Behold the Kinetic, 39-Ton Statue of Franz Kafka’s Head, Erected in Prague

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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Franz Kafka’s Kafkaesque Love Let­ters

Metrop­o­lis II: Dis­cov­er the Amaz­ing, Fritz Lang-Inspired Kinet­ic Sculp­ture by Chris Bur­den

The Muse­um of Mod­ern Art (MoMA) Puts Online 65,000 Works of Mod­ern Art

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (3) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (3)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Margonline says:

    Amaz­ing piece of art!! Just becom­ing speech­less after see­ing this!! Thanks for shar­ing!!

  • Paul Sohar says:

    The huge mis­take of small imag­i­na­tion! This is not Kaf­ka but Golem, and Golem was no Kaf­ka. Anoth­er exam­ple of an artist usurp­ing pre­cious pub­lic space to assert his or her exis­tence, impos­ing his or her pres­ence. This mon­stros­i­ty has noth­ing to do with Kaf­ka.

  • Richard says:

    On inter­pret­ing the head, I see more sig­nif­i­cance in its posi­tion out­side City Hall (the impos­ing Škodův Palác) as its posi­tion rel­a­tive to the Quadrio com­plex. For Kafka’s head, the dis­com­bob­u­la­tion of not hav­ing its com­po­nent parts is apt and talks to the sense of alien­ation and anx­i­ety in his works. On top of that, in the reg­u­lar move­ment of the works is a shak­ing of the head from side to side, a slow and solemn crit­i­cism of both the ultra­mod­ern Quadrio shop­ping cen­tre and offices, those con­sumerist sym­bols, and of the machi­na­tions of City Hall itself and all that implies if you’ve read, for exam­ple, The Tri­al.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.