Borderland Centre in the United States

Cooperation, presentations and reinterpretations. From its very foundation, one of the aims of the Borderland Center in Sejny and the International Center for Dialogue in Krasnogruda has been sharing its everyday practices in a way that could be translated it into other cultural contexts.


To this end, Borderland has been consistently developing a network of international partners, including visits of Krzysztof Czyżewski, practician of the idea, director of the Borderland Centre, participant of symposia, seminars and meetings with academic communities. The United States features prominently in his numerous visits. As Czyżewski himself points out, the multidisciplinary character of these visits resonates with the multilateral concept of the borderland itself. He is hosted by institutes and faculties dedicated to historical, sociological, democracy, Jewish, or cultural/theater studies, and to work on (post)memory. A very important aspect of these meetings are increasingly developing prospects of bilateral cooperation - more and more new partners visit Sejny and Krasnogruda to learn how to explore and practice the borderlands.


Borderland in scientific debate


It all began in the late nineties when Krzysztof Czyżewski visited the United States to participate in research at the Remarque Institute, NY University. This centre of research founded by the outstanding late historian Professor Tony Judt, supports study of Europe in a variety of aspects, taking into account both historical and contemporary perspectives, aiming to strengthen scientific relations between Europe and America. The founder of Borderland was invited to debates and workshops, to build a platform for meetings between Europe and America in a multidisciplinary group: practitioners, artists, diplomats and scientists from various fields. It included discussions of selected issues, such as the historical contexts of Jedwabne event, the migration crisis or specific borderlands.


Since that time, the map of participating universities/organizations interested in discussing the practices of the Sejny centre has increased, including development of bilateral cooperation. Last year, Krzysztof Czyżewski visited the Yale University, New Haven, presenting the activities of Borderland, and in April participated in an intellectual workshop organized by Marci Shore and Timothy Snyder, eminent historians, frequent guests to Borderland. Czyżewski’s presentation during the seminar titled “Understanding Totalitarianism in a Postmodern World: Lessons from Central European Philosophy” was a very prestigious event. Similarly to the Remarque Institute, it was a part of an academic practice in which a group of highly qualified specialists in a given field meets for two days to discuss a selected topic from different perspectives. At the same time, as the director of the Borderland points out, the participants’ past achievements are of no importance during the event, what matters is quality of the discussion listened to by students and guests from outside the university.


Every summer, Marci Shore and Timothy Snyder visit the International Dialogue Center in Krasnogruda. Here, together with scholars from Eastern Europe,  such as Leonidas Donskis or Egidijus Aleksandravičius  from Lithuania or Jaroslav Hrycak from Ukraine, they develop the “Reading the Other” program. During a few days of intensive work, doctoral students from Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and the United States meet with their mentors / masters to scrutinize works of their selected patrons. The 2016 edition concerned Tony Judt (“Judt reads: Arendt, Camus, Miłosz, Kołakowski”), who used to be engaged in the foundation of the IDC, but did not live to see its opening. The following edition of 2017 was dedicated to the reading of Zygmunt Bauman, and the prematurely deceased Leonidas Donskis ("Bauman and Donskis read the postmodern world and the future of Europe”) The nearest, 2018 edition, is planned for July 2018 and will be devoted to Leszek Kołakowski.


Have you been to Krasnogruda?


Krzysztof Czyżewski's recent foreign travels show that the Invisible Bridge has become one of the most popular and inspiring programs of the Center. In August 2015, the Borderland team, together with the local community and guests invited from all over the world gathered in the Village of the Bridge Builders to  "nestle the place” for artistic practices inside the Krasnogruda Park, and develop the Mystery of the Bridge. At the express request of the local residents, the day of August 22  became an annual joint celebration of the bridge organized in Krasnogruda. In this way, the metaphor of  the Invisible Bridge turned out to be very capacious: enabling the international story of Borderland to return in various contexts and interpretations.


2018 occasioned presentation of the program in the Symphony Space, New York. The schedule of the evening was very demanding: the audience had the opportunity to listen to the world-famous clarinettist David Krakauer and South African pianist Kathleen Tagg in fragments of the song "The Keepers of Flame", which premièred on August 22, 2017. The evening was complemented by a screening of fragments of two films - a recording of the concert of the Invisible Bridge Orchestra by Kuba Kossak and a documentary showing the process of creating the mystery play filmed by Piotr Fiedorowicz.


But in this tightly packed room, one of the most prestigious in the world, much more happened. Krzysztof Czyżewski's tale of the Invisible Bridge turned into a captivating conversation with David Krakaur and Kathleen Tagg -  a meeting of artists during the process of creation.  The New York audience joined in the discussion. “Have you been to Krasnogruda?” - David Krakauer kept asking the audience, making Krasnogruda a desired destination on that evening. According to Krzysztof Czyżewski, the enthusiasm with which the public, who has access to the best of world culture daily, received the tale of Borderland, resulted from the incredible openness of New York - the city that does not dream of being bigger than it already is and can genuinely get fascinated with a story immersed in another time-space, rhythm or myth.


