CC BY-SA   krozruch

Reflections on Ostrava, the Black Country and PyCon 2919

13-01-20

A video filmed at PyCon 2019 in Ostrava. This was the first outing with a new Sony camera and the sound is poor at times (it could, if I am honest be that my editing has not improved it, but it was not audible at all at times beforehand so I think not) but it represents an important point in the development of my thinking about what I am trying to achieve here as well as where I am from and where I have been. Since I have taken the effort (and it is an effort) to transcribe it in the subtitles, I will copy them below and may rework it as a post sometime.

I was struggling to believe in myself when I went to the conference, and didn't manage to talk to anybody about what I was doing while I was there. I did, however, really engage with the post-industrial landscape of Ostrava and took a fair number of photographs which I must still process here. I did soon go back to Britain, which was important, though I did not follow through on my vague committment to film anything while I was there.

Transcription

Ok I'm here in Dolni Vitkovice, I mentioned this a little while ago in a last video And this is a region where you had a lot of steel making. I was looking around, they were producing coke, a lot of heavy industry, and I have compared this to how it was in Britain in an area where I come from around Dudley, the West Midlands and here the industry is much more... I guess it's all in one place. whereas back home it's kind of distributed, different things there's steel in one area, there is, I guess, all the coal mining in another and it all seems in one place here but also it kind of seems and it's at first glance, I'd like to learn more about this but it seems as if they really put money into it after the industrial decline whereas I was talking about this to somebody earlier on And in Britain they really didn't; once the industrial zones were kind of once you got into this post-industrial decline and all of the manufacturing base went elsewhere then they just left these areas to rot and they're rotting still, and it's been quarter of a century now, Possibly even more from the first decline And from [Margaret] Thatcher nobody gave a damn about these areas at all and coming from there hasn't been very good, you know... For my parents it was great when they first went over. There was money there, there was work there, they came over fom Ireland went in the sixties to these areas and then it just really declined, now I first got interested in this place And this is the first time I'm here, I first got interested in it when I saw them here and it was a guy called Jan Balában who was a translator in some of these, in these, in Vítkovice for I think a steel manufacturer or something like that... and he was translating into English from Czech, I guess vice versa and I guess he's one of the bigger writers over here or one of the most well-known domestically well, he's not that well known actually, that's not true, but he's one of the better ones domestically in the post-revolutionary period, really the... Czech literature's been struggling in that period and when I first came back here in 2013, I was really looking into trying to get into literary translation or something like that. It would be difficult to think of something that's less likely to earn you any money but I was trying to get into that and I was looking around for writers who I might be able to do that with and initially I'd been doing a course with Comma Press in Manchester in Britain and I was looking at pitching something to them or whatever, I was kind of investigating it and I saw a few documentaries about Balában when he was here. He died very early a number of years ago now and he was still I think possibly in his late forties, in his mid-forties even [he was 49, ed.] but I guess his short stories can be taken as showing a real insight not just into this post-revolutionary period but actually overlapping that and at least as significant as it was moving towards this post-employment period as well and I guess some of his stories show this, I guess, people's lives being left behind which was happening in this post-industrial period but also even in this post-revolutionary period people forget that suddenly we were seeing the kind of forms of marginalisation that you see in kind of Britain under capitalism and these neoliberal kind of like regions and he's kind of exploring people who are left behind but its almost more bitter than Hrabal and his exploration of the people at the bottom and the periphery of Prague and so on which is kind of interesting. I've taken a few photos now, I might stitch a few of those in so you can see what the place looks like. I've taken a few on film on this camera here. I'm going to head back now and go to the Python conference again. But again it would be interesting to remember that, initially... sorry I'm just looking around me now... initially this all began with translation, with literature, much more than with the technological side of things I came to the technology later simply because I'm trying to show that there are alternatives to the kinds of technology that we're using and also to simply show that really, they're not as... as convenient as they are, they're not helping us engage with culture in the way we might otherwise be doing, and that's what I'm trying to show but I'm going to head back there now and see if I can meet some of these people and get talking about some of this stufff So I'll see you later So I said I'm going to get used to talking to camera while I'm here in Ostrava. I'm here for the Python conference. while I've been here, I've been soaking up the atmosphere a lot more than soaking up the conference itself. It's been 30°C most days, really hot, and I'm not so good at these really big you know, loads of people around, I was going to say actions, I'm translating from Czech essentially these big events I'm not so good with. I chatted to a couple of people but also lectures are kind of passive in the sense that you sit and listen. I was due to do a workshop today but it's from 2 to 5 and I'm due to travel back, do some planning for an English class tomorrow maybe stuff like that... which makes it sound like I'm missing out on everything I should be doing here and in a sense maybe I am I'm not so good at these things but I should get to a Python thing at some other time but the project I'm working on is involving Python but as a tool and otherwise it's involving a lot of stuff with literature. I talked about Jan Balabán yesterday and how I first discovered him several years ago when I was