Franz Kafka’s giant rotating head – A statue in Prague by David Černý

David Černý - Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic
David Černý – Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic, photo: Public Delivery

Introduction

One of the most outstanding attractions in Prague is the piece of Franz Kafka, an outdoor sculpture that is more of a technical wonder. The work of art is part of the Quadrio shopping and office complex on Národní třída, created by controversial artist David Černý who had on several occasions along his career used this same style of art.

David Černý - Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic
David Černý – Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic, photo: Public Delivery

Installed in a busy location of the city, the reflective sculpture that rotates periodically to face various directions depicts the head of Prague’s own, Franz Kafka. People have traveled great distances to see the rotating head of Franz, which has become an instant tourist stop since it was put up in 2014.

David Černý - Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic
David Černý – Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic, photo: Public Delivery

To support the buzz that the Franz Kafka sculpture continues to create in Prague, small shops, cafes and even malls have been opened. In fact, Wenceslas Square, a street close to where the sculpture stands, had grown in popularity.

David Černý - Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic
David Černý – Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic, photo: Public Delivery

About the sculpture

The gigantic bust sculpture of Franz Kafka adorns a mirrored surface which is made using 42 layers of stainless steel driven independently. At a weight of 45 tons, inbuilt motors facilitate the constant movement and rotation of the head sculpture.

2 min 7 sec

When does Franz Kafka’s head move?

The head stops at the perfect spot twice an hour for 15 minutes, then resumes rotations which last 15 minutes. The entire choreography lasts a total of 40 minutes, during which the head moves on 15 different occasions. Based on the configuration of the sequencing, the choreography can be modified.

The head rotates twice an hour from 8-7pm

David Černý - Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic
David Černý – Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic, photo: Public Delivery

Who built the Head of Franz Kafka?

The famous rotating head sculpture in the heart of Prague was created by David Černý in 2014 at the cost of 30 million Czech crowns (1.3m USD). The nearby Quadrion Shopping Center and CPI Property Group funded the project.

David Černý - Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic
David Černý – Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic, photo: Public Delivery

Standing at a towering height of 10.6m, the sculpture’s mobility is aided by kilometers of cables. Each of the 42 layers of the head sculpture is made independently and can rotate on its own at a maximum speed of 6 RPM.

David Černý - Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic
David Černý – Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic, photo: Public Delivery

Location

Address: Charvátova, 110 00 Nové Město, Czech Republic

Hours: 24/7

Nearest subway station: Národní třída (line B): Spálená exit

Nearest tram station: Národní třída (lines 2, 9, 18, 22)

David Černý - Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic
David Černý – Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic, photo: Public Delivery

Technical details

A control system acts as the brain of the statue. Located in the 2,8-meter tall base, it contains the Siemens Simotion control system, control panel, switchboards, inverters for servomotors and other electrical equipment. According to Černý’s suggestion, the sculpture is capable of receiving new sequences and can be controlled remotely.

David Černý - Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic
David Černý – Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic, photo: Public Delivery

The design team utilized creative solutions from the fields of industrial automation and robotics and created a total of 2039 technical drawings. The construction took seven months, from April to October 2014, involving 8,900h man-hours. Developers, designers and programmers spent 1,800 hours, while production took 4,200 hours and assembly 2,900 hours.

David Černý - Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic
David Černý – Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic, photo: Public Delivery

The head of the casing is made from 18,500 ridges and curves of stainless steel. The mirror-polished stainless steel sheets make up a total space of 1,500 square meters and weigh 24 tonnes. The statue has a diameter of 6,06 meters and contains 252 large structural parts and 42 sensors that help the panels orient themselves.

David Černý - Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic
David Černý – Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic, photo: Public Delivery

The interpretations

Many consider the rotating head of Franz Kafka as the perfect blend of art and technology. The individual layers can be viewed with the complexity that was Kafka’s personality. Every time the head moves, the sculpture portrays the level of elusiveness and impermanence that characterized his life. Described by many as “one of the most influential writers of the 20th Century,” Kafka is believed to have suffered depression most of his life.

David Černý - Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic
David Černý – Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic, photo: Public Delivery

Art critics argue that the rotating head is not art and is more of a marketing gimmick to boost the mall’s activities. The critics base their stand on the fact that Černý had previously created a mobile sculpture, identical to the Kafka head in Charlotte, North Carolina, that in all aspects lacked a connection to Kafka.

David Černý - Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic
David Černý – Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic, photo: Public Delivery

Some people have chosen to focus their interpretation of the art piece on what the deeper message could be. The layers that make up Kafka’s head resemble astronomical clock cogs. This is yet another metaphor to describe the life of Kafka – a cog caught up in the extensive bureaucracy of modern living.

David Černý - Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic
David Černý – Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic, photo: Public Delivery

Perhaps we will never really know what the Kafka head means. Černý is known for not explaining his artworks. According to him, it is crucial not to explain everything and rather leave observers puzzled and say What the f… is this?. In an interview, Černý said1:

(…) the question of whether a work makes sense or not, or whether it needs explaining or not, is answered over time. If it emerges that it makes no sense and isn’t even aesthetically interesting then it might as well be thrown into the trash. I may have certain opinions, which I use to create a certain sculpture. And I’m not obliged to explain those opinions or that statue. What I am obliged to do is explain it to myself.

David Černý - Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic
David Černý – Head of Franz Kafka, 2014, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 10.6 meters tall, 39 tonnes, installation view, Prague, Czech Republic, photo: Public Delivery

 

All images: Public Delivery unless otherwise noted.

Footnotes

  1. https://web.archive.org/web/20210511170832/http://www.praguenet.com/compass/number_8/feature.html

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