The story of Jan Palach is an intimate story of an individual in the context of dramatic times. We approach the design of the Jan Palach monument dramaturgic manner - as an escalating story. Palach's house of birthplace itself becomes the landmark. By removing inner walls and sealing off the windows one gets a single large space for the art installation. Working with light and space we create an artwork that confuses the visitor's senses and stirs them to action and realization of their personal responsibility. This is what we consider to be the greatest legacy of his courageous act.
I took the early train to Všetaty. Autumn was well on its way and my long summer break was coming to a close. I was about to start school in a week. Historical studies - just like he had studied. It was a strange thing - to take the same route as he used to take. Jakub said, that I would know the memorial when I'd see it. The house seemed odd in a way, it looked as an enormous plaster cast. It had no windows, only healed wounds where they used to be. I entered through a narrow corridor, so I lost sight of the house for a while. In front of me, the wall took slight turn and I couldn't see behind the bend. Few steps later, a view of the garden opened up. The wall on the right straightened into a line. Twenty metres of Palach's life. I walked close to the wall. I had to touch it. All the pictures and texts were printed directly onto the wall. It reminded me of how, in august of '68, he and his friends painted over the town's walls with words of anger and disappointment. It might have been a trick o the eye, but it seemed like the corridor was narrowing now. I thought I heard voices. I stopped and listened. It was a recording of a conversation with Jan Palach, when he was in the hospital.
One could hear, the scope of his suffering. It seemed so life-like. As if he were right next to me. I had no idea such recording even existed. I stood in the narrowest part that lead outside again. I saw a tree and a large door. I pushed against the door. I recall the first seconds. Pitch black and confusion. I couldn't grasp where I was or what was happening. Then an intense light from the outside started streaming in and I began to orient. Wait. Windows? But they are walled up and the house has more levels? Nothing seemed to be as it should. In the reflections of the windows on the floor I could see silhouettes. But when I looked back up, there was no one there. I felt as if I were in Plato's cave. I stayed there for a long time. It was a peculiar sensation of isolation. I took the same door back outside. I nearly forgot what the outside world looked like. I sat down in the garden and replayed the whole thing in my mind. What would Jan Palach be like today - if he were alive, I wondered. What would he have to say about these times?
As an escalating story, we divide the monument into parts. The existent house, new pavilion and a garden. Visitors walk through consequent parts which intensifies the experience. A low wall surrounds the site. The entrance is from the Smetanova street. In this manner, the visitor upon entering finds themselves on the pathway towards the new pavilion.
The pavilion is located in the footprint of the existent shed. Initial thoughts on the nature of the pavilion as a time-line gave shape to the building. Curved line, which embraces the garden and opens up into it. It signifies the short and intense life of Jan Palach in two levels. First being his personal life captured in pictures, diary entries and testimonies. The second are the developments in the society and its turbulence that eventually led to the tragic ending. The gradation towards 1969 is emphasized by the narrowing of the space. The space ends with a loop of Jan Palach's last words recorded at the hospital.
The visitor leaves the pavilion and stands in front of the house. Above the entrance of the house there is a quote, that they just heard Jan Palach say on the recording: "One has to oppose the evil, that he has the strength to oppose." We understand this sentence as the essential memento. It challenges one to activity and the realization of one's personal responsibility. The house looks like a plaster cast on the outside. The windows are walled-up and the exterior and interior are radically separated. This empowers the experience of the houses' core. The visitor is surprised upon entering the house. All the inner partitions and floors are removed. The space is thereby cleansed and leaves an almost sacral expression. An installation is created with space and light. All surfaces are unified in black colour. Screens are placed where the windows were and rid of polarizing filter. This creates an impression of unnaturally intense light from the outside, through which one can't see. Looking at the reflections on the floor though, we can see silhouettes of people in the windows, due to refraction and polarization. The installation evokes confusion of senses, uncertainty and crumbling of everyday reality. It also signifies isolation and solitude in this world beyond the curtain.
Visitors leave the house of Jan Palach with a multitude of thoughts and questions. Peace and quiet to contemplate they find in the garden. In the grassy part surrounding the pavilion we plant a linden - a Czech national tree.
Location: Všetaty, CZ
Type: Competition entry
Collaboration: RIchard Loskot, Marek Nedelka