What does Kafka mean to you? To me he has always represented the triumph of smallness, which is no slight; the exemplary figure of what Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari called “a minor literature.” Kafka made minutiae and triviality compelling, invested the petty struggles of everyday life with a dramatic intensity and metaphysical aura that linger for days after reading him. Kafka’s letters show him caught in the grip of a crippling, yet deeply funny, intellectual ambivalence; his stories and novels equally trade in absurdist humor and philosophical seriousness. Kafka haunts the small domestic spaces and tedium of office life, imbuing secular modernity with a tragicomic strangeness. He trembles at the continued power of a dethroned religious authority, perplexed by its emptiness, rewriting the inwardness and self-negation of religious asceticism in parables absent of any god.
Seeking the source of authority, Kafka’s heroes find instead unsolvable riddles and mysterious vacancies. Which is why it seems odd to me that Kafka should himself be memorialized as a gigantic head in statuary—an 11 meter, 45 ton stainless steel head, with 42 motorized layers that move independently, rearranging and “metamorphosing” the author’s face. Called “K on Sun” and created by Czech artist David Černý, the shimmering, monumental work, installed in 2014, sits near the office building where Kafka worked as a clerk at an insurance company and across from the Prague City Hall. The “enormous mirrored bust” writes Christopher Jobson at This is Colossal, “brilliantly reveals Kafka’s tortured personality and unrelenting self-doubt.” Perhaps. Jacob Shamsian at Business Insider has another interpretation: “It’s meant to distract people from the frustrations of dealing with government employees.”
Maybe the key to understanding “K on Sun” is by comparison with an earlier piece by Černý called Metalmorphosis, which as you can see above, uses the same monumental, stainless steel design to create an enormous, gleaming, constantly rearranging head. This one sits at the Whitehall Technology Park in Charlotte, North Carolina, the kind of bland, homogenized corporate office campus that might have driven Kafka mad. “Černý,” writes Atlas Obscura, “notes the Metalmorphosis as something of a self-portrait of his own psyche,” saying “This is how I feel; it is a mental self-portrait.” Can we regard “Kafka in Sun” as also something of a portrait of Černý as well, imagining himself as Kafka? Perhaps.
The artist is a trickster character, known for frustrating and infuriating patrons and audiences, “a rebellious mix of Antony Gormley and Damien Hirst,” The Guardian opines, “as controversial as he is amusing.” One work, “Piss,” features just that, “two gyrating, mechanical men urinating on a map of the Czech Republic.” Their urine spells out famous sayings from Prague residents. Located right next to the Franz Kafka museum, the sculpture mocks the idea of art as a cultural enterprise devoted to the national interest. “Kafka in Sun” presents us with a much more imposingly serious piece than so many of Černý’s other, more whimsical, works. But it’s hard to imagine the satirical artist had a more serious, straightforward intention. In imagining Kafka as a huge, shiny sunlit head, he inverts the author’s small, private, self-contained world, turning Kafka into a strangely looming, public, authoritative presence resembling an enormous metal god.
via This is Colossal