pozdrowienia z alei jerozolimskich
english/polski


Phoenix Varsaviensis

Jakub Dąbrowski
Arteon monthly, no. 1 (93), January 2008



‘Panie Stasiu, why do you think they don’t like the palm?’. ‘Because it’s different’. There is something symptomatic in this short exchange between Joanna Rajkowska, the author of the idea of placing an artificial Palm Tree in the middle of a major roundabout in central Warsaw, and Pan Stasiu, or Mr Stevie, a handyman performing one of the exotic tree’s many repairs. One can say that the brief, almost na_ve exchange captures perfectly well the sense of what has been written and said about the Palm during the five years of its existence. Browsing through the press clippings about the piece, one can hardly find any specifics in the debate on Rajkowska’s project, define any clear lines of division, encounter critical reviews or analyses of events. From the rather numerous press reports we find out that the Palm exists, that from time to time it requires additional funding and repairs, that there are some ‘them’ who don’t like the tree and ‘us’ who like it, and that responsible for the whole affair is a charismatic artist Joanna Rajkowska.

You will hardly find any interpretations or analyses even in the specialist art magazines, and that despite the fact that the Palm Tree had within a short time become a significant feature of the Warsaw urban landscape, achieved the status of a tourist attraction and one of Warsaw’s symbols, and had also become the subject of a political controversy. It seems that, as such, it could be the perfect pretext for debates, including more general ones, such as, for instance, on the role of art in public space in Poland. Did the Palm’s unclear ontological status – in the Road Authority’s documents it is described not as a work of art but rather as a ‘non-road object’ – cause the critics instead to exclude the tree from their scope of interest?

Originally, this was to be a meta-critical text, recapitulating the five-year-long debate on Rajkowska’s public project. The lack of any deeper analytical interest in the Palm, noticed by the artist herself, means that ultimately, it is her own comments that constitute the primary ‘literature’ on the subject, because it is them that give the project a theoretical context, and so they will serve as inspiration for my reflections here.

In 2001, upon her return from a trip to Israel, Joanna Rajkowska came up with the idea of ‘planting’ a row of artistic palm trees in Aleje Jerozolimskie, one of Warsaw’s main thoroughfares. For technical and financial reasons, the project, entitled Greetings from Jerusalem Avenue, was ultimately limited to just a single tree (a massive, 15-metre-tall chunk of a tree, in fact). The Palm, which is modelled upon the phoenix canariensis variety, eventually ‘grew on the Rondo de Gaulle’a roundabout in Aleje Jerozolimskie in December 2002. The transferring of an object typical for the tropics to the cold, wintertime Warsaw may have simply been an absurd gesture – ‘someone’s gone nuts and raised an artificial palm tree’ – but from the very beginning the project came to be perceived in the context of the place’s history. Strictly speaking, the palm had not been ‘transferred’ from any tropical country into any place in Warsaw, but rather ‘brought’ from Jerusalem to Warsaw’s Aleje Jerozolimskie. This way, Rajkowska wanted to draw attention to the street’s original name – Jerusalem Avenue – which had with time become so common that it detached itself from its late-18th-century etymology. The artist remembered that it was at that time that Polish nobles Józef Potocki and August Sułkowski founded a Jewish settlement called the New Jerusalem, but already two years later, when the Jews started to emerge as too powerful a competition for the Christian merchants, the settlement was pulled down, leaving the name of the road leading to it as the only memento.

The project’s original semantic field was delineated therefore by a serious question about the memory of the city’s complex, traumatic past, and, on the other hand, by the ironic, or perhaps even oneiric, gesture of placing a plastic palm tree in the middle of Warsaw’s winter landscape. I think that one of the interesting aspects of Rajkowska’s project are changes in the boundaries of this field, driven by, among other things, the dynamics of the relationship between the artefact itself and its author. Rajkowska did not expect the palm would, as she puts it, ‘outgrow’ her. Surprisingly, the lack of curatorial support or a safe, cosy shelter in the ‘white cube’ did not hinder the Palm’s development – to the contrary, the perfect growth environment was created by the gazes of accidental passers-by, their raptures and imprecations, the lenses of tourist and TV cameras, by the artistic happenings and political demonstrations taking place in front of the tree, and even by the bureaucratic confusion it inspired. Sap keeps circulating through the artificial trunk and leaves, constantly changing the relationship between the signifier and the signified, building the consecutive layers of semantic correlations, and creating a mythology in its own right.

Even though Rajkowska declares the project originally had no political overtones and was meant to be ideologically neutral, the Palm Tree from the very beginning carried a clear potential of content traditionally attributed to the left-wing, or, rather, not attributed to the right-wing. Anecdotally, one can say that the Palm’s connection with the exploited working class was organic, and existed from the moment it was actually manufactured in the US by non-English-speaking Mexican workers. Then, a longshoremen strike caused a delay in the tree’s shipment to Poland. Speaking more seriously, it seems there was little chance the tree would find favour with discourses other than the left-wing ones, for instance, that it would be accepted by the Catholic community and become an integral part of the altar built every year for the traditional Corpus Christi parade. Lech Kaczyński’s election for mayor of Warsaw in November 2002, his open aversion towards the project, and his introduction of a sharp, antagonising rhetoric that positioned Rajkowska’s piece in opposition to the Christian tradition of the Christmas Tree – all that imposed clear political connotations on the project. From the very beginning of the Palm’s existence, its opponents stressed its strangeness and otherness. If we add its connection with a highly controversial historical ethnic conflict, the result will be a mixture indigestible for the right wing of the political scene and its supporters. Not without significance here is also the tree’s artistic and anti-monumental nature, with its postmodern openness to interpretations – this indeterminateness, irony, the possibility of shifting meanings at will, even towards far-left values, make the Palm unacceptable, impossible, for the Catholic or national sacrum.

When Mr Kaczyński’s Law and Justice (PiS) party came into power and formed a coalition with the far-right League of Polish Families (LPR), the tree’s left-wing career was sealed: the absurd, ironic dimension of Rajkowska’s piece contrasted ever more clearly with the government’s equally absurd, but deadly serious, doings. There is no hiding the fact that the Palm is closer to the Equality Parade or an artistic happening than to a military dress parade under the auspices of the President of Poland – unfortunately, unlike France, Poland has no Foreign Legion. The Palm naturally attracted striking nurses (she was even adorned with a bonnet), minority-rights activists, the Greens, and the left-wing Krytyka Polityczna periodical helped collect funds for the tree’s renovation. The media immediately noticed that the Palm had leaned left, but, in my opinion, it had always leaned left and only some strange coincidence could have kept it neutrally vertical.