looking to get into translation. Now while I've been here I've been soaking up this and really thinking a lot about where I come from; I come from the British West Midlands. And we talked about that a little bit. I was with my girlfriend who's not into Python - that's the other thing this time around I'm kind of spending a little time with her so we went to a really nice, and very expensive, steak restaurant; twice now! The first day we had a few tequillas - it's kind of like a Mexican restaurant, a very good one I actually rather spontaneously proposed [to her], 'cos we were talking about something, about me going back home, and the thing is that I should go back home now, it's been a long time I've been avoiding going to Britain. When I left, it was 2013 this last time but both times I've left Britain, I've been very angry the first time around, it was December, 2003 and it was following the, well the last time the whole country became absolutely divided so it's interesting now looking back from Brexit is that that's just happening all over again. Last time it was Tony Blair, though most of the other parties went along with him. It was thought to be in the continuous national security interests of Britain to align with America but also to fuck up the Middle East essentially.. That's what they did. They did it very efffectively. And I didn't believe in it at the time. But then everyone around me was kind of like, every time I'd walk into a pub or something it was like: "Hey, have you hugged any trees recently?" Whatever. And it was just kind of impossible to talk to people and I came away. I came away thinking that a lot of the people I knew growing up were wilfully ignorant - genuinely so - and angry about anybody who tried to inform themselves essentially, about what's going on in the world. And that kind of came back again with Brexit and watching it from afar and just people detached from reality and people being very angry and deciding to hate people essentially. And this is what I'm seeing. So what we decided was I'd go back. I'd do a couple of things. One, I'd find a co-working space, because while I've been looking around here. I can feel like I can almost feel myself into the future here. In the sense that I could have a future for myself which in the past I haven't thought at all. Which is interesting. You'd kind of think that, coming from Britain - you know I've got a degree, whatever else - I've been ill in different ways. I've talked about attention deficit disorder, Asperger's syndrome But at the same time, I should have had opportunities, I guess, you look at it [that way]. I didn't feel like I did. I was working kind of, just variously... And living kind of, insecurely. I was insecurely housed in one sense. I was constantly moving. I was never settlled from one job to another all the time. And I was angry. And so really, what my girlfriend said was that I should go and see my parents which is of course true. They're getting older now - we talked about that. I should go back for a longer period. But I go out of my mind when I'm stuck in my house which I grew up in. I had a lot of unhappy memories from there [the town etc.]. So I'm going to go back and find a co-working space. I've looked into a couple, both around Birmingham. One is called the Melting Pot which is a rather cliched name but it could work, you know. And the other one is called ImpactHub and then alongside that I found people who are trying to put together a zine festival in birmingham. At ImpactHub one of the co-working spaces and one of the guys who founded, who set up ImpactHub I followed on Twitter for a long period when I was much more into Twitter than I am now. And so I wrote to one coworking space and I applied to present or to do something at the zine festival which would be a very small affair I think but it would mean going back in the next couple of weeks and trying to work on it there And get a desk at ImpactHub and perhaps be there for the zine festival. I would really like to do that in the sense that I am working on this zine platform essentially and a couple of things and you know I've described this almost as a situationalist web application in the sense that, look, it's a web application to bring people in who are coming in from I guess Facebook and they're using Instagram and they are using all this stuff and it's more natural to them right now and then saying, you know what, it's much better on paper but you can print it out at home you can be part of a team who produce something like this And I've gone in to all that and then, kind of, I'm bringing something new to it to one sense - there's that understanding of technology to one degree And then it's also looking at, are samizdat licenses - people created samizdat; these are works of literature which could not be published under communist regimes - over here in what we in the West tend to term the East, typically [sic] it's really here Central Europe But people basically distributed literature by just typing it out, copying it and passing it around and it was contraband literature, but essentially if you look at that, there is a number of implicit licenses involved in samizdat and most of them map to what we would now call Creative Commons licenses, albeit with I think samizdat there will be one additional license in Creative Commons you've got a couple of ideas. One is do you attribute the author, another one is do you permit commercial use others do you permit remixing, do you permit somebody to change, do you permit derivations of the original work so you can have a Creative Commons license with Attribution, No Derivatives, No Commercial, for example but I think in the original samizdat licenses there would be an aditional, or implicitly an additional license which would be, essentially, a non Attribution license. So you can pass it around, you can do these other things, so for example it could be No Derivatives, No Attribution, and so on Essentially that's true of samizdat, but also, potentially you could say that it's true of Wikileaks or that it should be, but that's another side that's another thing, I'm just pointing out that these licenses have a constant use I think, now... and it's kind of different. Obviously, in terms of communism you're looking at straightforward censorship. And in terms of what we see now in neoliberalist times, essentially or late capitalism and so on is that there is this powerful manipulative trend or kind of like... people see one thing and not something else and that happens, just a skewing of people's perceptions so certain things are just not seen and therefore, not read, not observed, not reacted to