rethinking why performance matters through the matter of performance
3. Potentials of Performance

5 July 2012

Life in Bytom


   My first workshop in Bytom was held between 4th and 6th of June at Kronika. There were five participants, of which two couldn’t stay all of the time. They showed me around Bytom, in relation to my questions of flows (of material, economy, physical, etc.) and repetition or refrains. It was easy to see that the huge department store Agora had taken over the centre of the city – transforming physical pathways, and mental space as well. Further out from the centre, in Bobrek, a wealthy working class community has been run down into a place of social problems. A community once built around factories and industry is now gone, but Agora does not replace it. A loss of this community makes artistic practice difficult to develop, at least the kind of art that is based in galleries and museums. It felt alienating to produce something in this context, and to ask what kind of social device needs to be deployed, and where an artistic practice could exist. After the workshop I felt tired and confused. What can performance do, what can artists do? 

   On the first day of the workshop I asked the people to describe and show me the places of material or energetic flows. They became guides to the city in this manner. I documented this walk by recording and later transcribing the discussion partly in Polish and English and photographing the sites. On the second day of the workshop I asked the participants to describe their ‘territory’ in Bytom. How does the world seem to them, or how do they sense this world from their particular point of view? What is the quality of this life? I started with simple grounding warm-ups. Then I asked people to lie down on a mattress and to describe, in Polish, a place in Bytom that evoked emotion: memory, dreamlike, a delusional experience of a place. After this, participants were asked to draw this place, in some sense to document the visual, sensual, auditory or other sense of this place. After the drawings I asked them to describe the drawings. On the third day, I wanted to move out from the obvious centre of the city around the Agora department store, to the outskirts of town. I asked the participants what the industrial refrains of Bytom were, the refrain being a habitual pattern between material and subject, a safety net for dealing with sudden changes. These stories took us to Bobrek and some abandoned industrial sites where I recorded stories and descriptions of the transformation. Our main spot was Bobrek – a very poor area, which used to be a well-to-do working class area, with a mine, coke burning and steel factory. Beautiful architecture, early 20th century brick buildings for the workers’ families, but now in poor condition, and close to the wasteland of the mines. Materials that are part toxic are dumped there to be re-used for constructing highways. 

   Then we visited a power plant, ZEC Bytom SA, which was built in 1920. Fortum bought it some years ago, but now they have stopped using it. Earlier this place was used for culture purposes as well, since it was not in industrial use for the entire year. But when Fortum bought it, they stopped the cultural events, and now they are selling the whole complex. It is a huge, beautiful building waiting to be used for some purpose - most probably as a museum. This last day brought me closer to the personal narratives of the participants through the idea of the refrain: what repeats in life, even though the social or physical devices may change?  

More details on this workshop can be found here:  

   My next workshop in Bytom will take place between 28th of July and 1st of August. This workshop will include a one-day workshop for children, in which we will work with the idea of The Monster of Bytom. After that, there will be a three-day workshop, in which we work with methods of drawing, mapping, diagramming, urban walking, and other ways of tracing the transformation of Bytom. Aside from these workshops I want to invite several individuals or families from different parts of town to describe in more detail their everyday life and relationships with objects, machines, abstract devices and groups of people.

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