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My Land Has Palm Trees

David Maljković, untitled, 2000.

Ante Brkan, Marcel Broodthaers, Nemanja Cvijanović, Kris Dittel, Marcus Doyle, Igor Eškinja, Sanja Iveković, Igor Juran, Feđa Klarić, David Maljković, Dan Moynihan, Hélio Oiticica, Mark Požlep, Joanna Rajkowska, Božidar Rašica, Tanja Vujasinović

curator: Irena Borić

Mali salon, 4. lipnja – 21. lipnja

My Land Has Palm Trees is a verse from Marginalia II, the song written by a Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil, the protagonist of the cultural movement Tropicàlia. In the spirit of Tropicàlia [1], which settles scores with its colonial past by emphasizing antropofagia [2], i.e. cannibalism, the song clearly expresses the attitude of the Other towards the inevitability of the imposed position. Namely, in 1968, during the time of military dictatorship, Gilberto Gil defined Brazil as the country at the end of the world which has palm trees, and where strong winds blow of hunger and great fear, mostly of death [3]. Gil appropriated the verse My land has palm trees from The Song of Exile by Antonio Goncalves Dias, a representative of the first wave of the Brazilian Romanticism. Unlike Dias’s phantasms, typical of the nineteenth-century, which described Brazil as a dreamlike country, Gil faced the cruel everyday life that seemed hopeless precisely due to the marginal position of Brazil on the world map. In that sense, the discarded colonial relations were masked in a military dictatorship, and the country remained left to the political winds of the world’s powers. Whereas in Dias’s poem the palm tree motif represents an idealized, unrealistic image of a dreamland, in Gil it marks the end of the world, economic, social and political havoc left to its own resources. The directions of interpretation are contradictory, yet entangled, because the exotic and different becomes the object of desire, but only if if it is far enough away.

The exhibition reflects on the ambivalence of the meanings of palm tree motif within contemporary art practices. Although the use of the motif is often banal and its usage varies across different media, from screen savers to travel agencies’ advertisements, the exhibited artworks and documentation discloses the palm tree as a part of the background decoration such as, for example, in Marcus Doyle’s photo or Božidar Rašica’s drawing, the element of the uncanny scenery, an escapist symbol, the metaphor of a non-place and not belonging, or a substitute for an artwork. Moreover, it often means the absence — of a place, person or idea.

Within the gallery or museum space an exhibited tropical plant represents a visual intruder limited by its pot, which symbolizes the Other, obviously different, maladjusted to its new environment. In that matter, Sanja Iveković, instead of artworks, in the gallery of contemporary art, exhibits her houseplants and thus emphasizes the conditions of exhibiting art and the need to clearly define the relationship between artist and gallery. With her Agreement, 1979, the artist actually points to the underlying mechanisms of the exhibition policy, and the plants are only decorative carriers of that meaning.

Unlike the houseplants from Sanja Iveković’s “collection“, in Tropicàlia installation from 1967, Hélio Oiticica uses tropical plants as a part of the environment composed of the so-called penetrables (PN2, Pureza è um mito, and PN3, Imagético), sand, wild birds, poem-objects, layers of Parangolé and a TV set. The work calls for experience and physical interaction with the intention to create new relations that bring unity.

In his work L’Entrée de l’Exposition, 1974, Marcel Broodthaers placed nine palm trees in the centre of the exhibition space and surrounded them with the objects on the walls such as plate “A“, six framed photographs, the works Museum-Museum (2x), Gedicht- Poem-Poéme / Change-Exchange_Wechsel (2x), Tractatus Logico-Catalogicus. Uncanny scenery points to the interdependence of meanings of the exhibited objects and the inability of final interpretation. However, the drawing of gold bullions refers to the transformation of art into a commodity and the power of museums to ensure the value of an artwork. In doing so, the artist is interested in the complexity of the relations between the museum, gallery, signature, pedestal, exhibition and framing, i.e. the lack of content and emptiness.

Somewhat elaborating on the topic of the lack of content in the gallery space, David Maljković exhibits a photo frieze created during the exhibition opening at Klović Gallery in Rijeka in 2000. By photographing the posing visitors in front of the palm tree wallpaper the artist opened the possibility for the visual deception of reality. The travel staged for the camera invoked the question of the content produced/exhibited in the gallery context.

