Underneath the Nusle bridge in Prague is the Folimanka Park and in the park is a street lamp. At first glance it looks like many other street lamps until you notice that the light is pointing upwards not downwards. It is Memento Mori, the Memorial to the Nusle Bridge Suicides.
Back in 2004 when I first started to rough out some routes for my walking tours, one of the routes was going to start at the Vysehrad Metro station on one side of the Nusle Bridge. As I researched the area I was shocked to find out that in it’s first 30 years, the bridge had been the scene of 273 suicides. By the time the memorial was installed it was over 300.
Memento Mori literally translates as “at his own discretion” and a plate on the street lamp says “In memory of all those who took their life in this place”. It implies that it’s the freedom of choice for the individual to take his/her own life.
The designer and builder of Memento Mori is Kristof Kintera, a Czech born in 1973, coincidentally the same year that the Nusle Bridge was opened. As an artist as far back as 2005 he had explored using modified street lighting and had submitted designs into competitions without success. However, his international profile had grown to a point where in 2008 he had won a competition in Holland for a piece called “Miracle” which used modified street lighting. Then his national profile was raised during collaboration with fellow artist/sculptor David Černy on the Entropa project which was unveiled in 2009. And so going back to that original 2005 idea, with an actual 2008 working example in Holland and a higher national profile, he approached the Prague 2 district council with an idea.
Having built the “Miracle” in Holland, Kintera thought it would take another miracle to get the Prague 2 district interested in his idea but fortunately he had an ally in Ivo Slavik whose job since the previous year was to cultivate public spaces in the city. With his help a contract was signed and the practical work began to build and operate the street lamp.
Memorial or Not?
Memento Mori was first live-tested on June 16th 2011. It was then officially unveiled the following week on June 23rd where approximately 40 people attended including a protester. It was the Prague 2 district that had the inscription “In memory of all those who took their life in this place” attached to the post. Kristof Kintera does not refer to Memento Mori as a memorial. For him it is art which just happens to be associated with people that choose to take their own life.