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Electoral shrines

06 of June '24

Roadside shrines

Walking around the city, driving along the traditional roads outside the city, from time to time we come across hollyhocks, shrines, or roadside crosses. We pass them unreflectively, as if in spite of our will, even though they undoubtedly had a lofty purpose when they were once erected.

Unlike temples and churches, where faith was professed with celebrated services, chants and communal prayer, holy places evoked the everyday, personal and authentic religiosity of the people of the time. Even my grandmother, born in the 19th century, recited the Angelus every day, hearing the sound of the bells at noon in the nearby church, and reciting the Hour in a whisper in the kitchen. In summer, flowers from the garden were carried with my grandmother to the roadside cross at the edge of town. I am particularly moved by the small chapels hung on old trees by the paths, in the forest complexes surrounding Cistercian Ore Raciborskie. Lonely, rarely visited, adored by forest birds, they always make you pause for a moment while walking. The gradual but successive secularization of society has resulted in the fact that these shrines, although they still physically persist in our space, today evoke only a hint of sentimentality. The anonymous hands of local residents still care for them, and decorate them with colorful sashes and flowers during Easter, Corpus Christi, or Pentecost. These are not great works of art, although in a few cases - such as the Marian columns dating back to the 17th century, or the sculptures of St. John of Nepomuk in border towns with the Czech Republic - they remind us of the ancestry and traditions of these places and represent a high artistic level. For the most part, however, they are works from the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, the product of folk artists and craftsmen with a great deal of touching naiveté, as indeed is all folk art. They are some piece of our space gradually receding inexorably into the past without a vivid continuation in the present. Despite their small scale, they are important signs in the landscape of roads, fields and urban buildings, evoking tradition, identity and the memory of former inhabitants. How different, despite identical motifs, are the shrines in Podhale, Podlasie or Silesia, while inscriptions and inscriptions especially in Silesia recall the complicated and difficult fate of this land and its inhabitants.

felieton o zanieczyszczeniu przestrzeni miast przez reklamy

feature on the pollution of urban space by advertising

© Piotr Średniawa

After World War II, huge migrations of the population, communist indoctrination, aversion to all religious symbols, liquidation of the identity and traditions of local communities caused a complete end to the erection of shrines.

Throughout the period of Communist propaganda, streets, bridges and overpasses were adorned with slogans about the nation's guiding force, fidelity to Leninist ideas, or internationalist unity. These were more annoying and elicited a shrug of the shoulders than convinced the public of the imposed ideology. However, despite the hostility of a sizable portion of society to this form of indoctrination, indifference to the visual pronunciation of the surrounding space persisted, transcending the hated system, manifesting its presence obtrusively in the space of our country.

Today, some vestige of roadside shrines are metal crosses with motorcyclists' helmets or plastic hubcaps, placed at the sites of tragic traffic accidents. Like the traditional saints, they no longer provoke any reflection, or even taking your foot off the gas pedal. The latest manifestation of what is probably already a rather superficial religiosity, unfortunately treated instrumentally as part of "political conformism," has been a rash of mostly artistically unsuccessful sculptures, bas-reliefs and commemorative plaques dedicated to Polish Pope John Paul II, devoid of at least a moment's reflection on his teachings.

The pace of life, the rush, the excess of impressions and the speed of travel, moreover, do not encourage deeper reflection, and it is a pity that few things move us anymore during walks or drives.


The idyllic, nostalgic landscape of roadside shrines over the past thirty years has been overwhelmed by a whole new set of ubiquitous street advertising. Advertising is nothing new. As far back as Roman Pompeii, inscriptions were discovered on the walls of houses, and in medieval cities, guild signs were placed on the houses of craftsmen. However, the real heyday of advertising began with the invention of printing by Johannes Gutenberg around 1450. Newspapers appeared relatively quickly and the first newspaper advertisement was printed in Paris as early as October 1612. Over time, advertising agencies developed, operating in an ever-widening media market. Today, advertising engulfs us from all sides, from the press, the street, television to our smartphones. In Poland, the advertising market developed relatively late, in fact in the early 1990s with the political transformation. One of its forms becameoutdoor advertising, devoid of any legal regulations, spontaneously and aggressively annexing both urban space and roadsides. We are assaulted at every turn by colorful billboards, flashing citylights, pneumatic ads used at outdoor and sporting events, or huge large-format ads that cover entire building facades. We couldn't even avoid advertising products in the illustrations of this column.

felieton o zanieczyszczeniu przestrzeni miast przez reklamy

columnist on the pollution of urban space by advertising

© Piotr Średniawa

Everything is advertised - cars, underwear, groceries, beer, furniture, real estate development projects, parapharmaceuticals, cell phones, banks. If one were to succumb unreflectively to this pressure then, as a result of purchasing an advertised good or service, we would be more beautiful, long-lived, satisfied and much happier, despite living in a littered space. Conversely, not buying the goods causes stress, a sense of inferiority complex and exclusion. The obtrusiveness of the message begs the question, what is the effectiveness of such advertising in the face of its profusion and mélange of blunders?