Through its public context, however, the Palm creates a far more complex amalgam of receptions than just the political appropriations. It also functions outside the great cultural narratives – in the micro-scale of the Warsaw world. Already the Gazeta Wyborcza daily noticed in its plebiscite for Warsaw’s most recognisable symbol that ‘in spite of appearances, the Palm is a Varsovian by nature. Its future is uncertain because its official status is vague and it’s not clear how long it will remain in place. It has kept causing problems. Every now and then it needs new leaves, or the existing ones prove of bad quality. It has always had funding problems. Already today the Palm Tree can be viewed as an exuberant symbol of Warsaw’s characteristic lash-up’ (‘Warsaw’s New Icons’, Gazeta Stołeczna, 24 February 2007). Indeed, the Palm highlights Warsaw’s many absurdities and prompts us to look again at our surroundings – after all, the nearby socialist-realistic building of the former communist party’s Central Committee had for almost ten years hosted the Warsaw Stock Exchange, the pulsating heart of the free-market system. There is some historical irony in that, and you can also hear actual laughter here, because the Palm, besides hostile reactions, also inspires smiles and surprising comments, fascinates children, changes people for a moment. Rajkowska’s piece is, above all, funny, only, it needs to be stressed, in a warm way that does not have to (though it can) be interpreted in terms of political malice. It is an anti-monument, and has nothing to do with yet another John Paul II, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, or Marshal Piłsudski statue. But it does not compete with them either – it is simply from another world, and from exactly what world, depends on the context and on your associations. Varsovians, who have nicknamed the police patrol car usually parked under the tree ‘Miami Vice’, obviously feel this. I wouldn’t actually be surprised if the direct vicinity of the exotic tree caused the traffic policemen to dream about the Florida sun, black Ferrari convertibles, linen suits and pastel-coloured T-shirts. Interestingly, the tropical microclimate of humour and irony generated by the Palm was eventually appreciated even by its political adversaries. Despite the distance it felt, Lech Kaczyński’s city hall had to notice the project’s promotional value and the place it had won in the hearts of Varsovians and visitors alike. Within a very short time, the Palm became a regular feature of guided tours around Warsaw, as well as a popular landmark and meeting point. The city councillors didn’t decide to put an end to the project, though it is obvious that, if it hadn’t been for Rajkowska’s and her goodwill supporters’ immense efforts, I’d be writing now about a historical, rather than current, project. The new, more liberal-minded city authorities are using the palm’s image in the city’s promotional campaign with full premeditation.

During its stormy five years of existence, the Palm Tree has changed Warsaw and been a constant point of reference, if not for striking nurses, then for confused tourists. This is where the power of a public-space project lies. I think people still feel the tree’s exoticism and otherness, and yet they no longer perceive it as strange. You can say a new, unique palm species has bee bred in Warsaw, the phoenix varsaviensis, which it would be worth propagating around the country. This new palm species has helped make a big step towards understanding the world around us (and not only the world of plants), and it is to be hoped that it keeps leading us towards greater flexibility in looking and thinking. After all, the Palm stands on a roundabout where Jerusalem Avenue meets a street called New World.

Sources:
1. ‘For the Homeboy and for the Yuppie’, conversation with Joanna Rajkowska, Gazeta Stołeczna, 21 October 2002.
2. ‘Dagny Kurdwanowska Talks to Joanna Rajkowska’, interview for Twój Styl [never published], http://www.palma.art.pl/pages/show/18
3. ‘The Palm Drifting to the Left’, conversation with Joanna Rajkowska, Rzeczpospolita, 12 February 2007.
4. ‘Joanna Rajkowska. My Tree Is Political’, Plus Minus (Rzeczpospolita supplement), 12 May 2007.
5. Conversation with Joanna Rajkowska, Gazeta Stołeczna, 3 July 2007.
6. ‘The Palm Has Outgrown Me. Dorota Jarecka Talks to Joanna Rajkowska’, Wysokie Obcasy, 15 September 2007.
7. ‘Not a Bit of Folly’, conversation with Joanna Rajkowska, Rzeczpospolita, 20 September 2007.
8. Dominika Dzido, ‘Our Own Palm or the Phoenix in Warsaw’, Autoportret, http://www.autoportret.pl/_files/artykuly/a7_dzidoQ.pdf
9. Przemysław Kondraciuk, interview with Joanna Rajkowska, http://www.autoportret.pl/_files/artykuly/a7_dzidoQ.pdf

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The City

Joanna Rajkowska talks to Dagny Kurdwanowska. The interview for "Twój Styl" magazine [never published]; 2006.

What does the city mean to you?

The city, the urban space, is an area that should belong to people, an area of which everyone can say, 'this is my space, I can shape it any way I want, I can make it active'. A free space of expression, of intersecting narratives and identities, a space of play - this is a vision of the city I'd like to live in. Corporations, advertising companies should by no means be allowed to monopolise the urban space because by doing so, they take it away from people. A city so monopolised becomes a dead place, a place of commercial and political games, formatted for the purposes of marketing campaigns. We don't even realise how profoundly this influences our behaviour, how it slowly transforms ourselves.

How do you feel in the city?

Depends in which one (smiles). The way I'd like to feel is to be able to go for the morning paper in my pyjamas. To be able to eat my breakfast in a small, non-network, unpretentious café. I want for its inhabitants to stop gaping at every weirdo and at myself. In Warsaw, I sometimes feel overwhelmed with powerlessness. I want the city officials don't want to meet me, that for another year I'll be fighting for another public project to happen - and most likely to no avail again.

When does the city become interesting?

When it's open and belongs to people. Open also in the sense of its readiness to accept diverse meanings, diverse identities. The city also has to be flexible, able to adapt itself to the diverse and changing needs of its inhabitants - those who have lived in it for a long time and those who migrate to it. We need a swimming pool - we build one, we don't want cars - we close the roads and build cycling paths, more and more Vietnamese are settling - we ask them what is their vision of the city. And - obviously - the city hates nationalists, chauvinists, horizon-lacking fundamentalists of all hues, it hates people who are frightened, who don't know the world and don't want to learn about it, and also those stuck upon their vision of the world. They all want to monopolise the vision of a fluid, living community and create a dead homogeneous mass instead. Put shortly, the city is interesting when it's diverse, when people of all possible colours and cultures create their own versions of it. The city lives when the authorities don't try to control and repress culture, and people have a sense of community and power in the good sense.

When is it inspiring?

As above, when it is unpredictable and people feel they have power.

When can the city be hated?

Well, it depends on the people. I have a vision of the perfect city, of an utopian society, and the more distant it is, the more it hurts me. I guess you can really start hating a city when the people inhabiting it are unable to establish direct contact. When they merge with their social function, grow into their role, forget they are above all 'towards' others - they are ordinary people. I visit a shop, a gallery, an institution and everywhere I encounter behaviour that reflects fear of direct, unprejudiced, unprogrammed contact. This hurts and discourages me. Because, before you are an official or a curator, you are an ordinary, unshaped, unfinished human being. When people lose this freshness, the city becomes a place to hate. A lot depends also on the way the city space is designed. Does it provoke controlled, fearful, self-censored behaviour or does it loosen you up, make you smile, get people closer and promote conversations and exchange? This is very important. Physical space and human behaviour can be shaped, 'sculpted'. People are able to forget about their rigid social 'costumes' because the context that the environment offers simply invalidates that costume.

