Agitpod

During The Russian Revolution, Vladimir Lenin and his Minister of Culture Anatoly Lunacharsky felt that the energy and imagination of artists and designers was a useful propaganda tool with which to draw a community into discussion about politics and revolution. Thus the “agitprop” trains, boats, and carts were born (The word “Agit” stands for political agitation, while the word “prop” stands for propaganda). These vehicles acted as a magnet for informing, provoking, and inspiring audiences. Similarly, PLATFORM’s Agitpod was designed to agitate audiences into conversation and debate, as well as educate participants about contemporary social and ecological issues.

PLATFORM wanted to spread ideas about ecology through the build of the Agitpod, as much as through the use. To that end, in 1997, PLATFORM devised a project with eco-architect Nick Edwards, London School of Cycling’s Patrick Field, and the BTEC 3d Design course at nearby Southwark College. Five students worked closely on the project: Fezzie Hassan, Aaron Abraham, Cuong Phan, John Fisher, and Carlton Johnson. For three months, PLATFORM ran workshops which facilitated the development of visual research, encouraged skilfull design that demonstrated a concept, and created a collaborative process for producing ecological designs. The end result was a design conceived from developmental drawings and researched by the students, and fabricated by them with guidance from Nick Edwards and their 3d Design tutors in the college’s workshop. Moreover, Agitpod’s electricity comes from batteries charged by photovoltaic panels on PLATFORM’s roof.

The completed Agitpod is put into practice in various communities. It has been used at Hackney and Kingston Green Fairs, Royal College of Art, Croydon Zero Emissions Conference and more. The Agitpod is both an educational tool and a political agitator. A mobile space for education and conversation, Agitpod travels to schools, festivals, and other community events. In this way Agitpod’s scope is widened, reaching from the students who helped design and build it, to the schools, festivals, streets and other communities to which Agitpod is invited. Through such events Agitpod helps to raise awareness, stimulate community involvement and generate meaningful conversation.

As a tool for learning and discussion, Agitpod’s aim is to infuse community, art, and activist events with a magnetic way of raising issues and provoking discussion. In 1997, the Agitpod’s design aimed to show that eco-design could be as sleek and inventive as conventional design. Furthermore, the process by which it was built was truly collaborative and community-oriented. Since 1997, the image of eco-design has developed significantly.

As a whole – from design to product to implementation – the project encourages radical thinking. Perhaps a reviewer from London Cyclist put it best when he wrote in 1997:

Whether PLATFORM is about art or about politics or about something in between, they encourage us to make leaps of the imagination and think about a society based on a culture of sustainability and mutual respect. After all, if a cycle can be a cinema, then maybe anything is possible.

Agitpod was funded by Bridge House Estates Trust Fund, DETR Local Projects, The London Arts Board, and The Arts Council of England. PLATFORM would like to thank Nick Edwards, Patrick Field, and Chris Avis (then Head of Creative Arts, Southwark College), and the students.

Further reading

  • agitpod

    Initial design concept

  • agitpod

    C Words flyer

  • agitpod

    Agitpod at Arnolfini, Bristol

BTC

Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) is one of the world's longest pipelines, designed to carry Caspian oil through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, to export terminals on the Mediterranean coast. It came about more as a political project than an economic one – pushed by the USA, in order to bypass both Russia and Iran.

The Baku Ceyhan Campaign is working to raise public awareness of the social problems, human rights abuses and environmental damage that are being caused by the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which runs through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. In particular, the campaign argues that public money should not be used to subsidise social and environmental problems, purely in the interests of the private sector, but must be conditional on a positive contribution to the economic and social development of people in the region.

Project leader Mika Minio of PLATFORM commented:

This pipeline was built in London before the first villager was consulted. Constructed on hard drives and wall-charts by a carbon web of bankers, lawyers, civil servants and engineers, BTC was a creation of our city. Now, the pipeline’s output is returning to London, where Caspian geology is transformed into exhaust fumes and BP and RBS share dividends.

