A heart from melted candles: an unusual memorial for late Czech president Václav Havel

Photo: CTK

After the death of the former Czech president Václav Havel, thousands of people laid down wreaths and lit candles at impromptu memorial sites across the country. Now, two artists have decided to recycle those candles for an unusual memorial – a wax heart. Dozens of volunteers are currently working on the “A heart for Havel” initiative at a Prague cultural center.

Lukáš Gavlovský,  photo: CTK
Dozens of volunteers were hammering away in the warehouse of Prague’s Trafačka cultural center this Saturday, prying the plastic shell from the thousands of votive candles that were lit in honor of late president Václav Havel all over the country. Four to five tons of these candles will be melted into a giant heart sculpture – a project titled “A heart for Havel”. The artist Lukáš Gavlovský and his friend Roman Švejda are behind the unusual memorial. Gavlovský says the idea first occurred to him in the week after Mr. Havel’s death.

“The idea was spontaneous. Before Christmas, I saw all the candles that were brought to Wenceslas Square for Mr. Havel. The sea of candles there kept growing and growing. I realized that after the first wave of euphoria, they would surely be thrown away. Then I had the idea that the wax from those candles is a great material, a material that can easily be transformed.”

Václav Havel
The heart shape was an obvious choice, says Gavlovský – the late president often added a heart to his signature. Initially, Gavlovský and Švejda were only hoping to collect the candles from Prague’s Wenceslas Square, where the country’s biggest impromptu memorial site for the beloved leader of the Velvet Revolution kept growing in the days and weeks after his death. But the idea found enthusiastic support from other cities, and bags of candles from across the country are still being delivered to Trafačka. Here, helpers of all ages have come together to isolate the wax from the candles’ plastic or aluminum shells, a time-consuming job. I asked some of them why they had decided to come out and support the “A heart for Havel” initiative.

“I really like the idea. That is why I came out, I had heard about it on TV. I think it is a fantastic thought, to make a heart for Mr. Havel from this wax. I think he would have liked this project, it’s great.”

Wenceslas Square,  Prague,  December 18 2011,  photo: Kristýna Maková
“We came because Václav Havel did a lot for us. And if he hadn’t lived, then we would still be living under communism. So it is thanks to him that we can live the way we’re living now.”

“I heard about this on the radio, thought the idea was great and decided to help. I brought my own hammer and came here to work on this.”

Box after box of wax chunks are placed into a 2.4 by 2.4 meter heart shaped mold. Lukáš Gavlovský then melts the wax with a welding torch. The individual elements of the sculpture, which will be about two meters high, will be assembled on site, at a square next to the National Theater, where the big wax heart will be installed from February 9 to April 10. The memorial will have an opening through which passersby can enter it. This element is very important, says Gavlovský.

Photo: CTK
“We can enter it, spend some time in it and leave it again. The open shape of the heart is supposed to reflect my own feelings after the death of Mr. Havel. I also felt that my heart was opening up, that I was again living through the feelings I had during the time of the Velvet Revolution.”

What will happen with the sculpture after April, when temperatures rise and the giant heart could melt, is unclear. Gavlovský says that first and foremost, the project is a small and spontaneous gesture to honor the late president.