I leave the political aspect for the end because it is the most obvious one - the city can be hated when it's closed and controlled by totalitarian power. For me, after the closure of Le Madame, Warsaw has become a different city, in the symbolic dimension, of course. Le Madame was very much a Place - a living, open cell of the urban organism where different social and cultural visions were able to coexist.

What do you miss in Polish cities?

I think the above provides the answer.

What do Warsaw, Łódź or Wrocław have that other cities in the world don't? What can we be proud of?

We can be proud of unspecific places, of what is referred to as non-sites. Warsaw in particular is full of such very ugly but lovely non-places. Those are places that are undefined, between, neglected, terrible. Spaces where everything can happen, and, in a way, prepared for it. I love such places. They give me a sense of power and possibility. I'm now in a small town in the north of Sweden and, by a great effort, I managed to locate a couple of such non-sites. But it's not the same...

How do you think the Palm has influenced the way people of Warsaw think and behave? At first, everyone complained, frowned, and when the Palm was to be dismantled, it suddenly turned out everyone loved it.

The Palm is a sign that our social space is already prepared to accept very diverse meanings. As long as it remains in place, which is probably a couple of months more, it'll remain a kind of energy centre, in the sense of its ability to open up possibilities, a container for otherness. I guess people sense this potency, this readiness, dream, utopia, which is why they eventually came to like it. And that is why those currently in power dislike it so much. Because the Palm goes in precisely the opposite direction than the PiS's ideology.

Do you think such ideas help people open up? Help them look at their city anew? Become friends with it?

I think so. Because the Palm is a very simple message, a bit disarming, helping you relax and (to paraphrase Kinga Dunin) to 'shift towards the other' in the bus or tram or other common space. Because the Palm says that there is room for everyone here and for everything, that Warsaw is huge and cool (smiles).

Are there any ideas for invigorating a city that caught your attention (in Poland or abroad)?

Yes, here in the small town in the north of Sweden they use a very simple architectural feature that works just great. In the middle of the central square, opposite the town hall, there is a concrete, heated (which is important because it can be cold and snowy here!) platform accessible via a couple of steps. There is a simple lectern in the middle of it - a small stand with a microphone handle. It works great because it results in direct, very democratic behaviour that gives people a sense of having a say. When someone has something to say, they can stand behind the lectern and speak. Others will listen or not, but the forum is open. Decisions are made. And the whole thing, for whatever reason, is called Monkey Mountain.

You are in Sweden now. Do Swedes have a different approach to urban space than Poles do?

As above.

The Palm or the Oxygenator, are they also intended as means to make the city a warmer, friendlier, 'softer' place to be? Interestingly, I talked to a friend yesterday and she told me she had just been to Plac Grzybowski, which is very user-unfriendly, all tangled-up, she went there looking for the offices of STOEN, the power provider, the building's very smartly hidden, and at that moment, she told me, she dreamed of something like the Oxygenator, a place where you could stop for a moment and release at least some of your anger with the city.

Well, yes, very much so, this is what the Palm and the Oxygenator are for too. You used the word 'soft' - like soft technology (software). This is how these projects should work - they are operating systems on the hard ground of the urban tissue (the hardware). They are intended to enable us to use the city, change it, shape it.

The Oxygenator has become something of a utopian project... Please, exert pressure on the city authorities to look more kindly at it and perhaps, after a two years' struggle, it'll finally become reality.

How did you choose the locations for the Palm and the Oxygenator?

It is locations that choose their projects (smiles). The Palm stands in Aleje Jerozolimskie [Jerusalem Avenue], and history is hidden in the name of the street like in a capsule, you simply had to bring it out. The Oxygenator - Plac Grzybowski is the Patriotic Bookstore where you can suffocate with the concentration of anti-Semitic and nationalistic toxins in the air, and right next to it the synagogue and the Jewish Theatre building. A toxic dullness of space, the toxic behaviour of the groups of young Israelis surrounded by security officers. I look at them and I'd like to go and have a beer with them, but no, they are in a different dimension, a war dimension. I wanted to breathe some fresh air into all that.


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Joanna Rajkowska talks to Artur Żmijewski


Tell me something about the journey to Erec Israel. Was it special? And if so, why?

It was a journey without any particular purpose. When you’re not determined by the purpose of the journey, perception of many things becomes sharper. You’re just a traveller and not, as it often happens, an artist with a mission of making an exhibition. You don’t move around within an artistic ghetto, you just wander here and there. Israel was also special because that it brought so many harsh feelings. I remember arriving in Jerusalem and this strange air in a little hotel called Faisal. There was a tearoom overlooking the city, with implanted Western music, where everybody gathered; a very ‘cool’ place. But Moby sounded weird when you watched Israeli helicopters hovering over Bethlehem. It was an island, floating over East Jerusalem, an island where you smoked shisha, ate guacamole and felt rising strangeness. I wasn’t a part of the tearoom. People at the street were closer to than globetrotters in the hotel.



fot. Marcin Szwed
I remember coming of an Arab-English interpreter, who worked in Palestinian refugee camps, you smelled something different in him. A complete helplessness. When I talked to him, I was unable to put his experience into an integral system. One experience followed a certain logic and the second – another. There were contradictory logic systems and I felt that they dig separate channels in my mind, which stay parallel without a chance of meeting. What was I supposed to do with it? Staying in such country as Israel makes you understand less the more facts you absorb. I remember this feeling of deep defiance in Mea Sharim, an orthodox district. I didn’t care much about similarities with a Polish shtetl. I watched women pale as vampires and unwelcoming Hasides. I didn’t understand the rules of that world and felt that they aim at the rules of mine, as if they were laughing of it. The defiance was so strong, so poisoning, that I came up to an idea: to lie on the street, across the pavement. It left me no sooner then when you made photos of a Hasid trying to hit me – still lying – with a stick. And finally a fear. I wasn’t afraid of anything in particular: suicide bombers and bombs. I was afraid because fear was in the air. I remember the firs afternoon in Jerusalem, in bed at Faisal, under a disgusting blanket soaked with human sweat. I didn’t sleep and I couldn’t move. I was completely paralysed with fear. I felt that my skin is absorbing fear from the environment and I was about to explode soon.



phot. Artur Żmijewski

The idea of the palm came from a joke, a not very serious question: what if a row of palms appeared at Jerusalem Avenue in Warsaw – just like on the streets of Jerusalem. You can make such tiny imaginations, as it was with the palm, grow to a ‘monumental’ scale. I think that your other works are caused by such little fad of imagination. Is the little important? Why?