The project had several outputs among them, a multi-lingual exhibition at The Kurdish Community Center in North London, increased press coverage of a flawed coating on the pipeline, fact finding missions to the region that generated detailed reports, and several other publications.

One such publication, Some Common Concerns, published before the construction of the pipeline, helped the reader to imagine what the proposed pipelines system would be like if it were built. By creating a picture of the proposed pipelines system, and the complex network of organisations backing it (led by BP), the book aims to help members of civil society as well as campaigners actively influence decisions about the project.

The construction of the pipeline ran into several detrimental problems from the outset, one of which was a faulty coating that caused BP to overrun their budget by a whopping 1 billion. PLATFORM highlighted BT’s misconduct by assisting whistleblowers in publicizing the consequences of such an unsuitable anti-corrosion coating.

The Baku Ceyhan Campaign also participated in six fact-finding missions to the pipeline route. During these missions, the campaign was able to gather more information about communities’ expectations and opinions about the pipeline project, about the project's impacts, and about how BP’s consultation and land expropriation had been carried out. These findings are written up in detailed reports (see outputs).

In addition to all these research-based activities, the campaign organized a multi-lingual exhibition, Land & Fire, at London-based Folyes Gallery, The Kurdish Community Centre, and Halkevi Community Center, a Turkish and Kurdish center. The exhibition contained images and responses from the communities living alongside the controversial Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Land & Fire utilises London’s role as a diasporic city to encourage cultural and political communication between the Azeri, Georgian, Kurdish and Turkish populations. While in the South Caucasus these communities are strung out along the route of the pipeline with limited possibility for communication, in London the diaspora are living side by side.

The Baku Ceyhan Tiblisi Pipeline campaign continues to work for environmental and social justice in the region.

Further reading:

  • Map of the BTC pipeline

    Map of the BTC pipeline.

  • BTC exhibition at Foyle’s, London

    BTC photography exhibition at Foyle’s in London.

  • Independent front-page

    The Independent front page.

  • The Independent article on BTC

    The Independent article.

  • Human rights activist Ferhat Kaya from Ardahan in Northeastern Turkey climbs onto pipes waiting to be buried as part of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline outside Atskuri village in Southern Georgia.

  • fishing boats

    Fishing boats rest in Golovesi village harbour on the Turkish Mediterranean coast, with a BP tanker waiting to be filled with crude from the BTC pipeline. Fishermen continue to protest against the destruction of their livelihood and fishing grounds.

 

C Words

The energy and climate crisis stands as a unique social and ecological challenge… Those least responsible for climate change are the worst affected by it…
 – Vandana Shiva, 2008.

Artist-activist group PLATFORM and their collaborators proposed C Words, a two-month investigation into carbon, climate, capital and culture. Based on PLATFORM’s 25 years of research, art and action, C Words cross-examines the present and looks to the next two decades. How did we get here? Where are we going? Who’s deciding? Who’s made invisible? Whose future matters? PLATFORM members were in residence at Arnolfini throughout the project.

Over 25 events, installations, performances, actions, walks, courses, discussions and skills-sharing will build towards the moment of public departure to the protests at the contested COP-15 in Copenhagen. This isn’t art which merely describes the problems of climate justice. C Words investigates how everything from carbon offsets and transport, to racism and bank accounts play their part in the carbon web. How will culture be produced in a low energy future? Can we imagine our way from here to there?

50 days, over 70 events, and hundreds of participants and collaborators later, the C Words caravan gets ready to leave Arnolfini contemporary arts centre, in the city of Bristol.

It’s been a rollercoaster-ride of politics, art, economics, activism, and reflection fuelled by big pots of coconut curry, baked potatoes, cake, “Proper Job” Ale, and lashings of glorious, climate-change-scary West Country rain.

