Benjamin Choir. a video by Alejandro Ramirez and Olga Jitlina

Nowy Port where the video was shot is a neighbourhood of Gdansk (former Danzig). The old Hanza city had been independent, passed from Poland to Prussia and Germany several times. Located nowadays in Poland, the city is marked by two historic events crucial for 20-th century history, namely, the first battle of WWII and Solidarity Movement.

The renowned Independent Trade Union “Solidarity”, which was active from 1980 managed to change the regime in the country after which in1990 when it’s leader Lech Valensa was elected as president. Paradoxically, the last biggest workers movement in Europe had put an end (or maybe just coincided) not just to Soviet Imperialism and workers exploitation but also to the whole condition under which the existence of working class as a majority was possible.

Nowadays Nowy Port is considerate to be a bad neighbourhood in which beautiful old pavements and many buildings seem not to have been repaired since WWII. We have asked the middle-aged and senior inhabitants of the neighbourhood to sing some parts of Walter Benjamin’s essay “On the Matter of History”.

German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin started to write his renowned text “On the Matter of History” in 1940 in the internment camp in occupied France short time before his suicide committed out of despair unable to cross French-Spanish border.

Combining historical materialism with Jewish Messianic tradition Benjamin speaks of redemption of the past. Looking at the yards, staircases, streets and the canal of Nowy Port, across which on Westerplatte WW II first battles started, as well as at the famous cranes of Gdansk Shipyards we are trying to grasp, as Benjamin puts it “…an irretrievable picture of the past, which threatens to disappear with every present, which does not recognise itself as meant in it”.

The senior inhabitants of Nowy port who have lived through drastic historical changes sing in an amateur way some fragments of Benjamin’s text accompanied by professional baroque cello player Anna Jankowska.

The locals sing the text as a choir and also individually to the tune of La Folia by Arcangelo Corelli, a popular baroque tune, the title of which can be translated as ‘madness’.

The video was produced for the public art festival called Narracje which happens every fall in a different neighbourhood of Gdansk.


Cello: Anna Jankowska

Choir: Iwona Chudowicz, Grażyna Gabryszewska, Jacek Tomczak, Andrzej Liss

Man with flags, sound assistant: Jan Hardy

Camera assistant: Leonard Kaczorowski