When in 2014 Poland celebrated 150th anniversary of abolition of the feudal system, Daniel Rycharski – an artist and activist working in his home village in Masovia – decided to create an artwork about the identity of Polish society.
He commented on the historic situation of peasants with an installation in the form of a gate with the writing: ‘150 years of abolition of the feudal system,’ which he installed in Kurówko. Monument to a Peasant (2015), on the other hand, was dedicated to contemporary farmers, struggling with the problems of land trading, European norms, and wholesale prices.
It is a protest monument referencing the language of farmers’ blockades occupations, spilling cereal on the road – the artist says in an interview for Gazeta Wyborcza. It was directly inspired by Albrecht Dürer’s work from 1525. The illustration, originally printed in a geometry textbook, also authored by Dürer – Underweysung der messung mit dem zirckel un richt scheyt, proposes an outline of the monument commemorating the failed Peasants’ War from the 16th century. The plinth would be made of a rock, chest, and a cauldron, while the column – of a bowl, butter churn, jug, and a cereal sheaf with farming tools, chicken crate, and a pile of lard, on top of which would be sitting a peasant with a sword in his back.
This statue broke the rule of decorum, as it placed the peasant at the top, but its anti-monumentality also manifested itself through the mockery of materials used for making it, thus also touching on the issue of the endurance of memory – Szymon Maliborski, the curator of the Monument says in an interview for the Szum magazine.
Daniel Rycharski’s monument is also not made of typical materials. The artist installed a 3 metre high lift with a mobile platform reaching to the top of the column on a farm trailer. Atop the column, he placed a lonely, sorrowful figure of a peasant sitting on a milk churn. His pose resembles Pensive Christ, whose figure – a symbol of everyday worries – used to be placed in front of almost every country cottage and in roadside shrines.
Many writers have recently pointed to the shameful presence of the jarring exploitation and serfdom of peasants in the seemingly exemplary democracy of the gentry. Their texts would stress that the centuries-long slavery and its aftermath is something which Polish society, largely derived from countryside, although obsessed with the image of the apparently noble ancestor, had not entirely dealt with yet – Weronika Plińska writes in her analysis of Rycharski’s work in Szum magazine.
The monument appears gloomy – it is painted in black and decorated with chains and pitchforks: symbols of violence and enslavement. It also has its peasant badge. It is painting by a local artist and constructor Stanisław Garbarczuk titled Latał kiedyś choć w niewoli, which shows a plucked eagle in shackles.
Welcoming other artists or their works in his projects is an important element of Rycharski’s practice. Whilst working on the Monument, the artist consciously decided not to be the sole author and invited, apart from Garbarczuk, his own family and residents of the neighbouring villages, also the village administrator of Kurówko, Adam Pesta, whom the figure of the peasant was modeled after, as well as the sculptors Dorota Hadrian and Łukasz Surowiec.
From the very start, Rycharski also wanted his monument to be mobile, so as to mimic the pilgrimages of holy paintings. That is why right after the official unveiling of the piece in Kurówko in September 2015, Monument to a Peasant went on a tour across Poland. First, accompanied by voluntary firefighters, it traveled to local towns, such as Gozdowo, Proboszczewice, and Biała, to then be displayed in Kraków at the Grolsch ArtBoom Visual Arts Festival. It later was in shown Płock, at the Open City festival in Lublin, and in front of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. Its journey continues.
Author: Agnieszka Sural, 20.01.2017, transl. AM, January 2017