While the travel to a distant, perhaps imaginary, tropical paradise of the Klović Gallery’s visitors could be a convincing illusion to a tired eye and poor memory, Mark Požlep uses camera to record the action Whatever Happened to Major Tom, 2012 and settles a score with the boredom of everyday life. Thus he opts for a feat that begins by purchasing a small boat in Hamburg and ends by planting a palm tree on the small Island of Školjic. The intimate adventure shows discrepancy between daydreaming of freedom and translation of that dream into real, administratively organized, world.

In the work NEW11, Dan Moynihan confronts two parallel sceneries where one acts as the outer membrane of the other. Rounded drywall visible from the outside makes the visitor ask him/herself whether s/he is in the right place. The end of the exploration leads to an abandoned storage and only after one enters it the gates of the tropical paradise open. Under the palm tree, in the sand, lies a skeleton with a cap and Walkman headphones, wearing a shirt with a photo print of the artist as a boy and a dream killer Freddy Krueger. This deconstructs the myth of a tropical dream, because what happens when Freddy Krueger plays a part in it?

Furthermore, in his work Java and Borneo, 2004, Igor Eškinja outlines an island using tape on the gallery wall, and because of the added scissors, the dotted drawing alludes to a “coupon“ travel. However, the island symbolizes distant places by trying to outshine the emptiness of the gallery wall.
On the other hand, Feđa Klarić’s flooded palm trees temporarily lose their “island“ and this turns the stereotypical presentation upside down. Palm tree as a central motif in Ante Brkan’s focus has been turned into an object drawn by light and shadow.

Strong light, but neon light, is the topic of Tanja Vujasinović’s video Mr. Lacković’s Undelivered Neons, 2013. Artist reffers to the video by placing undelivered neon objects on the facade in the centre of Rijeka during Copula Festival. Mr. Lacković designed a palm tree neon after parsley, as he didn’t have any other template, but despite that, the palm neon evokes Las Vegas.

Completely different is the work of Nemanja Cvijanović because the palm tree is not a visual signifier. Instead in his typographical work Plan B – Arab nationalism is no good for plan A, 2006, inspired by futurist design, that shows an explosion, triggered by napalm, the artist tackles the issue of exploitation of palm oil for the needs of war industry.

Furthermore, displacement of a tropical plant connotes fleeing, as well as the peculiar relation to the place of departure, as well as to the place of arrival. A plant obviously doesn’t belong where it has been placed, it protrudes. A sort of 3D postcard Greeting from Jerusalem Avenue, 2002, by Joanna Rajkowska, brings a story of an artificial 15 m-high palm tree permanently placed at the corner of Jerusalem Avenue and Nowy Świat in Warsaw, which sparked numerous debates in the public space. In the last 12 years the palm tree has regularly acted as litmus paper of neuralgic points of the society because it was perceived as a surreal alien element from the beginning.

Perhaps a bit less surreal, but certainly alien, is the palm tree of Sabala family planted under Sljeme. Igor Juran chose a palm tree from his collection and in guerrilla action returned it to its habitat from millions of years ago,leaving the possible consequences of this act open.

In conclusion, the exhibition My Land Has Palm Trees opens up numerous connotations of a palm tree motif within contemporary art discourse. But, what does palm tree represents as a signifier of a curatorial position?

curator: Irena Borić

Thanks to: Paula Van der Bosch (Bonnefanten museum), Marino Furić, Daina Glavočić (MMSU), Vedran Hajduk, Ivana Katić, Ivica Kovač, Davor Mehkek, Ksenija Orelj (MMSU), Soledad de Pablo Roberto (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia), Peek&Poke, Vanja Pužar (MMSU), Sabina Salamon (MMSU), Anton Samaržija (MMSU), Zana Šaškin, Nataša Šuković (MMSU), Slaven Tolj (MMSU), and to participants

SIZ Gallery is supported by the City Department of Culture of the City of Rijeka and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia.

1The title of the movement was inpired by Hélio Oiticica’s work Tropicalia from 1967.
2 In 1928 José Oswald de Souza Andrade wrote Manifesto Antropófago in which he stated that Brazil should appropriate the role of a cannibal that had been imposed on it by colonizers and thus take a stand against the post-colonial cultural domination.
3 Translation into English:
(…)My land has palm trees
where strong winds blow
of hunger and great fear
mostly of death…
the bomb explodes outside
now i have fear
oh yes we have bananas
even to give away and sell(…)
4 Organised by Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Rijeka, the programme of Copula #2 by art interventions within public space emphasises city as a place for creation of social alternatives and refusal of neo-liberal and post-transition consequences. It took place from 8th of April until. 31St of May 2014.


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