We said we’d create a hubbub in the run-up to COP-15. Each weekend the galleries have been stuffed with discussion, skills-sharing, analysis, teach-ins, poetry, performance… with live testimony from activists from the Niger Delta, Canada, Chile, Bangladesh, Caribbean, US, Europe and elsewhere. During the week, more reflective spaces were provided by The Body Politic course, the Thursday film and discussion nights, the Friday Critical Tea Parties, the C Words blog, and Facebook…

An early subtitle for the project was “A Carbon Occupation”, and while we abandoned that wording, there is no doubt that PLATFORM, our collaborators, and participants have really and fully used the magnificent facilities and expertise of the Arnolfini and its great staff.

Both Arnolfini and PLATFORM took a leap into the unknown with C Words. Much has been learned, some of it painfully. Yet, there have been some outstanding moments of revelation on all sides. Over the next months, we will reflect on the hours of experience— the memories, the feedback, the video footage, audio, stills, notes, blog entries, etc… and bring it to some sort of public forum to share what we have learned widely. Watch this space.

Further reading

  • Climate Camp Exhibit

    Climate Camp exhibit.

  • C Words Artists go to COP-15

    Many of the artists will be continuing their work at the climate talks in Copenhagen.

  • Bike Bloc

    The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination’ Bike Bloc workshop.

  • African Writers Abroad

    African Writers Abroad workshop.

  • Walking Forest

    Ackroyd & Harvey’s Walking Forest exhibition.

  • Walking Forest

    Ackroyd & Harvey’s Walking Forest exhibition.

  • Slow Travel Agency

    Agents for the Slow Travel Agency.

  • Trapese

    Trapese Collective’s Popular Education workshop.

  • Trapese

    Trapese Collective’s Exhibition.

  • Hollington & Kyprianou with Spinwatch - Adams and Smith

    Hollington & Kyprianou with Spinwatch: Adams and Smith are auctioneers of late capitalist period artefacts.

  • Hollington & Kyprianou with Spinwatch - Adams and Smith

    Adams and Smith auction.

Gog & Magog

Gog & Magog brings into focus the influence of oil in London. Artists James Marriott and Ben Diss weave the activities of oil giants BP and Shell with the everyday life of Londoners. Using visual aids of their own as well as the landmarks related to oil in London, Marriott and Diss bring to life the epic narrative of natural resources in the market place and within culture more broadly. A real life thriller, Gog & Magog offers insight into the plot, characters, and suspects of the Carbon Web. The project encourages people to take a second look at the familiar architecture of the City of London, using the lens of the story of oil.

It resists, however, the trappings of a didactic tale, choosing instead to engage audiences in the complexity of a world driven by oil. Gog & Magog further resists the often relied upon mantra “technology will save us”. Instead it increases the pressure on Londoners with an emotional experience that may indeed inspire change. Rather than relying on policy or technology, Gog & Magog encourages the listener to relying on him/herself, to dig deeper, and ask the difficult questions. By this unconventional path, the project hopes people will make the changes needed to mitigate climate change not due to a ruling from above, but from a fundamental shift within.

Thus Gog & Magog shows the constellation of resource-driven political and financial events that connect people across the world. The project colours the familiar urban landscape of London in a sinister hue. More vividly than a litany of facts, Gog & Magog opens up the office doors of BP and Shell, showing the ripple effect of decisions made at these companies. It is this inter-connectivity that is central to the project. The project highlights the hidden hand that maintains our lifestyle, revealing the true effect of our growing demand on the environment and the rights of others. But Gog & Magog does something different to what is usually portrayed in newspapers or books on the subject; it pulls at your heartstrings. To its credit it does not do so by emphasizing the fear factor. Rather, it takes audiences deeper into themselves and poses questions that challenge not only the effects, but the underlying causes of climate change.

