New sculpture by leading Czech artist pays tribute to Prague suicide victims

For decades, most Prague residents would automatically associate the tall Nusle Bridge, which connects a motorway with the city center, with the suicides that occurred there. Some 300 people are said to have jumped to their death from it. Now, a leading Czech artist has installed an unusual work right under the bridge, which towers over a park in the city’s Nusle neighborhood. The sculpture is meant as a reminder of those who lost their life there.

Car traffic is heavy on Prague’s Nusle Bridge, which connects the city to one of the country’s busiest motorways via a six-lane highway. In the nearly four decades of its existence, the bridge, which towers some 40 meters above ground, has acquired the nickname “suicide bridge.” It was long synonymous with people jumping to their death, until the city erected tall chain link fence railings along its sidewalks in 1997.

Now, Krištof Kintera, one of the Czech Republic’s leading contemporary artists, has built a sculpture under the bridge – where I met him and asked him to describe his work to me.

“So we are standing just in front of it. It used to be an ordinary lamp, but now it’s an extraordinary street lamp. And what makes it extraordinary is that it is the only street lamp on the planet which is enlightening the sky, not the earth.”

Krištof Kintera was one of the collaborators on David Černý‘s controversial Entropa installation. He ranks among the most original Czech artists working today. One day, when he was passing by the park under the Nusle Bridge, he had the idea to install a sculpture at this very spot.

“Whenever I pass this bridge I always think about this dark history of the bridge, and so it came to my mind that it would be nice to remind other of these people, to do a work of memento mori, so that was the decision. But, I didn’t know how to do it, because the theme is really complicated and it is delicate.”

Krištof KinteraKrištof Kintera Krištof Kintera gave his work the title “Memento Mori – in memory of all those who took their own life in this place.” The sculpture, which could be mistaken for an ordinary city lamp if it wasn’t for its twisted neck and the fact that it sheds light towards the sky, features a plaque with this title. It was also meant to include the exact number of victims, but how many suicides have actually occurred here will remain a big question mark, says the artist.

“Many people before tried to get the exact number, but it is difficult to get, the estimate is something between 250 and 350 deaths, and statistics were only really kept from the beginning of the nineties. Before, during socialism, they did not keep exact statistics, so there actually are no precise figures.”

The lamp is connected to the same electricity circuit as all other lamps in the city. Krištof Kintera says that to realize this, he had to get so many different permits that he almost lost hope it would ever actually happen.

“I must say, I feel that it is a miracle that is here. According to the fact that we see a lot of stupid things happening in the city administration, I didn’t believe that the city will agree. It was a two-year process, and at the end of the day, it is very simple, it’s not that difficult.”

Nusle Bridge, photo: Petr Brož, CC 3.0 licenseNusle Bridge, photo: Petr Brož, CC 3.0 license While Krištof Kintera felt that it was appropriate to remember those who jumped from the Nusle Bridge, he says that he has been quite taken aback by the reactions of some people, who don’t believe that suicide victims deserve to be remembered in this way.

“I saw some discussion on the internet, which was really horrifying for me, because the reaction of some people was quite nasty, but I try not to think about it.”

The mayor of the Prague district where Kintera’s memento mori street lamp stands will be in attendance next Thursday, when the work is officially unveiled.