You know… sometimes even children are caused by such little fad of imagination. I trust such thoughts, ones that push me into a different orbit; that make me feel like inside a movie. No matter if these are big or little thoughts. It happens to me most often in a relation to somebody, during a conversation. Something switches on inside me. A little wave into space. I observe how the person reacts, if they allow themselves to get carried by the wave. Besides, at that time you have to verbalise that wave, make it real somehow. And then – such thought grows inside me as a bubble or I forget about it instantly.
When the palm appeared, we were writing about Israel, it was hot and somehow chaotic. I really forced my brain to make some ending and as I remember it wasn’t the first idea to come. But then I must have got some short circuit and memory frames from Warsaw and Jerusalem overlap themselves, e.g. the one of the square in from of Faisal hotel, where we had lived. And one more: a postcard you had found in the Old Town in Jerusalem. There was a bare hill on it and one poor ragged palm. Underneath it was written “Greeting from Hebron” or just “Hebron”, I can’t remember. I was impressed. It looked as it was printed in Poland in the eighties.
A monumental scale of the project came only from the scale of misunderstanding, the size of the incomprehensible area, that’s just what the palm is about.

Jerusalem Avenue, you lived at that huge road in the very centre of the city, you experienced different things there. I suppose the name is important for you – tell me about it.

That importance was extremely painful for some time. I tried not to go there, as it was unbearable for me not to look at the windows of the flat I used to live in. And when I counted them and looked, it hurt. In 1999 I found a flat at Jerusalem Avenue; I wanted to live there with my husband. Later, living there, I decided to divorce him and live different life than I did so far.
The burden of these decisions frightened me. The reaction to them was a growing alienation from everything around me; I had to move. Since then Jerusalem Avenue is a borderline for me, my private customs clearance between one live and the other.
The avenue is, in a different perspective, a certain sign in our history: across the capital of a big European county leads a wide highway: Jerusalem Avenue. The name is so grown into our culture that nobody can hear it, cannot hear its meaning. I think it is very good.

Do you think that somebody in Warsaw remembers the meaning of this name?

I doubt it. It is a strange story. In 1774 August Sułkowski set up in the area of today’s Towarowa street a settlement for Jewish people: New Jerusalem. Its citizens became quickly an unwanted competition for Warsaw’s traders and craftsmen. Sułkowski was brought to court by Warsaw Magistrate. They wanted New Jerusalem to be closed. On the 23rd of January 1776 goods were confiscated and houses demolished to the ground. That is at least what I read in books. *
The story was erased in the flow of Polish misery, but the name remained. People from “Między Nami” café apparently heard the street’s name when they saw postcards with the palm titled: Greetings from Jerusalem Avenue.

By putting up such a huge exotic tree in the middle of a city do you bring from that tropical world something you miss in Poland? Something from there? What is it?

I miss the diversity of that world. There are no Jews whose absence the name of the street clearly announces. Not a tiny group of assimilates. There are people missing, who were truly different, exposing their strangeness with no embarrassment but without aggression either. I miss Arabs and Africans as well. I miss the energy of immigrants who decided to leave everything and start their life anew, their anxiety and strength. It might be because of that I feel so well at Dziesięciolecia Stadium. Poland is hopeless in that respect. White, catholic society, similar behaviour, similar beliefs. This silent understanding, this ‘normality’ is horrible. There are no minorities and majorities, is just richer or poorer homogeneity. It might be the cause of Polish racism and intolerance. I’m not trying to say that Israelis a land of tolerance, it’s in my opinion a racist country as well, but in a different way and from different reasons… Besides, Israel is still being formed – in every respect. It is a country, where every bright person must keep asking themselves fundamental questions.
I also miss the tension, a connection with the rest of the world, so obvious in Israel. Poland is a ghetto in so many ways that sometimes is hard to breathe here.
I erect a tree and think of it as an element of communication between people, nonverbal communication and the one not engaging the intellect. It was similar with ‘A Diary of Dreams’, I don’t want people to ‘understand’ each other. I think it’s impossible. I want them to BE next to each other. Under the palm.

By Artur Żmijewski.

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DUŻY FORMAT no. 43, supplement of Gazeta Wyborcza no. 245,
Warsaw edition, Oct 20th 2003

PALM DEFENSE COMITEE

UTTER HONOLULU

A palm in the centre of Warsaw. On the circle in front of the former Communist Party headquarters. Surrealism. Poetry. Polish palm. One kilometre from the parliament building we went mad. Polish fantasy. A praise of uselessness. Lack of necessity. Days of its life are numbered. City council does not want the palm. It is already clear that one year after its birth, on December the 13th, the palm, with outstanding taxes, will be pulled out and dumped.


phot. Bogdan Krężel

Jerzy M., taxi driver, with disgust: Very well, it ridicules the city.

Teenage daughter to her mother, next to Empik store: What a shame that palm, gee, what a crap!

Municipal clerk: I don’t like it and I will not in the future, I’m sure you understand.

Anda Rottenberg, curator and art historian: The palm appeared at de Gaulle circle one cold, December day, instead of a Christmas tree. It made the circle different. The palm, such as other objects of public art, has no particular reason. It does not advertise cars, banks or underwear… does not advertise anything. It is a sign of relaxing refreshment.

Maybe it will raise interest in the city’s history as it marks the beginning of Jerusalem Avenue, the former boundary of Jewish settlement area.

Maybe it will remind the core of the present street’s name (New Jerusalem)?

Unselfish gift of artist Joanna Rajkowska titles ‘Greetings from Jerusalem Avenue’ for busy, tired Warsovians.

Krystyna Janda, actress (the day after the palm was erected she photographed it and published the picture in the internet): Is charmingly absurd and beautiful. In some sense it is poetry, being placed there. As a warsovian I would like to thank the artist for it.

Teenager from Milanowek, distributing leaflets in the neighbourhood of the palm: I prefer to work here than anywhere else. It’s like I was in same important centre thanks to that palm. The palm is pretty!

Zbigniew W., taxi driver: So much money they pumped in it! Disaster. What will foreigner think? That we’re some lunatics. In the seventies they put there on the circle mice in cages. And that was a useful idea. The mice breathed car fumes so they could check their livers afterwards. How poisoned they are. The idea was, that road militia weren’t happy about air pollution and the mice proved that the pollution was high. And what does the palm prove? Well, what do you think, what? Nothing!

Elderly man with a briefcase: It is a symbol of stupidity of those who have put it. Cut it down! Cut it down threefold!

Tomek Sikora, photographer, palm’s neighbour: I beg you people, leave me that symbol of hope for light and warmth!