Brief descriptions of sub-projects:

Gog & Magog

Guided performance walks across London… In the search to find out what acts were taken, by whom and in which place, Gog & Magog guides an invited audience through London’s West End and The City in pursuit of the Carbon Web. The small group undertakes a day-long expedition that seeks to unveil the stories behind the current workings of the global oil and gas business – how BP built a pipeline in the Caucasus, how Shell helped the drive towards war in Iraq, how Shell and BP played their part in the human rights chaos of the Niger Delta. The participants track these, and other, mysteries to the offices of banks, the headquarters of advertising agencies, the departments in Whitehall – learning through stories and music of how London plays its key role in the global fossil fuel industry.

Burning Capital

A web based film… Drawing on intimate stories and hard financial data, Burning Capital narrates one company’s year and how its activities have impacted on the global climate. Unpicking the life of BP in the year 2007, these films explain who made the key decisions that enabled this one oil company to bring carbon to the market and hence to the atmosphere. Created to be published the day before BP’s fourth quarter and full-year results, Burning Capital explains how the corporation has operated and how it might have charted a different course. Watch the film here.

And While London Burns

An ingenious way of reanimating this monstrous city, showing some of what lurks in its shadows.

– Nick Kimberley, Evening Standard

An operatic audio tour across The City… Bathed in fire, flood, love and turmoil And While London Burns is a compelling collision of thriller, opera and guided walk. Staring Douglas Hodge, this soundtrack for the era of climate change is set amongst the skyscrapers of the most powerful financial district on Earth, London’s Square Mile. An opera for one, it takes the listener, equipped with an MP3 player, on a walking audio adventure through the streets and alleyways of London. Listen to the opera here.

Further info

  • And While London Burns

    Gog & Magog reflects on The City of London through the lens of oil.

  • Burning Capital

    Burning Capital: a web-based film drawing on intimate stories and hard data.

  • And While London Burns

    And While London Burns: an operatic audio tour across The City.

  • The project combines sensory experience of The City with hard financial data and research.

  • Walking tours help ground the abstractions of City finance.

  • Performance walks and events are targeted around key moments in the industry such as the Shell and BP quarterly financial results announcements.

Homeland

The inspiration for Homeland came from a bit of writing in George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier

Watching coal-miners at work, you realise momentarily what different universes different people inhabit. Down there where coal is dug it is a sort of world apart which one can easily go through life without ever hearing about. Probably a majority of people would even prefer not to hear about it. Yet it is the absolutely necessary counterpart of our world above.

Artist Dan Gretton had long been ruminating on the tension between his lifestyle and the hidden costs elsewhere in the world. This passage cemented his view that the underground world of natural resources and the above ground everyday life were mutually dependent on one another. The passage prompted Gretton and collaborators James Marriott and John Jordan to ask themselves: What are the real human costs of electricity? From where does the pristine food found on supermarket shelves originate? How many people, across how many continents, does it take to make the London life as a whole possible? To answer these questions London International Festival of Theatre commissioned PLATFORM in 1993.

The installation room fluttered with sheets of paper. An eerie yet beautiful light lit the paper from behind. Nearby pictures of participants’ hands used the grammar of photocopies. The Homeland lorry acted a mobile gallery and performance space where the artists could invite communities to respond to the somewhat tongue-in-cheek question: Which do you love most your home or your land? Participants enthusiastically reflected on their own migrations, memories, environments, and peoples. The art of conversation resounded at the centre of Homeland. Artists thoughtfully facilitated the participants in conversation, but through drawing recalled impressions, participants also held their own visual conversation with one another. These images were installed in the temporary gallery space.

Alongside personal stories of migration, Homeland told the story of a single light bulb. The story began in a colliery in Wales that extracts coal, continued on to a mine in Portugal that produces the copper, then to a quarry in Hungary that supplies glass, and finally ended when the light bulb is delivered for sale to England. The route of the light bulb showcased the invisible hand in our everyday lives by revealing the sequences of construction behind the object. But Homeland provoked participants to make connections beyond the dots PLATFORM connected on the map. The logical conclusion of the line of inquiry might be — far-flung places are connected not only by the light bulb, but by an infinite string of objects.

