Billboards and banners in public space
Produced for Artboom festival, Krakow
The work consists of billboards and banners placed throughout public space. They are printed with quotations from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939) that describe objects sold by the main protagonists of the novel, a family of farmers who were forced to leave their land under pressure from creditors. In addition to the text, there are representations of objects (parts of a horse, tools, weapons) in their present forms or those that could be present in the spaces of the city today.
In most dictionaries, the term «village» is now quite a long way off from the vernacular meaning of its definition 100 or even 50 years ago. The concept of «peasantry», connected with the countryside, sounds like a relic today. Peasantry, understood as an independent social class working to meet its own needs, has actually ceased to exist as a result of the processes of integration of the countryside into agricultural farms that produce on a mass-scale. Consumerism, possession, and consumption now characterize relations between the city and the countryside: The Village, once an independent unit in the context of capitalist production, is today only a cog within it. In «Society of the Spectacle», Guy Debord describes «urban planning» as it ravages the cities in order to replica tea pseudo-countryside. The result is a landscape of «new cities» intended for a technologized pseudo-peasantry, both perfectly illustrating the break with historical time that was their foundation. Their motto could be: «nothing will ever happen here and nothing has ever happened here.»
In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck tells the story of American farmers, forced to leave their property by an overabundance of crops, pressure from the banks, and the mechanization of farms, all serving to undermine traditional manual labour. In one of the episodes, Steinbeck describes the process of selling agricultural goods, including the livestock that the family has to sell for next to nothing. Trapped in a hopeless situation, the farmers sell not only these rural attributes, but also a part of themselves, as if they were connected with the objects of trade by a chain of personal experiences. For these characters, the plough and the horse are not the same as a tool and an animal – they are rather an extension of their experience and body. In his book Method, Sergei Eisenstein writes: «the apogee is reached when the little girl heads to the market along with the horses . . .» in this scene, «memory and a living being are equal.»
Pastoral or agrarian attributes are often used in advertising – a mechanism by which there is no room for memory or tradition and the emotions evoked are related solely to consumerism. The logic of selling comes to resemble the construction of a city: milk and meat can be purchased at the supermarket, tools in the garden section, the horse is repurposed for tourist rides, and the ground is paved over. In Poland, agriculture has always comprised a major sector of the economy. At the same time, villages that do not produce agricultural goods are actively absorbed by the cities, contributing to the creation of social inequalities. Traces of these processes are particularly visible in the region of Woła Justówska, which has completely undergone the transformation from a village to an elite residential district of Kraków. Traces of various social differences are most visible in those places in which newly built, heavily guarded villas stand adjacent to neglected, half-ruined buildings and abandoned homes. Although Steinbeck’s heroes and Polish villagers live in completely different contexts, they are united by one thing: a lack of choice or agency, moreover, at a critical moment in which they have to abandon the land to which they are chained not only by their memories, but by physical connection.
«See? The teeth. Sound all over. Deep lungs. Feet fair and clean. How much? Ten dollars? For both? And the wagon
— Oh, Jesus Christ! I’d shoot ’em for dog feed first.»
«Wouldn’t go out naked of a rifle. When shoes andclothes and food, when even hope is gone, we’ll have the rifle.
When grampa came — did I tell you? — he had pepper and salt and arifle. Nothing else.»
«Junk piled up in a yard... Well, take it — all junk — and give me five dollars.
You’re not buying only junk, you’re buying junked lives.»