Place: Veletržní Palace
On 14 August 1974 at 9:33 p.m., the operators of the Prague Fire Brigade received a phone call informing about an inception of fire in the building, the Trade Fair Palace, in the Prague neighbourhood of Holešovice, which at that time served as an administration centre hosting foreign trade companies. And although the first group of firemen arrived at the site in no more than ten minutes and others continuously followed (eventually totalling 25), they did not manage to extinguish the devastating fire and that what survived of the palace was more or less its ferroconcrete skeleton. One of the most outstanding early-Functionalist Central-European constructions burnt down and it seemed that its history was over as well.
The fire and the firemen’s strain became an unwanted attraction to the summer Prague. The burning colossus, once boasting large glass panes now shattering one after another, made for an impressive contrast against the night skyline. Since it was impossible to hermetically close the area around the building, the viewers could closely watch the exhausting and almost hopeless labour of the firemen and also catch sight of scenes as if taken from action movies, especially the rescue of several people from the roof on the extension ladder against a background of the building aflame. Both the records of the firemen and the police investigation reports helped reconstruct the progression of fire inside the building and the process of it being extinguished almost minute by minute. It was an enormous success that despite the destruction of the palace, the intervening units prevented spreading of the fire to the neighbouring Holešovice buildings and thus forestalled far more extensive damage.
The next day, 15 August at 7:00 a.m., is stated as the official date of the fire being extinguished. The building, however, remained under the firemen’s surveillance for seven more days in order to put out minor local fires. Also the investigations inside the palace began later due to high temperatures and dense smoke in the entire space.
Towering Inferno is an addition to the running exhibition “The Story of the Trade Fair Palace” and will open on the anniversary of the date of the fire. It displays photographs and archive documents as they survived in the files of the investigators, along with several snapshots taken by the viewers – the curators, for example, succeeded in finding the author of the expressive series of XX colour photographs which cogently document how the fire proceeded throughout the building and were used during the investigations carried out by the firemen and the Public Police and State Security. The installation is then “framed” by the reports from the contemporary (both printed and sound) media who, surprisingly, paid minimum attention to the fire − even though (or maybe just because) the building hosted foreign trade companies playing a rather crucial role in the socialist economy. The exhibition thus simultaneously reflects the media culture of the past 40 years in, what was then, Czechoslovakia.
The installation aims at reminding people about one stage of life of Trade Fair Palace which at that time simultaneously entered a new era already linked with the National Gallery in Prague. It thus also contributes to the topical discussions revolving around the future of this extraordinary jewel of Functionalism