Dark times in New York


The meeting in the Symphony Space was not the first conversation about the Invisible Bridge in New York. An academic presentation of the program took place at the New School University already in 2016. The New School University in New York features most prominently on Krzysztof Czyżewski’s itinerary, being one of his most-visited partners. Since 2013, on the initiative of professors of sociology, Elżbieta Matynia and Jeffrey C. Goldfarb, he has regularly met with students and young researchers as part of the Transregional Center of Democratic Studies. These meetings have a very diverse nature including lectures, seminars or workshops. In 2017, Czyżewski gave here his lecture "Making Home in Wounded Places", and in March 2018, he took part in a series of lectures inspired by the work of Hannah Arendt titled "Women[ZD1]  and Men in Dark Times".

In addition to the repeatedly visited places, new ones keep appearing. So, this year, Czyżewski for the first time visited Stony Brook University, near New York,  where he also lectured and held a debate with doctoral students titled "The Im/Possibility of Dialog".


Building bridges in the world of divisions


Everyday practices of the Center, including the program of the "Invisible Bridge", has earned several significant reinterpretations in the United States. During this year's stay at the University of Pennsylvania, Krzysztof Czyżewski met with its students during the lecture "The Art of Bridging in Disenchanted World.  The Case of the Borderland Center”. The organizers of his stay were scholars from the department of  Jewish Studies who pay a lot of attention to the issues of memory and post-memory in their research. It is yet another important partner of Borderland. Next year will see the first study visits planned for young scholars who so far when visiting Poland used to travel to Auschwitz and Treblinka, and now would like to look at the creative practices of  Borderland in search of an answer to the question of how to live in the space left after the Holocaust.


Summer School in Krasnogruda


One extremely important American partner of the Borderland is the Rutgers University-Newark which invests in leaders of social change under the International Leadership Exchange program. Participants are students actively engaged in social work - volunteers from a variety of social organizations: working in prisons, orphanages, or with older people. As part of global visits, they have so far visited India or Tanzania, and now Poland will appear on their itinerary. They will spend here a month - two weeks at the Summer School in Krasnogruda’s ICD, the rest at the Polish Cultural Institute at the University of Warsaw which cooperates with Borderland. Czyżewski admits that to become an inspirational destination creates a big responsibility for Krasnogruda, especially in view of the fact that a trip to Poland means a huge investment for participants. They prepare for a long time, collecting funds under a fund-raising campaign and they acquire relevant knowledge. In April 2018, Krzysztof Czyżewski visited Rutgers University with a lecture for students and professors who will take part in the Summer School at the ICD in Krasnogruda.


How to rebuild your own self-esteem


The arrival of young leaders from Newark is a consequence of many years of cooperation. Krzysztof Czyżewski has been contributing to the “My Story Project” initiated by Professor Ian Watson, head of the Department of Art, Culture and Media. Under the course, the Director of Borderland meets for four weeks each year with a new group of thirty-forty people. One half of the group is composed of university students, the other half are their peers from ghettos and marginalized communities who would not otherwise enter the rooms of the university.


In such a group, they work on preparing their own tales - they learn about their structure, poetics and plot. The whole process is meant to create a friendly space for each participant so that they can share their very personal, often for the first time, voiced experiences. They differ in almost all aspects: starting from the place they were born and brought up in, through social status or the level of education, to race and sex. They come from different social backgrounds, they live side by side, but do not meet every day and look at each other surprised: students learn from their peers what life in ghettos looks like and what modern racism really consists of. On the other hand, young people from the suburbs with astonishment hear about depression and suicidal thoughts, family pressure and disintegration, or about the drama taking place in the homes of their richer peers, previously perceived as perfect/idyllic. When they learn each other more deeply, sharing the most intimate stories, a community of stories emerges, where there is a talk about broken bridges in their lives and about ways to rebuild them. In such conditions, they build a performative story that is presented to the public, their friends and families. Each of these groups challenges some taboo, but first of all, they learn empathy and ways to search for what unites, and not what divides. A very important aspect of the entire program is rebuilding their self-esteem, thanks to which they realize that their personal history is valuable and unique.


Krzysztof Czyżewski’s academic visits to the United States allow to transpose and enrich the internships with practices developed in Borderland. Their creative reinterpretations are multiplied: from academic disputes on totalitarianism or the shape of Europe to reflection on the life in the post-Holocaust world or reworking of a single story. As a result, the network of Borderland’s international  partners, willing to exchange experiences, is growing. After visiting Sejny and Krasnogruda, they often become ambassadors of the Center in their own communities.


Marta Kowerko-Urbańczyk



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