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PLATFORM works across disciplines for social and ecological justice. It combines the transformatory power of art with the tangible goals of campaigning, the rigour of in-depth research with the vision to promote alternative futures.
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Freedom in The City, 2002 -

Freedom in The City is a project in two parts:

Critical Walks in The City
Museum of the Corporation - This major project started in June 2004 and has its own website.

Critical Walks in The City

Since 2002, PLATFORM has been running periodic and experimental walks around contemporary corporate culture. We have focused specifically on how the world‚s first and most enduring transnational corporation - the East India Company (1600-1858) - has much to teach us. "Loot! Reckoning with the East India Company" takes groups of 20 people around the sites of the Company in London's "Square Mile" (financial district) and East India Docks, making parellels with contemporary ethical issues in transnational corporate business. These walks have been done in the following contexts:

  • contributor to the events programme for the British Library's 2002 exhibition "Trading Places, The East India Company and Asia" (3 walks)
  • contributor to the Education and Access programme for the Museum in Docklands, London
  • contributor to the Victoria and Albert Museum‚s upcoming exhibition "Encounters: The Meeting of Asia and Europe, 1500-1800" (23rd Sept - 5th Dec 2004)
  • specific group hires of the walk, such as South-Western University Abroad (USA), and American University in Richmond.

The public walks have been completely oversubscribed on each occasion, and it has become clear that the strategy of using a walk to learn from history about how we can address contemporary issues is really successful. The walks are run as rolling discussions, and always lead to a couple of hours more conversation in the pub afterwards with a core of participants... The experience has led into the founding of a second strand to Freedom in The City, Museum of the Corporation

PLATFORM has long used the walk as an important form for public space work. We have explored walking as a research tool, as a ritual, as performance, as intervention, as a political tool, and as a tool for sharing insights and information. Our walks have been devised by artists, historians, community activists, psychologists, and environmentalists in collaboration, and as solo ventures.

We are currently exploring walks according to the following themes:

The City as if it had never been built, The City before memory. These walks will explore the land and water underneath The City, juxtaposing the current ‘given’ with its pre-history, thus opening the imagination to its future. The Roman City of Londinium was founded on two wooded hills with a fresh water stream - the Walbrook - running between them, the city's walls surrounded by marshland. What might re-seeing this tell us ? Guided walks along the rivers Walbrook and Fleet form part of this.

 



 

The City that erases itself, The City of Forgetting. These walks will explore the questions of visibility and invisibility of the impacts of commerce in The City and have commenced with the walk "Loot - Reckoning with the East India Company", devised by historian Nick Robins and PLATFORM core member Jane Trowell.

The East India Company remains the most powerful corporation the world has ever seen, a precursor to today’s transnational corporations. Starting out as a speculative venture to import spices from the East Indies - modern day Indonesia - the Company grew to fame and fortune by trading with and then conquering and governing India. But visit London today where the Company was headquartered for over 250 years, and little marks its rise and fall, its innovations and its crimes. The walk takes you round this invisible behemoth...and asks in terms of contemporary corporate behaviour, what has changed, and what has remained the same ? Crucially, what can we learn ?

The walks visit sites of the company's headquarters in Philpot Lane and Leadenhall Street, circumnavigating the huge complex of warehouses at Cutler's Gardens, and standing at the feet of bronze statues of key company figures such as Robert Clive and Lord Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington. These walks have been rolling discussions, as well as presentations. Below are some extracts from the Loot! poster accompanying the walk.

The walks are experimental and periodic: they will be announced here.


from the Loot! walks
:

click on the images to see larger versions of the Loot! poster

detail from walk:

Lloyds Building, Site of East India House (1648-1858)

Standing beside the steel and glass of Richard Rogers’ Lloyds Building, it is difficult to appreciate the raw energy, envy and horror that the Company generated in 18th century England. For 30 years after the Battle of Plassey in 1757, where the Company gained control of Bengal, East India House was instrumental in both the economy and governance of Bengal and indeed Britain - a notorious ferment of traders, bankers, conquerors and power-brokers. Robert Clive was rewarded for leading the Company’s armies to success at Plassey by being made Governor of Bengal.
   

Under his reign, a decade of corruption and systematic looting transformed a periodic drought in 1769 Bengal into a catastrophic famine. Rather than help the starving, the Company increased taxes, while its agents hoarded food to drive prices up further. An estimated 10 million people died - at a time when the population of London was less than a million, providing a foretaste of future famines under the British Raj.
 
    The pressure for reform was overpowering and, in a series of moves, Parliament gained a growing control over the Company, so that by the 19th century, it was more a sub-contracted administrator for the British state, a Victorian public-private partnership. Throughout this period, what Company activity highlights is the ‘tyranny of the bottom line’ - a financial logic that forces corporate executives down unethical pathways. The reality of the situation was that few, if any, of its executives could see that the solution for India, as Adam Smith advocated, lay in independence. The tragedy was, what emerged was empire.

Clive Statue, Whitehall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nick Robins' article Loot! Reckoning with the East India Company is available online on the Open Democracy website.

At the height of the Empire, Lord Curzon commissioned a statue of Clive to decorate Whitehall, a belated recognition for this infamous Company employee who laid the foundations for the Raj. Both the Company and the Raj are now long gone, but Britain has yet to reckon with its actions. A selective memory reigns - viewing the Company largely through our current obsessions with consumerism and celebrity. To get a complete picture, it is imperative that the Company is viewed in light of its obligations regarding corporate responsibility and accountability. Just as cities like Bristol are now confronting their past as slaving ports, so the City of London now needs to reckon with the legacy of the East India Company and its contemporaries.


Background

One aspect of our work is to create imaginative and safe spaces for difficult discussions. The role of art is crucial in achieving this: art and art strategies with such purposes can alter sensibilities and disarm aggression. Freedom in The City proposes to create experimental guided walks in London's financial district, with the aim of inspiring people to explore and share their understanding of the complexity of our current globalised economy. Through a range of guided walks informed by the imagination and vision of socially engaged artists in collaboration with others, The City can be seen as contemporary, vibrant, and above all mutable.

Since 1999, our 90% CRUDE work has been concerned with a particular part of the metropolis: the Square Mile, also known as The City. We have been walking, talking, debating and sensing The City at all times of day and night, and with a variety of people : City workers, corporate analysts, activists, historians, newspaper vendors, artists, church wardens, inhabitants, and refuse operatives. The Square Mile is not only one of the world’s most important financial centres, providing employment for 250,000 people, it is also the most ancient heart of London. Furthermore, it is increasingly raising its profile as a contemporary cultural location with a boom in restaurants, bars, clubs and cultural venues both within and on its immediate fringes. London is in a boom time for ‘Guided Walks’, yet a close look at what is on offer in this historic centre of London reveals that nearly all of the walks focus on social, architectural or archeological history, and only one or two focus on its vibrant contemporary reality. It is as if what is happening now - the contemporary activity and influence of The City - is deemed uninteresting to the public. Paradoxically, there has been a snowballing of world attention on issues of globalisation, capitalism, environmental justice, corporate culture and transnational finance, mainly through mass activism such as has been seen in Seattle, Prague, Genoa, and also here in London. The issue has become devastatingly acute after the utter violence of the terrorist attacks on the potent symbols of such activities, the World Trade Centre in New York City, and on the ensuing military response of the USA and Britain.

Collaborators to date: Nick Robins and Jane Trowell

Freedom in The City is funded by Arts Council London.

Museum of the Corporation is funded by the Clark Foundation.


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