Neon Heart over Prague Castle

Photo: CTK

There's a new art installation that has caught every body's attention in Prague - a giant red neon heart by renowned Czech artist Jiri David. Installed over Prague Castle, it's visible on the skyline from just about everywhere. The work is the second in a series of what Jiri David calls "contextual" art objects to decorate well-know sites in the city: last year a large neon crown of thorns decorated Prague's Rudolfinum Palace. In general, both installations have evoked positive reactions. The country's president, Vaclav Havel, was certainly pleased when he officially turned the installation on last Sunday, calling the heart a symbol of "love, understanding, and decency".

Photo: CTK
Much has been made about the timing of Jiri David's new installation and three points have been noted by the media: first, the installation was timed in connection with the 13th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, second, the work will be on display until February, coinciding with the end of Vaclav Havel's final term as president, and third, the NATO summit is taking place in Prague this week, evoking obvious connections. I discussed these points with artist Jiri David, who rejected overly explicit links.

"I think this heart at the castle for me is absolutely a symbol of a change of understanding of contemporary art to the pragmatic world. And I think, exactly, this is not an homage for President Vaclav Havel, this is not an homage for the summit now in Prague, but it's a kind of admission of Vaclav Havel's ideas. That's important for me. And for me it presents some chance not to kill, a chance to love, and I think that's enough. I began preparing the project a year ago, and finding funds, for the installation and material, was difficult. The basic problem for a project of this kind is money. The project cost 2 million crowns."

Not surprisingly, there have been some of the usual cat calls that public funds should be spent on so-called useful things, the irony is that this project was entirely paid for from private sources: the only thing that will be paid for by the castle will be the electricity to light the neon.

"I think this voice, this normal peoples' voice is every time the same, because people don't understand this art is possible for the people here. That's basically a problem. People want objects like cars, a good flat, good food, like a good trip to the Canary Islands, and that's basically a problem. Art here, for everybody, this is basically like garbage."

Surely, though, it isn't as bad as all that: seeing the neon shine over the castle is so unusual and playful it is really very inspiring. And, whether one likes the installation or not one thing at least is obvious: there is willingness on the part of organisers at the castle to try things that are new: they are unafraid to take an official symbol like the castle and put a big bouncing heart on top of it. And for many in the city that kind vision is both unexpected and fresh.