Dorota Monkiewicz, curator of the National Museum in Warsaw: I fully support the palm, let Warsaw differ with unconventional thinking and imagination along with all these negative features that have been associated with our city by outsiders.

Andrzej Samson, psychotherapist: The palm is a problem for those who react aggressively. It causes anxiety: why is it here? For me it is just a funny detail in such a turgid spot, next to the former Communist Head Committee and a gloomy PAP building. Funny exclamation mark in the middle of the city. I definitely support it.

Bogusław Kaczyński: Warsaw, with the only exception for the Kings Road and all relicts of Stanislaw August era, is the ugliest capital in Europe and possibly also in the world. The palm adds glamour to the city. When I saw it for the first time I was so charmed I almost bumped into it. Nowadays I try to be often in its neighbourhood and I dream about Nice and Monte Carlo.

Mateusz Sikora, sculptor, lives close to the palm: I think that the palm at de Gaulle circle hardly fits its location, just like most of the buildings in this city. It is such an alien object there it creates amazing positive harmony with all these hardly fitting objects. If we have Palace of Culture, let’s have the palm as well.

Joanna Mytkowska, curator at Foksal Gallery Foundation: In Warsaw, what can’t be modernised is being covered. Representational buildings, and they’re most often Korean and Turkish investments, cover post-socialist hovels. At the same time it is being attempted to establish an identity of a city-martyr around martyrdom sites and renovated historical buildings and old-fashioned symbols of western culture like quadriga on the Great Theatre. The palm re-establishes the East in Warsaw, it refers to centuries-long historical inspiration in the Orient, but also a present opening towards immigration from behind the eastern border, markets and nomadic temporality, upon which the life of a major part of newcomers is based.

Krystyna Kofta, writer: Here I’ll have a palm grown (the writer shows where) is the major of Warsaw leaves it.

Bogna Świątkowska, Foundation of the New Culture ‘Bęc Zmiana’: I like looking at kids’ faces when I walk next to the palm. Adults seem to be used to it - well, here’s a palm, why bother – and they wouldn’t even turn their heads. Kids are different. They pay their attention to it, look at it in a dreamy, unquenchable way. Kids’ eyes say: What a cool palm! I haven’t noticed such thing in the vicinity of other exposed objects in Warsaw.

I like to look at it. It disciplines me, I think in such moments – Hey, calm down, relax, you’ll waste your life if you keep being that serious, get some distance. The palm is like a radio. If you don’t like it turn it off, look on the ground, tram rails, facades of buildings, you don’t have to turn it on.

Writer, who does not want to disclose his name: It doesn’t fit there, looks artificially. I know, that it was supposed to be a reaction against the Party Headquarters, but it’s a fake. It’s kitsch. There are those post-modern ideas, that you can link everything with everything, private parts with a cross etc. Well no, you can’t allow yourself anything. Moral relativism won’t do any good. And the palm is such symbol of allowing yourself anything.

Krzysztof Sidorek, artist associated with Tworzywo group: Placed at the roundabout, it made all the surroundings join the game, willingly or not, all of us. It’s public, not confined to the prison of a gallery, free, accessible like the street art. Equally necessary as the street art and equally undervalued. But that’s the feature of a street event, it is not defined in categories of art. It allows everybody to judge, not just selected specialists. That’s where its strength is.

Rev. prof. Michał Czajkowski: It brightens the gloom! It is Jerusalem Avenue and it should have at least one palm.

Grzegorz P, taxi driver, in his thirties: It gets on my nerves, that wisp. As my father once said, it’s a symbol of Jewish victory in Warsaw, that they’ll plant Jerusalem Avenue with palms, huh, huh...

Piotr Rypson, art critique: Warsaw actually is an unwelcoming city. New deputies of the capital don’t dig the palm. It might be not Christian enough a symbol compared to ultra-catholic Christmas tree? But palm is a Christian symbol over 1500 years older than our Christmas trees. Palm Sunday commemorating the entering of Jerusalem by Jesus is familiar even to laics.

Joanna Mytkowska (again): Placed in Jerusalem Avenue it reminds Jerusalem, beautiful and important to Poland city, where many people still know at least few words in Polish.

Mrs Aniela, retired, selling flowers not far from the palm: What is the name of that warm country? I forgot, you see. Because of that palm I feel like in that country. Yes! Honolulu, I remember. Well, utter Honolulu.

Mr Ryszard, standing next to Mrs Aniela: Tourists often ask if we sell postcards with the palm. I would be happy to sell such pictures along with flowers. One foreigner showed the palm and said ‘gratulation’ or something.

Kazimierz Kutrz, director: Absolutely ridiculous! So ridiculous, that it’s enchanting. I love nonsense, where you don’t expect it. ‘Gazeta’ must defend the palm!

Tomasz Stańko, composer, trumpet player: We must remember, that surprising and unnecessary things refresh cities.

Urszula Dudziak, jazz singer: More such palms, it should be infectious.

Małgorzata and Michał (a grandson of Mieczysław) Fogg, art gallery Prace Duże: ‘Striking palm’ has two meanings in Polish language. The negative one (madness) and the reversed, positive one. And we identify with the latter. The palm at the roundabout is a firm symbol of our positive, progressive palm, which motivates, inspires and agitates us, which is a vehicle of progress!

Remigiusz Grzela, journalist: The palm is a symbol of this city, a hope for a different city. And if it strikes everybody, only the better. I got a theatre invitation. There was information inside, that the show is under auspices of the city major Lech Kaczynski. Only the palm was missing in the title.

Łukasz Gorczyca, curator and art critique from Raster Gallery: It is very silly, that the city isn’t interested in the palm, because it’s got unbelievable promotional potential, it’s an attraction, also tourist attraction, and makes a good proof of fantasy and imagination of its inhabitants. But how would you explain that to somebody, who lacks fantasy and imagination? If I were municipal officials, I would contact Joanna Rajkowska immediately, congratulate on her work and offered further cooperation, leave the palm for longer, print postcards and little souvenirs with the Warsaw Palm, and at time consider whether the city should possibly buy a palm of its own.

Agnieszka Kowalska
Mariusz Szczygieł


Manifesto

We appeal:

1. To Municipal Roads Office to cancel the land tax. It would be enough to change its category from a non-road object (as a poor language of beaurocrates put it) to a public sculpture. Sculptures don’t pay the tax.

2. To the same office to cancel the outstanding tax of 10.000 zloty, which Institute of Promotion of Art cannot afford (The palm needs renewing and that needs money).

3. To Warsaw Council to prolong the permission for placing the palm in its location and provide it with any financial help possible to keep it alive.

4. Leaving the palm will prove our opening towards the others and the diversity of trees, which don’t necessarily need to be weeping willows.

