Hip hop artist pays tribute to controversial communist-era architect with multi-media show at Federal Assembly building

The old Federal Assembly building

Karel Prager is regarded as one of the most important, and most controversial, Czech architects of the second half of the 20th century. Perhaps his best known work is the former Federal Assembly in the centre of Prague, a building many of the city’s residents would consider something of an eye-sore. It was the venue for an unconventional artistic performance on Tuesday night – dedicated to Prager himself.

The old Federal Assembly building just off the top of Prague’s Wenceslas Square was the venue for a most unusual event on Tuesday night: a complex exploration through video art and live music of the work of the architect who designed it, Karel Prager. It took place as part of the festival 4+4 Days in Motion, whose executive producer is Markéta Černá.

The old Federal Assembly building
“4+4 Days in Motion is an international theatre festival which is not only focused on theatre but is a crossover festival. We always try to present the Czech audience with the best of current European performing arts.”

4+4 Days in Motion is held at established Prague theatres, though they also have what they call a “site specific project” at a different venue every year. This time it has been the Federal Assembly building. It was the site of a theatre and later the Prague stock exchange, before its original structure was incorporated into a monumental new building at the end of the 1960s. When Czechoslovakia ceased to exist, it became home to Radio Free Europe, before this year being handed over to the Czech National Museum. Festival audiences have been enjoying the chance to see it from the inside.

“It was closed. Before it was the parliament building and then it was Radio Free Europe so it was closed to the public. The National Museum opened it to the public on August 15, but I think because we have a different audience we’ve opened it for different kind of people. They seem to be surprised actually, because this building is really an institution.”

Photo: CTK
When Markéta Černá and the other people behind 4+4 Days in Motion got permission to use the old Federal Assembly, they immediately asked one of the Czech Republic’s leading hip hop artists, Vladimir 518, to get involved. As well as being a rapper, he’s a graphic artist, and a big fan of Karel Prager. Prager has been described as one of the greatest – and one of the most controversial – Czech architects of the latter half of the 20th century. As well as the imposing Federal Assembly, his works include, for instance, the National Theatre’s ice cube-like “New Scene”, widely regarded as one of the uglier buildings of the communist era. Vladimir 518 says, though, that Karel Prager is misunderstood.

Wladimir 518, photo: CTK
“Everybody thinks he is mainly connected with the government of that time…It’s not exactly true, because he never joined the Communist Party – he was always outside it. He realised a few buildings for them, but he was the most skilled architect at that time and he had to do it. A lot of people think that these buildings are really ugly. But they don’t know the context of architecture at that time, in the world. They don’t know stuff from Japan or the UK, so they don’t understand the context.”

Tuesday’s performance by Vladimir 518, another musician and a video artist was hugely impressive; it combined futuristic electronic music with striking images of Prager’s work, including plans and architect’s drawings and 3D models of his buildings, projected onto a huge wall in the very chamber where Czechoslovak deputies sat for over two decades. Where did the hip hop artist get the idea for this multi-media show?

“Actually the people from the festival asked me if I was able to do a speech about Karel Prager. But later I realised I wanted to do it in another way, because I’m not an art historian or something like that. I’m a musician and artist and I tried to do it my way.”

As well as that performance, the “site specific” part of the 4+4 Days in Motion festival includes guided tours of the Federal Assembly by leading architectural historians, and lectures by former associates of Karel Prager. The whole festival runs until Friday night.