Advertisements effectively and to a very large extent visually pollute our space, reducing it to overscaled advertising poles. In Western countries, outdoor advertisements have long been subject to legal regulations that protect space from their uncontrolled expansion. In Poland, only relatively recently have attempts been made to organize this problem. The so-called landscape resolution, which has been in effect since 2015, makes it possible to regulate the rules for placing advertisements, landscaping objects and fences throughout a municipality. Adoption of a landscape resolution by a municipality enables the adoption of a resolution that provides the basis for the municipality to charge fees for the placement of advertisements. It would seem that, passed by successive cities, they will become an effective remedy to control the advertising element. However, challenged by WSA rulings, overruled by provincial governors, with concomitant low penalties, they have proved in practice to be of little effectiveness. Also, public support and the will of the municipal authorities are needed to adopt these resolutions, and the lack of such support means that either they are not adopted, or their enforcement is ineffective. The financial aspect is also not insignificant - unlike altruistic saints, property owners (including the cities themselves) reap not inconsiderable profits from fees for outdoor advertising, resulting in an obvious conflict of interest. With strange indifference we have accepted as a society to live in a littered space. One can justify this state of affairs by the temporality of advertising and the possibility of its quick removal, but this does not change the fact that any degradation of space deepens disrespect for it. Just as with cancer - quick diagnosis and prevention give a positive prognosis, tolerating the disease, we are already in the chronically malignant stage.

felieton o zanieczyszczeniu przestrzeni miast przez reklamy

column on the pollution of urban space by advertising

© Piotr Średniawa

street portrait galleries

This motley, annoying landscape, invaded by aggressive advertisements, undergoes a radical change from time to time. Advertisements disappear for a while, and in their place appear galleries of contemporary portraits of Poles. This change is caused by election campaigns - for parliament, for local governments - which, running at different times, cause this peculiar phenomenon to appear quite frequently. The latter are particularly intriguing, as they concern the areas closest to local communities. All over Poland, they appear on posters - from small formats hung on fences and fences, to giant sheets covering the blind walls of tenements as if from a bygone era images of Lenin.of a bygone era images of Lenin and communist leaders on the occasion of May 1 - hundreds if not thousands of faces of candidates for mayors, mayors, aldermen, candidates for city councils and assemblies. The portraits are enriched with the graphic signs of political parties and groupings and more or less banal election slogans. Regardless of the city or region of Poland, we can read: "We support innovation and development," "Together we will rebuild the economy," "Clean air in our city," "Fight against social exclusion," "Your idea, our support," "Modern municipality," "Let's be together," "Let's build together," "Together we change the city for the better," "The city is the people," "With a heart for our city." In addition to such general-sounding and intended to carry and persuade slogans, one can also notice slogans relating to local space: "Green spaces for families," "Protecting the heritage of our city," "Increasing the accessibility of housing," "Bicycle transportation - ecological and accessible," "Our city more and more beautiful." These slogans sound somewhat ironic, as it is difficult to find in the election programs any deeper declarations on improving the quality of our space, apart from the usual assurances about bicycle paths, greenery, social housing, or fighting smog. It is clear that the subject of the quality of the space in which we live and which will be managed after the elections by their winners is not carried by either voters or future city, town and village administrators. It is puzzling that, while declaring actions for the beauty and improvement of life in a given city and village, the candidates completely fail to see that, like advertisements, their images visually litter the city space. It is ironic that election committees allocate not inconsiderable financial resources to such dubious enhancement of the aesthetics of their small homeland. Although the effectiveness of such "posterization" is probably as low as that of street ads, the belief in their effectiveness obscures any aesthetic reflex. One may hear that this is fortunately short-lived, and that election committees are obliged to remove their posters, yet long after the election the faded and torn images of candidates still haunt them. This phenomenon shows how indifferent we have become to the visual aesthetics of our space, how we don't mind littering it, and how easily we accept pushy visual advertising regardless of its commercial or quasi-democratic nature.

It came easily to us in the course of a generation to change roadside, spiritualized saints for the golden calf of consumerist advertisements intended to promote the free market economy, swapped from time to time for (intended to be) democratic procedures, and as a result deepening the clutter of space.

Piotr Średniawa

Chairman of the Council of the Silesian Regional Chamber of Architects of the Republic of Poland
Member of the WKUA and MKUA in Katowice.
Since 2003, with his wife Barbara, runs the Office of Studies and Projects in Gliwice

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