is the skeleton, sometimes very well developed (the skeleton of a mature person is made up of 206 bones). Many species, human beings especially, sub­con­sciously strive to duplicate their own bone struc­ture by creating an additional trans­parent exter­nal shell. Such desire can be the effect of social fears which deter­mine defense, alienation and inbreed mechanisms – after all, how else to explain the dif­ferent very strange ways a human behaves, volun­tarily striving for self-​limitation, mechanization of dif­ferent activities and unification of the living space. The trend had its peak in the era of moder­nity in the 19th and 20th cen­turies of the cur­rent European calendar.

Kotátkova’s studies have fur­ther revealed that there are dif­ferent forms of self-​pressure depen­ding on the phase of one’s life and develop­ment. When growing up, in the period of puberty, individuals are made to par­ticipate in special group physical exer­cises which teach them gregarious behavior and appropriate posture – the so called sub­servient stance (often termed as sitting-​down).

The situation gets com­plicated once the individuals mature. It has been observed that the factor which impacts their mutual relations, cor­rec­tive prac­tices and inc­lination to enslavement was violence. The way violence manifests itself, in turn, is con­ditioned by the sexual drive. Looking at the dif­ferent devices, such as seats on metal legs, bars or cages, it is dif­ficult to immediately deter­mine what is their proper func­tion. It has been revealed, however, that people first test the oppres­sive looking struc­tures (although we already know that their original formal inspiration comes from the natural skeleton of ver­tebrates) on animal species which are weaker. No doubt, they help manage and improve the social func­tions, deter­mine roles within a com­munity, visualize the division between those in com­mand and those in sub­jugation. They can also be the product of the simple human intuition that a modern person, con­sidering his/her cul­tural com­plexity, needs a better developed skeleton which could bear all the new duties and obligations. Most probably too, many of the objects created by humans do not have any definite func­tions but are simply the spon­taneous expres­sion of individual obses­sions and phobias, the feelings of duty, safety, hel­ples­sness, sub­servience, curiosity, ecstasy, etc. After all, everything – the so called art inc­luded – is the work of nature.

Kotátkova’s institute, opened to visitors, shows the essence of the research process: from the initial and intuitive sket­ches illustrating the way the artist thinks, through the arran­ged interior which is to simulate the natural habitat of the live organisms which are sub­ject to experiments (e.g. replicas of a clas­sroom or a prison cell), to the fan­tastic objects and devices con­struc­ted as a result of the artist’s analysis of motor activity, imagination, natural drives and cul­tural inc­linations of ver­tebrates. It con­tains a series of suc­cess­ful fal­sifications, such as recor­dings of a human voice copying the noises made by birds. There is also the artist’s model of an ideal zoo, which is a peculiar crow­ning of the years of studies so sud­denly halted by the arbitrary decision of the UN commission.

Eva Koťátková

23.09- 26.11.2011