Palm Defense Committee

Rev. prof. Michał Czajkowski, Urszula Dudziak, Krystyna Janda, Bogusław Kaczyński, Krystyna Kofta, Kazimierz Kutz, Agnieszka Morawińska, Michał Ogórek, Anda Rottenberg, Andrzej Samson, Tomasz Sikora, Tomasz Stańko, Team of Duży Format

Those readers, who support our appeal may sen emails to the adressL ratujpalme@gazeta.pl. Sponsors, who would like to support renewing of the palm might be given attractive advertisment space, contact through the website www.palma.art.pl.

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Own palm or phoenix in Warsaw

Sometimes palms grow in the very mid winter in such an unusual environment. This is not a joke or illusion but a daring art project.

In December 2002 at de Gaulle circle, at the junction of Jerusalem Avenue and Nowy Świat street appeared a 15 metres-high palm. Its high, soft brown trunk was crowned with thick, fluttering plum-like foliage. The temperature that day made it impossible to explain this with a mirage.

The idea came from an – at first – humorous question of an artist Joanna Rajkowska: what would happen if one of Warsaw’s main streets would be planted with a row of palms? ‘Greetings from Jerusalem Avenue’ – as that was the project’s title – was brought by memories of Rajkowska’s journey to Israel. They came from the need of telling the end of that journey in Warsaw, in this particular, full of personal experience place. An art project linked two distant contexts: palm taken from an Israeli landscape brings its air to the capital, the name of the street – Jerusalem Avenue – is furthermore associated with the Middle East. Rajkowska presented a well-known street in an unusual view. Postcards with the palm and English translation of project’s name widened the scope for further associations and meanings. The next, deeper layer is, as in archaeological excavations, exposing the history of the avenue. In 1774 outside the former gates of Warsaw Józef Potocki and August Sułkowski established a Jewish settlement: New Brook and New Jerusalem. Growing economical competitiveness of that area brought Warsaw’s magistrate to the idea of closing them down. Only a road towards the river Wisła remained. Rajkowska’s work in an interesting and unusual way refers to these events, to the traces of Jewish history in the city. The project was executed by three people: the author, an architect Michał Rudnicki and a representant of Foundation of the Promotion of Art Katarzyna Łyszkowicz. The palm was supposed to stay at the circle for a year, but when the period came to an end it became apparent that the deconstruction of the tree is impossible for both financial and organizational reasons and a mew solution had to be found. To the surprise of the author and the Foundation, the citizens of Warsaw supported the palm. A Palm Defence Committee was established and, supported by Gazeta Wyborcza, began to campaign for leaving the tree at the place where it grew its artificial roots. Formal tasks to achieve that were as difficult as the putting the tree for the firs time. But the palm became an important and integral element of the space and neither its authors nor the public could imagine an empty place instead of it.
In the interview with Artur Żmijewski Rajkowska said that she wanted people ‘to be close to each other, under the palm.’ Her wish was fulfilled. You can often hear friends arranging meetings under the palm, that means in the area of the circle. The road police wait sometimes under the very tree and in the sunny summer days (when they are wearing dark sunglasses) it makes an image taken literally from Californian movies. This humorous picture completes quite a real story of the construction of the palm. It was designed by an American company Soul-utions.Com, and more precisely by two Mexican workers employed there. American context is just an another part of colourful cultural collage, which centre is an artificial tree placed in one of the most important spots of the capital.
Warsaw Phoenix Canariensis was made from plastics and natural materials and protected from rain, frost and UV radiation. Thanks to that it retains fresh look despite of the weather conditions. The project was paid for with sponsor companies’ money. Conducting such a large art project in a public space caused various technical and formal problems, it faced also the limitations of mental habits. The palm causes surprise, even astonishment. But it turned out that it changes the reality in a creative way. One can only speculate, whether it gave a new identity to this part of town or just freed a variety of meanings hidden in the neighbourhood of de Gaulle circle.
In one of Mrożek’s novels the head of a zoological garden wanted to enrich his firm with ‘the own elephant’ – made of rubber and filled with air. But the rubber body was accidentally filled with gas an when the first children group appeared in the morning a light breeze took the elephant high above the fences. Kids who saw that became hooligans and stopped believing in elephants. A flying elephant derails the education, but ‘the own palm’ at a circle in a Central European city might trigger the process of learning anew things that seemed to be well tamed. Variety of associations, caused by the artificial tree – artist’s journey to Israel, the history of Warsaw Jews, LA-like police officers and Mexican workers meticulously forming the trunk – brings a lot of questions. It forces one to stop and think about the place, where we are.

Dominika Dzido

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(…) This wasn’t easy, but she managed to make Warsavians love the palm an this alien – one may think – element have grown into the cityscape.

Przemysław Kondraciuk talks to Joanna Rajkowska

Przemysław Kondraciuk: We can say that the palm exists in two mayor layers. In the visual sphere, as an object, it fits the city space. In the sphere, which we can call social, it sparks various reactions. Which of these aspects is more important for you?

Joanna Rajkowska
: I see these spheres as permanently bound, one implies the other. But the palm, although damaged and miserable, retains the ability of exposing on the one hand anxiety and fear, and on the other a certain craving for a different city, a different way of spending the time, a different life, to put it simple. This sphere became the most precious, because it created a context enabling to confront different approaches, not only the horrible stereotypes were exposed, but also dreams. Here, in what you called a social sphere, the project acts as all the time, as it was supposed to.

PK: The palm sparked a lot of controversy in Warsaw. Did you try to understand the reason of it?

JR: I think that the biggest problem for people was the fact that the palm was strange. That’s an alien element in the city.

PK: Did such reaction surprise you?

JR: If you enter a public space, an open space, you must take strong reactions into account, also the fact that the idea might never be accepted. That does not mean that the project is aimed at causing a scandal. It is a kind of social experiment. Extreme reactions, hostility, strong opinions expressed about me (especially at Gazeta Wyborcza’s news boards), all that conflict was a part of the project. The palm’s history, despite its grotesque stories, has a happy ending. We found that the palm became a part of the city that people don’t want to leave it. That was more than I expected.

PK: What are the reactions of an art society?

JR: Not a single decent critique review about the project appeared so far. The first one would be probably Aneta Szułąk’s text in a book ‘Art and public space in Poland’ – a catalogue of Genius Loci exhibition. It is due to the lack of professional presentation of the project. The Centre for Contemporary Art appeared to be completely unprepared for conducting a public project, they didn’t even provide a curator. I also think that a lot of unnecessary noise was made by the press, which kept focusing on the ‘sensational’ threads, tried to make it a media story and kept putting the story in ‘city’ or ‘news’ columns. Only curators from abroad see the project in a different context.

PK: Would you try to realise a big public project in Poland after all that? And if so, what conditions would have to be met?

JR: Yes. But only when the project would by supported by an institution able to conduct fundraising and provide a curator capable of representing the project outside.

PK: Is that scenario possible in the nearest future?

JR: I don’t think so.

