It is only 6pm but the world is already dark. People on the streets are holding onto their warm beverages, covered from head to toe in knitwear; winter has officially begun. They are gathering in one of the biggest parks of Prague, Stromovka, and it is apparent that they have a reason to be out despite the freezing weather. I walk closer to the crowd and notice multiple colorful shapes resembling trees luminating the park. This is one of the many exhibits of the 2021 Signal Festival, an installation by Katerina Blahutová called “Living Forest”.
The long-awaited “festival of lights” returned to the streets of the Czech capital after last year’s cancellation caused by Covid-19 restrictions. Organizers promised to top all the previous occasions with brand new ideas and debuting artists. In previous years, the festival brought thousands of people to the city center, however organizers decided to place this year’s installations across various neighborhoods to prevent overcrowding. There were three main routes available: Old Town, Karlín, and Holešovice, each offering unique exhibits. To ensure people got the chance to walk all of them, the festival took place from Thursday October 14th until Sunday the 17th.
Despite the festival’s length, some may have only had time to walk one of the routes. From my observations, the route one chose could greatly influence their overall impression of the entire event. I walked all three routes over three different days and compared what each had to offer to a regular visitor who did not purchase a festival pass. The common topic uniting all installations was the discussion about climate issues, which provided the simple light shows with a more consequential undertone.
To start off the festival, I walked the Karlín route on opening day. It was apparent that the vast majority of people spent the most time in front of the Church of St. Cyril and Methodius, the facade of which served as a canvas to two German artists Schöll and Stetter. They decided to project a giant red clock which transformed into a planet to represent the time ticking above planet Earth, hinting at unresolved issues related to climate change. A somewhat similar message was prevalent in another exhibit, “The Blooming of Lights” by Czech artists Vrtiška and Žák. They created an interactive installation where visitors could transform dried out flowers into blooming plants. This allowed the artists to demonstrate their desire for people to live more sustainably and with greater concern for nature.
The Holešovice route offered only three free exhibits of which only one was not a partnered installation. This was a bit underwhelming, especially in comparison to the Old Town route which offered six installations, all free of charge. According to one of the festival’s spokespeople, the organizers predicted that this route would be the least popular, therefore they purposefully put the most memorable attractions elsewhere. Despite that, the Holešovice route had one hidden gem: the “Living Forest” installation by Blahutová in Stromovka. She created an art piece which not only attracted people’s attention with its vibrant colors but also carried an environmental message. The forest theme hinted at the destruction of forests in the Czech Republic and provided the observers with an option to donate to the preservation of trees.
As expected, the heart of Prague was busiest during the festival weekend, as most people were used to taking its route from previous years. It offered multiple installations in close proximity, among which the most prominent was a huge luminous ice-cube, melting in front of people’s eyes, once again hinting on the climate crisis. The artist behind this piece was Šimon Mašek, who is known for unifying the relationship between the digital and the tangible. The other installations were more for observance rather than interaction, however their placement in the Old Town added to the ambiance as people naturally enjoy walking around the historical streets of beautiful Prague.
Signal Festival once again demonstrated that it annually provides a memorable experience for both locals and visitors of Prague. As this was its ninth year in business, the overwhelmingly positive feedback ensures that there will be many more years to come.