in any way and that's what's necessary now in terms of having zines, punk zines, and what I call samizdat, and things like that certainly, getting away from centralised services where there is this.. if you put money into them, you can skew them in a certain direction That'll happen more sometime soon as well with things like SteemIt and things like that where you can essentially pay for your content to be boosted and it's happening certainly with Brexit and Cambridge Analytica where you put money in and you get certain outcomes in terms of what people are focusing on and the like and when everybody's on all of these same systems and we're giving data to these same people, then our data goes to the highest bidder and a majority of the population can be thrown in one direction so I guess what I want to talk about is trying to find somewhere to work in Birmingham now when I go back home; maybe I'll later on do a video from Birmingham from ImpactHub or something like that; I could talk to some of the people at the Zine Festival if it goes down that direction or otherwise I can go back home and talk to some of the people who I'm really interested in working with when or if I go back to Britain because I want to be talking about how it's coming up - everything that's really exciting and important and where there's real movement is coming up from down below obviously, you need the infrastructure so here at Dolní Vítokovice, people have put money in and it's interesting because you walk around and you see the plaques from the European Union who have put money in and they co-financed all of this reconstruction work and the repurposing of Dolní Vítkovice - I believe it closed in 1992 or thereabouts, for certain purposes - they made coke here, bituminous coke, I think you call it, and they also made pig iron so, where I'm coming from, you don't see the two things together, you see it distributed out So this is a much bigger complex because of that but the infrastructure comes from, the European Union Now wherever you get the European Union funds, it only gets put where it should where you've also got a local infrastructure so here you've evidently had a local infrastructure and also you must have also had local people who give a damn and look to where the money's going and get involved and so on and so here there is an infrastructure and I was seeing it and you know what? I was thinking I could be here and it could be a great place to start working and things like that and I'm really feeling that now, I don't necessarily have to move abroad from the Czech Republic, but I will have to move somewhere other than Prague 'cos I'm just not having any conversations or whatever going in the right direction, it's so corporate and people are just... they're not blinkered, they are just drawn in a certain direction where the money is and where the money's being put and they don't see alternatives and they don't see how the future could be done slightly differently more inclusively for example; less inequality and so on, to benefit a community and nobody's giving a damn about that at all and none of the last few jobs I had where working with the community at all so I think I've caught a glimpse of how it works here. I've only been here for a couple of days so I don't know but in any case as I was saying it kind of reminds me of the Black Country and back home in one sense in terms of the environment but my experience of those places really in terms of being inclusive, in terms of finding ways to help people to express themselves and be creative and find a role for themselves I didn't see that there except for one exception which I talk about the other day with my girlfriend yesterday. I was saying that this is a huge industrial complex but there was one industrial complex which is where I used to work with young adults with what they call "special educational needs" now "special educational needs", that's a bureaucratic term it basically means that we've decided that these people aren't good enough anymore we've given them food that ain't coming from the ground essentially and most of it is just chemical or whatever preservatives and nonsense; they're not created with love to give any sustenance to the individual and to the body, and what you see is kids who don't have a future and they're just angry and hyperactive and all the rest there's a lot of problems that go along with that but I worked in a kind of... it didn't look like this, you've got to shrink it down. If you look up at the buiding if you can see it there, some of these brick buildings with the steel or iron structures, so it looked more like that and possibly I could go back and try to find some of the people that I worked with back there. One of them, I have recently ordered, for my girlfriend's birthday a number of pieces which are done with pyrography I don't know how to say it, but they're made from moose antler, deer antler and stuff like that I might be able to talk to him to see how he set up that business and how he views that work years ago I had an idea of trying to go round and creating a series called Working and Not Working which would be based upon Studs Terkel who did the same in maybe Chicago years and years ago and he travelled around America just talking to people about their working lives Now we're moving, as Sarah Kendzior says, to this kind of like post-employment environment, and, what does that mean? You know, what does it mean for our communities, what does it mean for how we develop co-working spaces and the like and what can we do about it? So all of those questions and, possibly then, I'll stitch in in a little while when I go back home and find out a few experiences back there those are the areas I'm trying to develop in and also, just finally, I guess I'll just reiterate the fact that I've come here and I've felt now that this is something that I can do, essentially this is the main thing that I'm taking away from this Python Conference is not any particular pointers I've got about Python or anything like that and I wish I'd have had more conversations about some of that as I say I'm not so good at doing any of that. But I've learned something in that sense. I've looked at it and thought that "I can do this the same as any other of these people here" and that's something that I haven't felt any of my adult life because of my background the vibes I was getting from everyone around me and because of how marginal I felt in Britain. so I do want to look into that some more and possibly I'll do that a couple of scenes from now perhaps back in Britain we'll see but that's for now everything I think, so thank you for listening.