I think that paper archives can be pretty difficult to present in a museum. Maybe I’m just unimaginative, but the temptation with paper is to frame it and hang it on a wall, which can lead to a very flat exhibition. But the Kafka Museum has been very clever in its presentation of the two dimensional.
Sadly you’re not permitted to take photographs, so I’m just going to have to try and explain its wonder in text alone.
You’re initially presented with a timeline which you can walk alongside. Family members are presented in blown up pictures on a family tree on the wall, below which are images in gravel which show the Jewish community within Prague that Kafka grew up in.
The room this leads to has dramatic yet cheerful classical music (think Vivaldi’s Four Seasons) and projected black and white images of Prague from the past, which dance pleasingly across the screen. There are round glass topped cases with letters and images in.
Moving to the next room there is a black cabinet with drawers that you can open to view facsimiles of Kafka’s letters that he has written about his office work. Seeing office work as a burden and a strain on his creativity the themes in this room are bleak, with a dark soundscape and some of his sketched illustrations brought to life as animations projected on the wall, creates a deepened understanding of the office work related depression that Kafka suffered from.
The next room investigates Kafka’s personal relationships, with interesting cases hung from the ceiling to represent main influences in his life. These cases incorporate letters and images as well as brief background stories in an aesthetically pleasing manner. Being hung from the ceiling these cases do move, and you do find yourself swaying along while reading the text which can be slightly disconcerting.
The colour pallet thus far is predominantly black, white and greys until you get to a downward staircase, lit with red lighting and seeming to represent a staircase down to the hell, or at least Kafka’s version of. Black filing cabinets line the walls – some open with items to look at, twisting, maze like. Its dystopian essence is emphasised with a soundscape of frantic typing.
The exhibition ends with a reflection on his work, most of which was published after his death, with a simple line of the books Kafka had written or contributed to, thus highlighting his work. Although he had requested for his writings to be destroyed on his death, his friend Max Brod to whom he left many of these works, ignored him. I’ve come away with a great respect for a clearly very intelligent man, who would appear to have been in a daily battle fighting inner demons. I’ve also seen an excellent example of how paper archives can be displayed effectively, not just framed 2D on a wall.
Want to see more of Prague’s Museums? Have a look here.