The Viewer and the Story

A million thanks to The Wandering Wanderlusters for leading me to a few of the brilliant and bizarre sculptures scattered around Prague. By far the most moving was the memorial to the victims of communism by Czech sculptor Olbram Zoubek and architects Jan Kerel and Zdeněk Holzel.

First of all, it was hard to find. The map was, well, difficult to read, as great swathes of it had been ripped off:

Once you find it, though, the installation strides into the mind and will not leave. And in that way it is like a good novel.

The character comes toward you out of his past and into your present. Walk up the sloping steps and you experience just enough discomfort to worry about falling yet just enough momentum  to keep going.

When you reach the top (caution: plot spoiler!) you find something you cannot see at the outset. 

Most people who see this never climb up. They will never feel the great dashing wave of sadness and humility that comes over you at the revelation at the summit of the installation. The ending in this case is worth the work, many times over. 

And as in a good novel, the ending prompts you to return to the beginning, to think about the journey.  Is this a single figure in many stages of brokenness, or is the whole thing perhaps symbolic of retelling and of healing? You glimpse the meaning of the bronze strip that runs along the centre of the memorial, showing estimated numbers of those impacted by communism. 

While we gazed up, an elderly man walked haltingly up alongside the installation. He took pictures with an air of reverence. As he made his way back down I stepped forward, thinking I’d offer a hand if he needed it. He saw the movement and smiled, made it down on his own.  Another smile, a muttered “Hezký den!” and he left, turning back to take more pictures. 

He seemed of the generation of the figures in the installation. Like the turning head of the stainless steel Kafka, his presence brought the past into the here and now. Oddly, it lent a little hope.