After the workshop I felt tired, confused and angry about the situation in Bobrek. What could I really do about this? In the bus I told my assistant Radek about another artist, a Dutch artist Matthijs de Bruijne who built a closed network radio-station for the mental hospital near Utrecht. I felt a need to do something like that in Bobrek, to perpetrate some real changes. However, I had to reel back, and consider my own practice as a performance artist, and ask: what can performance do? Bobrek reminded me in very concrete terms, that a single artist functions only if the structure is taken into consideration, which is what CSW Kronika had been doing for years in Bytom. As a single artist my abilities to make a change, would be minuscule. What would make a difference? Moreover, in Bobrek I was seen as a middle-class, successful artist from the rich north, from Scandinavia, flirting with poverty? What made my position even more problematic was that there was no guarantee of a specialist in my practie; I did not have a respectable status of a sociologist or political scientist. An artist is taken suspiciously in these conditions.
From the point of view of an artist the poverty of Bobrek may be interpreted as projection of desire. The participants of the workshops described only their everyday life, as was instructed. Artistic practice produces interpretations of reality. What is that desire, then? I had to make a map of my projections and desires in order to articulate this obscured position as an artist in a foreign place; artist as an alien. A double narrative of desires and distance is produced on reality. The result took form in the performance, the video and printed images. There was a story heard more than once, of the collapsing mining tunnels under the city of Bytom, causing damage on buildings, even collapse of blockhouses13. The earth seemed like Swiss Cheese14, which reminded me of the hol(e)y space15 described by Reza Negarestani in his book Cyclonopedia: complicity with anonymous materials (2008). A story of the mining tunnels affecting the structure of the buildings, and the city sinking down made an affective link with my theoretical and affective perception. Thus, Bytom is not particular, but exemplary of the shared exploitation perpetrated by neo-liberal political economy.
One of the last interviews in the project was with three young men at Karb on August 15. I met them at their ‘club’, which was a basement room in a blockhouse they lived in. In the room they had a sofa, a computer and even a small audio-recording setting, where they could make the vocals for their hip-hop band. It was just a small room in the basement, pin-up posters plastered on the soundproof sheets. Indirectly they informed me that Hip-hop in Poland is mostly reflecting the nationalist and more right wing ideas, through such artists as “Dohtor Miód” – who, on the other hand has at least part of his tongue in his cheek by doing this.
They were direct, but suspicious of my motives at the same time – since I was not a journalist or sociologist, but an artist. They told me a lot about the conditions, which young adults cope with to make a living in this area of Poland. They worked in the constructions, but only in the grey market and not as official workers, where they are paid reasonably well, but they have no insurance or guarantee of their payment, in turn. To work officially, they would have to have contacts either through friends or family, which they do not have. They would do odd jobs, such as make bullets for replica guns, which are called Maxibullets. This, however, was interrupted by the police, who thought that they had created some illegal factory of such items, and closed the small business they had. Compressing these bullets, they had made some hundred złotys per hour, which is very well and an easy job. One young man’s father lost his construction company in 2007, and is now making a living by selling stuff in Allegro, the Polish version of eBay. Since he knows a lot about antique things, he is able to locate valuable items among the trash and junk, which are left on the streets or sold under-prized in the second hand markets. This is a clear example of the particular situation of neoliberal Poland, where economic transformation limits life in such a way, that one must become inventive and bend the law in order to survive. Aside from these law abiding activities, it is however common that some people have to steal coal from the coal wagons, but only for their own use or to share it among their neighbours in the community.
What was confusing for me in this part of the project, meeting people in Bytom, was that most of the participants of my workshops, such as Piotr and Radek, did not feel that life in Bytom was precarious or hellish, as often pictured in the media or fictitious narratives as in the film “Herkules”. There was no worry about the economic collapse. Yet, the community, which once was build around the factory, is now gone and there has not come anything to replace it. So why did they not feel depressed or alienated? Even more so, why did some extremely progressive and vibrant place like Kronika keep going on in Bytom, aside from often-serious antagonism with the presence of right wing politics and extremists in the city? Art is not an autonomous practice, but integrally connected with the social and political surroundings, and in this way it is also very fragile, if the politics that have supported it, would decide to make a turn into opposite direction. The epoch of neoliberal politics makes artists forced to choose between entrepreneurship and social networking – with apparent contradictions. The director and curator Stanisław Ruksza would say that Kronika does not exist in order to make exhibitions, but the artistic practice is a pretext and a way of organization.