By Przemysław Kondraciuk

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Interview of Joanna Rajkowska by Agnieszka Kowalska, Gazeta Wyborcza, Monday 21st of October 2002

Without an algorithm

- Let’s start from the very idea: why did you decide to enter an urban space with your art?

I felt the real life… I lost interest in the expectable space – the one you know why you have entered it. I had such intuitions with ‘Satisfaction’, which also is not a gallery idea. ‘Satisfaction’, the cosmetics line, was presented this year in a cosmetic store in Essen and the it started to live its full life. Seeing a soap signed ‘made of human fat’ next to an ordinary soap, in a shop, that was precisely my aim. To enter a real life context, a very casual one, and to shift its elements, that’s more exciting for me that creating even the most intelligent artefacts permanently placed in an expected context – a gallery or a museum. And when I saw this year in Koln a huge exhibition of Matthew Barney I felt that I got shot into my senses as if the stimulus was too strong, depriving me of certain sensitivity. I was wandering along the halls filled with fantastically designed items and formally promiscuous stage design and I kept thinking about one thing – working hours. How many people worked on it and how long did they keep the job. Did they have fun using unusual materials and new technologies? Who made money on it and how long did it last. After seeing that exhibition I became totally deaf and blind for cool sensorial charm. I went out to the street in Koln and felt relieved, the reality was still stronger…

- Why did you dream about exactly this spot for the palm, at de Gaulle circle?

I didn’t dream about anything. I don’t dream at all. I don’t make anything up. It’s always something that I realise: something from the outside. When the palm appeared, it appeared along with the pace – Jerusalem Avenue. Greetings from Jerusalem Avenue is an idea taken from the language, and more precisely with an attempt to describe a journey to Israel. Various pictures overlapped in my memory. A view of a little hotel in Jerusalem, a postcard saying ‘Greetings from Hebron’ below a landscape with a barren hill with a rickety palm tree, as well as Jerusalem Avenue, which makes and axis of Warsaw for me. There was also an picture of a feeling of helplessness, inability of applying one logical system to what is going on in Israel. Literally it is a transmission of a view – which is obvious in Israel – to Warsaw; to the street which name points back to Israel. I didn’t know how to finish the story of the journey, that was one of the ideas: to plan Jerusalem Avenue with a rows of palms. I simply decided to make the task from a story real. What’s more, in its less literal meaning a palm as an expression is a derived from a Polish idiom with which we describe something out of mind, something alien to our understanding, something, to cut it short, stupid. This lexical ‘palm’ has nice meaning span, with a bit of irony, mockery and looking down to what is being described. Assumes that the one saying ‘a palm’ about something knows better how the matter should look like. There is a certain incapability of understanding of the fact in it and an attempt of shifting it to the area of mistake.
Besides, as it turned out the roots of absurd grow deeper in this place. Recently I started to browse the history of the place and I found a rather embarrassing story. In 1774 August Sułkowski established a settlement for Jewish people in the area of Towarowa street: New Jerusalem. Its inhabitants soon became an uncomfortable competition for Warsaw traders and craftsmen. Sułkowski was sued by the cities magistrate. They wanted New Jerusalem to be closed down. On 23rd January 1776 goods were seized and houses demolished. The story disappeared in a sea of Polish misery, but the name of the road leading to New Jerusalem remained.

- How much time passed between the idea and its completion?

19 months. A year of hard work. Some time, one or two months, the idea was getting through my mind, I didn’t know it’s a complete project, ready for realisation.

- Today, after all the battles with beaurocrats, would you attempt to realise some other project in an urban space? Or is it enough for you?

It’s not enough for me. Although I wouldn’t have enough power to walk the same way and put up another palm, I would like to take up other projects, e.g. the one I called ‘Power and Vigilance’ that is to find a place in the city for a whole field of red toadstools. Real ones, this time. I can already see myself applying for permission from Sanitary and Epidemiological Station… I am fuelled by a possibility of contacting people on that strange level, which is generated by such projects. Imagine, I appoint an electrician and ask him for a scheme for grounding metal elements of the foundation of the palm. You have to ‘rail’ the palm to prevent electric shock if the leaves touch a tram wires, which are of high voltage or if it’s struck by a lightning… I negociated the shipping of the trunk with a logistics company… It’s that strange contact with people what gives the right of existence to all these actions, these piles of spent money and days spent in offices.

- What was the most difficult in the whole process of getting permissions?

Fear. These ‘I’m going to loose my job because of you.’ In some sense the story of the palm was about overcoming a paralysing fear of something, that is undefined and not willing to align with any law. Which has no definition. If there is no definition – what to think about it? There is no algorithm. No procedure.
To be fair: I met many clerks, a whole lot of them, who reacted with common sense, asked for the reasons of my actions, talked to me about safety reasons and if didn’t know anything simply advised what to do. Concrete and to the point, often very kind people. Such were Warsaw Tramlink, Refuse Cleaning Office, many clerks at the Roads Office…

- Are you familiar with the clerks now and do you think they are familiar with the modern art because of you?

I hope, that these I talked to stopped to see artists as a gang of inspired losers and that modern art is not an unhealthy snobbism. I scarcely talked about the meaning of the project, I didn’t want to convince anybody to anything; I was just showing a computer generated simulation of de Gaulle circle with a palm. I wanted them to work with me and feel that they take part in it. I think that many clerks can say that it is truly their palm as well because they did a lot for the project. If it is so, that awareness is a greater success than the palm itself.

- How will Warsavians react to the palm?

I have no idea.

- Is attaching a certain ideology to the palm necessary, do you think that everyone can make his own one?

For goodness sake, no! I worked hard to protect the palm from any ideology. It is for a chev and a yuppie. It is a completely different thing for everyone. I can tell about the reasons for which I decided to take up the project.

- What is the palm for you then?

…It is this nice feeling that you can put your effort along with others into something utterly absurd. Plus the fact that under the palm a chev will stop fazing me. A yuppie too.

By Agnieszka Kowalska

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Stach Szabłowski about the palm. [In the interview with Michał Rudnicki for City Magazine]


Does Warsaw have a chance of becoming a Mediterranean metropolis? Our city used to be the Paris of the East and a capital of the Second Japan (Tokyo of the West?), so who knows. By then, the first step has been made in the subtropical direction. On the twelfth of December the impossible became a fact. At the verge of winter in the middle of a Central European city, at de Gaulle circle will grow a fifteen metres-high artificial palm. It’s Joanna Rajkowska who sends Greeting from Jerusalem Avenue. Thanks to determination of the artist, people of a good will and sponsors, Jerusalem Avenue will become more Jerusalem-like and Warsaw will gain an elegant, palmy vista, taken literally from a view of Casablanca or Madrid.

