Monument To Labor, Róża Duda & Michał Soja

Fot.Daniel Chrobak


A man, barefoot, in the midst of taking a powerful swing. His face is etched with the effort of movement and focus. The man is a poor peasant doing roadwork along a new highway, a trade artery, leading from Warsaw to Brest.

The depiction is astonishingly realistic, not only considering the fact that it dates back to 1825. The image depicts a scene of labourers at work engraved into the bas-relief of the Monument to the Construction of the Brest Roadway – an obelisk dating back nearly two centuries that still stands by Grochowska street in Warsaw. It is sure to be the first monument in the capital made in tribute to the efforts of labourers.

In creating the “Monument to Labour”, Róża Duda and Michał Soja, take this original tribute as their point of reference. Just as the historic monument stretched the breadth of its symbolism from Warsaw to Brest, where a twin obelisk was also placed, the current monument explores the line between the undefined and non-linear transformation of labour and its representation over the past two centuries, calling into question the prevailing vision of progress and emancipation. When in the middle of the 19th century, Karl Marx wrote his famed “Fragment on Machines”, he pointed towards the possibility of machines cutting down on the labourer’s time at work and providing the opportunity for more creative endeavours. This idea has remained nothing more than a mere possibility since that time. Modern-day machinery based on algorithms sped up a great deal of tasks, but not only did they not free up our time, but, in fact, they encroached on more of our free time, using up our creativity and usurping the emotional lives of their users. Is there a chance such contraptions can serve a progressive goal?

In the centre of the new monument, there is a decidedly outdated and fictional representation of work – a pictogram taken from a road sign and the image of a worker from the industrial revolution: a man using his muscles and a basic tool to work. In the background there is a graph measuring his efficacy, aimed at capturing the highest possible rating for prime investment potential (Moody’s scale: AAA).The achievement of this rating is on par with the worker’s scream.The character of this scream – whether it’s an indication of protest or of pain – isn’t defined, much like the character of his swing: in hammering at the ground, he is also hammering at the boulder-head. Is this the way to formulate one’s identity or to destroy it? The monument sets the powerful figure of the labourer into question as it calls for an update of its symbolism and imagery. At the same time, a consideration of work from the perspective of a contemporary critique of capitalism doesn’t end with dividing the worker from the labour. What we are observing, rather, is an incoherent figure whose destiny isn’t necessarily set. Basing our task upon the identification of an analogy (not quite identity) of the situation in the first half of the 19th century and the first half of the 21st century, we may ask about the uncertainty of the future while pointing to an array of tools that might be used for the subjugation of the working class, but may also come in handy in subversive acts.