Joanna Rajkowska, Greetings from Jerusalem Avenue
Greetings from Jerusalem Avenue is an art project that consisted of placing an artificial palm tree on the traffic island located in the middle of De Gaulle Circle in Warsaw. The palm tree, made of synthetic materials, was produced in the United States and looks like a real, live tree, measuring approximately 15 meters in height.
The idea for Greetings from Jerusalem Avenue came from an effort to describe a voyage to Israel, which Joanna Rajkowska took in the spring of 2001. In its essence, the palm tree and its placement will recreate in Warsaw a view that is common in Israel. Additionally, this will be done on a street whose name refers to that country. In Polish, the word palma is also used to denote something unthinkable, something beyond our imagination, in brief, something that verges on being silly. Absurdity is omnipresent, here in Warsaw as everywhere. The palm tree in De Gaulle Circle is a very appropriate symbol of something that escapes understanding. At the same time, it highlights the fact that at times our modes of thinking simply do not match the world that surrounds us.
AŻ: Your tactic is to confront people with the fact of the existence of, say, a palm tree in the middle of the De Gaulle roundabout in Warsaw or the Oxygenator pond at Plac Grzybowski. Sometimes people accept it - the palm tree has become one of the city’s symbols, while local residents campaigned for Oxygenator to be preserved. Now you want to convert an old factory chimney in Poznań into a minaret. But this time the dominant public reaction in Poznań is reluctant, even hostile. Yet you don’t give up. Is this you acting against the will of the people? In whose name do you speak, whose voice do you represent?
JR: I act in the name of those who can’t be seen. In the case of the palm tree – in the name of the murdered community of pre-War Polish Jews, in the case of Oxygenator – the elderly residents of Plac Grzybowski, excluded from political discourse, in the case of the Minaret – the city’s 1000-strong Muslim community. The president of the regional branch of the Polish Muslim League, Essikh Mohamed Saleh, understood that instantly, saying in an interview: “We support this project because Muslims live, study, go to hospitals when they are ill, and conduct business in Poznań. We do a lot of things in Poland, but we still remain invisible. Perhaps the Minaret would help balance this picture.” There are places in which a memory, knowledge about the absence of these people is encoded. I try to decode this, to reverse it, that is, to forge absence into presence. There will always be those who don’t want to see these Others, don’t want to be reminded about them. In such cases I have no choice but to confront their reluctance. The most important thing, though, is how you construct the setting of where the confrontation is to happen. With the idea of transforming the chimney into a minaret, it transpires we also need to transform our own Polish self-image and reflect on the nature of our ‘national cultural heritage’. The protection of this heritage is often raised as an objection against the Minaret. We’ve become accustomed to thinking of ourselves as a nation afflicted by historical misfortunes, as victims of political violence, and somehow we’ve missed the fact that we’ve silently become the allies of aggressors and occupiers. We participate or have participated in NATO military operations, such as the mission in Afghanistan or the war in Iraq. We’re an active member of the US-led ‘anti-terror’ coalition, while our participation in the intervention in Iraq in March 2003 was taken by the Israeli government as a token of our loyalty. Prime Minister Tusk said that Poland unconditionally supported Israel in its confrontation with Iran. Military cooperation between the two countries is intensifying. Our intelligence agencies want to share information about terrorist threats. Poland wants to buy Israeli weapons – flying tankers and missiles for tanks and aircraft. The military operations and weapons purchases are financed with our taxes, meaning we are responsible for all that. In the process of converting that chimney into a symbol of the presence of Muslims in Poland, it has become clear that we need to discuss the comfortable and nostalgic image of the Pole as a victim and, at the same time, a defender of values.
We can talk about gaps and lapses as a kind of strategic opportunity; and around the nucleus of power one can see the slightly less visible arrows as a kind of ecosystem; they are circulating and they are moving, connecting the strategic tools (time / speed / distance, recent history, autonomy, fiction / illusion etc.). By using these strategic tools diagrammatically one can begin to go through the actual gaps and fissures to reach the possibility of non-hierarchical participatory radical democracy in its unlimited, new and undiscovered forms. As Conor McGrady says, “Perhaps the constitution of a truly radical artistic practice today lies in its ability to intervene socially and to generate unpredictable outcomes.” (13) I would take that one step further and remove the word perhaps. Today not only artists but all self-appointed mediators should see the positive potentials of using the kinds of cracks or gaps mentioned above as inroads unsettling the hegemonic system. (via ahmet ogut | Strategic Diagram for Non-hierarchical Participatory Radical Democracy)