Joanna Rajkowska came to the idea of erecting a huge artificial palm in the centre of Warsaw in the middle of 2001, following her journey to Israel. The idea of placing a tropical motif, coming from the other world in the monotonous landscape of our northern city seemed unreal at the time. We got used to the fact that in the public space in Warsaw there may be shopping malls, giant billboards or at the latest another martyrological monument. But a visionary art project without any commercial role, used to push passers-by out of their every day routine and facing pedestrians with an unreal in our climate view of an exotic palm on the main street? That was out of the logics of out city.
But Joanna Rajkowska didn’t limit herself to fantasies of palms. She found sponsors and partners, convinced the leaders of the city to her idea, overcame technical difficulties and even a strike of American dockers and brought the palm from the other end of the world. On the 12th of December de Gaulle circle was the place of an encouraging victory of the imagination over the resistance of the material world. The palm will be the greatest, and for sure the highest, art project in a public space to be realised at presence in Warsaw.

Where the palm came from

It was made on Joanna Rajkowska order by a specialist company from Escondido in the USA. The company’s name is Forever Preserved. – The workshop is in the middle of the woods, in a remote place between east California desert and the huge mega-city (from San Diego to Los Angeles with small gaps) – says Michał Rudnicki, an architect and co-worker of Joanna Rajkowska, who went to the States to watch finishing of the palm. – It doesn’t look impressively; it is rather a garage production than an industrial enterprise. Except for Mr. Pecoff, the owner, the palm was made by two non-English speaking Mexicans.
Soul-utions.Com and their contractor Forever Preserved build artificial palms. Polymer multilayer structures of trunks are covered with real palm bark and preserves with synthetic paint. Plastic leaves are added separately. ‘Eternally alive’ palms are sold to casinos, shopping malls, but also, as says Michał Rudnicki, to all those, who can’t afford a real palm. Most of artificial palms, not as one might think, go to hot places where you can expect to see palm woods rather than to northern countries that lack palms. Big, artificial palm is expensive – it may cost more than 10 thousand dollars – but its purchase still comes cheaper than the maintenance of a natural palm. That point is that a palms need a lot of water. In places where water is very expensive, as Southern California or Arab Peninsula, in the long term it is cheaper to buy an artificial palm than to water a real one for years.
The idea of erecting a palm in a North-European capital as an art project appealed to Soul-utions.Com so much that they agreed to significant reductions. “These are people who undertook such actions before, with other clients” – says Rudnicki – “our begging wasn’t unfamiliar to them. Besides, they have a great sense of humour. A proof for their support for the project is a fact that co-owner of the company ms. Woodrow is planning to come for a celebration of opening the project. She wouldn’t do it if it was just another palm in another casino.”
After finishing the palm by Californian craftsmen an cross-continental odyssey of the artificial tree started. The trunk travels in one, 12-metres long piece. – We had a damn tight schedule because of the dockers strike on the whole West Coast – says Rudnicki – Although the strike was long over, there were many unloaded ships waiting at Los Angeles harbour. Luckily, our agents found a free place on the ship coming from Huston. In order to get there, we had to put the palm into a container, on a lorry, than a train and off we went to Texas and then on a ship to Poland. From Gdynia to Warsaw the palm came on a lorry.
Michał Rudnicki, as a person in charge of the construction of the palm at de Gaulle circle doesn’t want to talk much about the construction itself. – I don’t want to bring a bad luck to the whole enterprise. I will say just that everything will go in accordance to the law and luckily a few quite experienced people will be helping us with that. According to the project, Warsaw palm is not supposed to stay here permanently. But the tree, supported from within by a metal structure and preserved from outside is ready for anything that can happen in Polish climate. “The palm can stay there for ten years at least” - says Rudnicki – “The structure itself has no validity expiration date and the outer cover might service at least three election terms for local council without the need of conservation or repair. That doesn’t mean of course, that some disconcentrated bus driver won’t test it himself…”

Joanna Rajkowska’s palm is a date palm. Forever Preserved admits, that the tree is not fully “botanically coherent”, but it reminds the most phoenix canariensis, that means Canary date palm. This is one of the most impressive kinds of palm. As the name shows, it comes from Canary Islands, but since the Portuguese conquered the archipelago in the 16th century phoenix canariensis is one of the most popular decorative trees from California to west Asia. Canary date palm grows slowly, but it can reach the height of 20 metres and the width of its magnificent foliage can be up to 10 metres. Unfortunately, although this species is resistant to low temperatures, it couldn’t grow in Poland in an open space. Phoenix canariensis can survive the temperatures to –4 Centigrade under condition that they last no longer than 3-4 consequent days. Waiting for the climate change cause by a global warming we have to stick to artificial date palms.

Big is beautiful

Joanna Rajkowska with her palm joins the long, although poorly represented in Poland, tradition of grand art realisations in a public space. A scale matters and the art leaving a gallery catacombs and entering the city created an opportunity to face an artistic fact to every pedestrian, instead of a bunch on visitors and connoisseurs. The first in a row of great urban art realisations is probably 30 metres high Rhodes Colossus, which was erected in 3rd century B.C. at the gates of Rhodes harbour. Unfortunately the gigantic monument, one of sever wonders of the world, after a half of century collapsed during an earthquake and in early Middle Ages Arabs scrapped its metal remains. Later, undiscouraged with the fate of the Colossus, artists still undertook daring, monumental enterprises. One of the biggest (at least in terms of dimensions) modern sculptors is a pop-art veteran Claes Oldenburg. The artist is responsible among other for a 13 metres high clip placed in Philadelphia, giant lipstick and monumental teaspoon, together with a 300-kilo cherry. Beauty and refined kitsch lover Jeff Koons created in 1992 a 13 meters high puppy, made entirely of live flowers. In 1998 huge dog ended up in the streets of Bilbao, in front of a branch of Guggenheim Museum. But the most famous specialists in grand art are Christo and Jeanne Claude. Belgian-French duo is famous for works, in which for the material served hectares of landscape and even whole islands. They work in cities as well, packaging famous public building, museums and historical sites into kilometres of fabric. Their most famous work is the packaging of Pont Neuf in Paris and a monumental building of Reichstag, the German parliament in Berlin.

Joanna Rajkowska
A visual artist born in Bydgoszcz, educated in Krakow and New York. Lives and works in Warsaw. In 2000 she realised in CSW a famous exhibition Satisfaction Guaranteed. She showed there industrially made products – soaps, crèmes, perfumes and canned drinks. An information on the packaging said that the products contain fragments of Rajkowska’s body – she used her own fat to make soap, pheromones to make perfumes and brain and breast extracts to make drinks. According to the writing on the packaging, using the products might cause a side effect of living parts of Rajkowska’s biography. Last year she conducted a project A Diary of Dreams. During a week groups of volunteers invited by the artist slept during the day in XXI gallery. The audience could watch the sleepers through gallery windows.

Stach Szabłowski