Joanna Rajkowska

Death of the Palm Tree

Was the first exhibition documenting Joanna Rajkowska’s public project, Death of a Palm Tree (2019). Through the display of large scale photographs and actual palm’s dead leaves, the exhibition provides an opportunity to encounter the work as a unique and politically urgent gesture wherein the artist’s early high-profile concerns with historic trauma meet her recent dedication to nonhuman agency.

In 2003, the young and then-unknown Rajkowska directed the installation of an artificial palm tree in the center of Warsaw, a work she named, Greetings from Jerusalem Avenue. The tree occupied the site of an annually erected Christmas tree. In a hyper-localised action of critical memorialisation, the artist initiated the most iconic project in Warsaw’s public space since 1989. Greetings… was the first of a series of contested counter- monuments that activated different communities to engage in struggles over shared space and symbolic power. Rajkowska insists, works like Greetings are defined by their afterlives, thus it is of particular consequence that seventeen years later, she returned, materially, to the tree.

The towering artificial palm tree fell deathly ill last year. Did city powers finally choke out the tree’s peculiar intervention, its monumental greeting? Or the tree has suffered from its own radical disorientation, alone amidst the ceaseless urban palimpsest of mass deaths and mass births.

And on top of all of these, perhaps the tree’s murderer is the total sum of modernity’s disregard for life. Yes, for this reason, in a familiar act of nonhuman warning, the palm tree died in 2019. Yes, for this reason, Rajkowska staged its temporary death.