It is common now to think of the world in ecological terms, as networks of complex interdependent relationships. This was not at all the case in 1993, however, when Homeland was performed. But in the intervening years, the artistic devices of Homeland have been often echoed in contemporary art making praxis. Further the legacy of Homeland is evidenced in initiatives such as Earth Hour, when millions of people worldwide switch off their lights in a unified show of protest against run away climate change. So perhaps the fluttering texts displayed in Homeland were not so ephemeral after all. Indeed it seems PLATFORM was engaged in a then-burgeoning mode of examination that over the years has been elaborated on by countless artistic and social experiments.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to LIFT who commissioned the piece and Artsadmin who were collaborators.

Homeland materials were translated into Hungarian, Portuguese, and Welsh by Gabor Batony (Hungarian Translator), Roberta Fox (Portugese translator), and Gwen Pritchard (Welsh translator).

Homeland was created by artists Dan Gretton, John Jordan, and James Marriott, with the help of economics analyst Nick Robins and production assistant Debbie Murdoch.

Further info

  • Homeland

     

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Iraq

The Iraq: Whose Oil? campaign aims to democratize decisions about the future of the oil, stimulating public debate in Iraq about US/UK plans for privatization into the hands of US and UK companies. Moreover, the campaign aims to stop multinational companies taking control of Iraq’s oil through unfair long-term contracts signed under occupation, and more broadly, to prevent oil policies that promote conflict.

PLATFORM has worked with an inspiring coalition of Iraqi civil society groups, whose campaign has succeeded in stopping a US-sponsored oil privatization law, and in steering Iraqi oil policy away from the damaging form of contracts sought by multinational oil companies. This is a remarkable victory – against the world’s superpower, its military arsenal and some of the world’s most powerful corporations. Amid the grim realities of the occupation of Iraq, this effective organising by grassroots and democratic civil society provides a source of hope, rarely reported in the Western media.

In Iraq, PLATFORM’s work is well-known, even famous, among policymakers, experts and civil society groups, and has played a key role in stimulating debate. Internationally too, through press coverage and publications, PLATFORM has exposed the consequences of the plans of US/UK oil companies in Iraq. We have helped to support and defend Iraqi civil society groups against repression, especially the oilworkers’ trade union.

PLATFORM’s Crude Designs publication was downloaded over 100,000 times. It revealed the consequences of the Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs) favoured by multinational oil companies. The report states: “Running to hundreds of pages of complex legal and financial language and generally subject to commercial confidentiality provisions, PSAs are effectively immune from public scrutiny and lock governments into economic terms that cannot be altered for decades.” It adds: “In Iraq’s case, these contracts could be signed while the government is new and weak, the security situation dire, and the country still under military occupation. As such the terms are likely to be highly unfavourable, but could persist for up to 40 years.”

PLATFORM was also quoted in Al Gore’s book The Assault on Reason. Gore writes:

Critics like Greg Muttitt of the human rights and environmental group PLATFORM, which monitors the oil industry, described the proposed law as a terrible deal for Iraqis and regional citizens, who were totally cut out of the process. ‘The draft went to the US government and major oil companies in July [2006],’ Muttitt said in January 2007, ‘and to the International Monetary Fund in September. Last month I met a group of twenty Iraqi MPs in Jordan, and I asked them how many had seen the legislation. Only one had.’


Other outcomes of the campaign include the formation of the coalition “Hands off Iraqi Oil” – which organised The International Day of Protest with 26 protests across the UK and several globally including Washington DC – among dozens of other demonstrations in strategic locations such as BP headquarters and the US Embassy.

Although all PLATFORM projects are grounded in rigorous research, Whose Oil? is especially research-based and consequently places less emphasis on artistic pursuits. This strategic choice has imbued the project with the necessary strength and rigour such a complex and urgent situation demands.

Further info

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