Workshop in Bobrek

During the first meetings in Bobrek a local woman voiced her suspicion, which is rather general towards artistic practices such as mine. She asked me what would happen after the workshop? If she would share her life in Bobrek surrounded by domestic violence, drugs and alcoholism with me, then what happens afterwards? Would she keep on living in the same circumstances and I would just leave and become famous? Her cynical, but coherent insight of the good-doers of the culture industry, who abuse the already exploited people in distress, was crudely accurate. The social workers of the Bobrek Activity Centre MOPR (Miejski Ośrodek Pomocz Rodzinie, Program Aktywności Lokalnej), where my workshop was held, told me later, that some years ago there was a TV drama made about life in Bobrek. (Duda 2004) During the shooting of the film, people from Bobrek were helpful, but after they saw the final work, they were furious. They felt that their community in Bobrek was depicted as being somewhere between purgatory and hell, which for them was not accurate and they felt that production had treated their lives with disrespect. Following this, there has been general suspicion towards artists and cameras in Bobrek. Therefore, this woman’s comment was not only checking-up my integrity, but also a reminder of how the culture industry functions and detaches the real into signifying structures, such as fiction, art exhibitions and performances. It was a reminder, that artistic practice does not have a direct link between the real and the effect. I will analyse the distinction between the impact of the art process and impact of the final artwork, in relation with the argument on this subject by Barbara Bolt (2008).

In the workshop in the Bobrek Activity Centre MOPR in August 14 the participants were middle-aged women, which were active members of the community and teenage girls and primary school children. I asked the participants to focus on their everyday life and asked them to draw their experiences as drawings, maps or diagrams. The topic of the workshop was the transformation that had taken place in Bytom in the past twenty years. What was the effect of this transformation on the social, mental, physical, economic and environmental life, from their subjective perspective? I instructed them to pay attention to different parts of their everyday life and to use different colours, texts, symbols, lines, images or patterns to define them. These parts were the following: the places of importance, functional places, rules, laws, regulations, obstructions, emotions, attachment to people, plants, animals, memories, thoughts, ideas, critique and ideologies. After all these aspects were drawn I asked them to make connections between the items, and asked how their life is connected with the larger context of Bytom, Poland or Europe? In the end I interviewed each one of the participants and asked them to describe the drawing they had just made.

A diagram is not only an expression of their subjective point of view, but a reflection and assessment of a subject's place in a network between animate, non-animate and abstract beings12. In one of the diagrams one of the participants depicted her home, which is by the main road traversing Bobrek. In her description of the diagram she complained how the whole house where she is living trembles day and night because of the busses, trams and trucks passing by. The road has deep potholes and all those vehicles passing by make horrendous noise, therefore she can’t sleep. If she was very angry, then some other participants of the workshop depicted more pleasant sides of Bobrek. Two children of the workshop drew their rooms and the playground, where they play. Their room had a carpet, bed, table and laptop computer on it. The grandmother of one of the children depicted another scene in the playground, however, not in the playground in Bobrek, but in the neighbouring area, Karb. Some accident happened in the local playground, and after that she has been going to the playground in Karb, some few kilometres away from Bobrek. One of the women, a loud and physically strong person, who worked over forty years in the steel factory of Bobrek, was very opinionated, but her drawing was inhibited, and more like a list of what had happened to her and Bobrek in the past ten years, after her retirement. Many of the women were very upset about the loss of their Culture Centre, which is now boarded up. In Bobrek there is no cinema, school, proper shop, swimming pool, café, church or any leisure facilities. These women complained about the alcoholics who hang around their doorsteps. Moreover, some of the workshop participants had to constantly move from flat to flat in Bobrek, for various reasons. Still, they would depict their surroundings in the drawing as a neat and clean space to live in. Another detail that I paid attention to, was that some of the people did not have a mobile phone, not to mention email address. Obviously, this affected negatively their search of work, and their participation in the community of Bytom. At the end of the workshop, a local poet described in detail the Bobrek neighbourhood with more imaginary and surreal depiction with cats, green areas, cemetery and various plants and trees behind the Bobrek residential barracks.

Bobrek is isolated from the centre of Bytom, and about fifteen minute tram ride from the old square, rynek. Bobrek felt more like a village than a suburb, and maybe that was the reason it had a sense of community, aside from all social, economic and environmental problems. These women, who took part in the workshop, organize events by themselves and through the MOPR. Most of them have lived a long time in Bobrek – some over forty years – therefore they had witnessed the effect of the economic transformation in their area affecting their lives and the change of the community. In the past twenty years, Bobrek has declined from respectable neighbourhood into a “problem” area. Before 1990s sixty percent of the people living there were working in the Bobrek mine or steel factory. Now, the numbers have turned upside down, and most people are unemployed. The women claimed that people themselves are not the problem, but that the misery was due to disinterested city administration. They complained that they were forgotten by the city hall and administration. 

This hundred-year-old kazerne type-housing district was built by the German empire in the beginning of 20th century. The development of the area, and its links with the Silesian autonomy movement have been described in the Silesian Trilogy (1969/1972/1979) by the Polish film director Kazimierz Kutz. Behind the residential barracks, which are nowadays in poor condition, there is hawda, a mining waste dump, which has been used to dump the minerals from the mining extractive process. Also, someone illegally dumped ammonium, and some other toxic waste there some years ago. Due to this, the air in Bobrek smelled like rotten fish, when I visited there in the summer 2012. The presence of domestic violence, which none of these women did talk directly about, and alcoholism and drug abuse seemed to be only a fraction of the reality. It seemed that the children running around the neighbourhood were taken care of or watched over by these women, as it would be in some agrarian village community. Some basic instinctual behaviour of attachment, “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings,” as described by John Bowlby, functioned in this community. (Bowlby 1982, 194) This notion made me ask myself, why this attachment seems to be more declined in more developed service-based communities such as Katowice or Helsinki? In the city centre of Bytom or in Katowice the Multiplex cinema forced independent cinemas such as Kino Gloria or Kino Bałtyk to close down during the economic transformation. The culture facilities may exist in the neoliberal context only as reterritorialized refrains, as kind of repetition of the same. In Bobrek the exploited of the neoliberal transformation had nothing, but some seeds of self-organization became necessarily actualized, however limited due to the material conditions and lack of administration.

12 “The diagrammatic or abstract machine does not function to represent, even something real, but rather constructs a real that is yet to come, a new type of reality.” (Deleuze and Guattari 1980/2005, 142)