For TO THE SQUARE 2
For his new performative artwork, Khaled Jarrar sought 50 volunteers – of all ages and types. As a former bodyguard of President Arafat of the PLO/Palestinian Authority, Jarrar trained these volunteers to march in military formation through the streets of Helsinki.
The performative action started at 6:30pm on the 26th of August in Helsinki, in front of the Old Student House. Passing through the central streets and thoroughfares, the march culminated at the focal point of Lasipalatsi Square.
Here Jarrar gave the order for his platoon of volunteers to stop, facing an installation of 50 uniforms he had created. These hung in army formation by strings and pink hangers, as puppets on a puppeteer’s string.
Jarrar’s volunteers obeyed. For many long minutes, the audience watched as they stood without cover in the driving rain. Until the first ‘soldier’ simply marched off. Minutes later the second threw her beret into the puddle at her feet, and departed, even encourage others to join her. Yet many stayed. And stayed. When the artist-commander himself left the formation, showing his disobedience to his own order, the game was up.
Yet the work took on a life of its own. Obedience can be profound. Perhaps it is loyalty to a concept, even if the concept has lost its truth. Until the very last, one remaining soldier-volunteer proudly refused to ‘disobey orders’. He was also perhaps the youngest among them.
Jarrar’s performative action questions the military regimentation of the body, mass obedience and programmed behaviour, while emphasizing the responsibility of the individual, and the case for resistance and civil or military disobedience. These questions bear special significance in conflict situations, in which orders may involve committing war crimes, such as in the wars which have scarred the artist’s home in Palestine/Israel.