Presentation at `Desire Lines` conference on Arts & Ecology, Dartington College, Totnes, Devon. Saturday 10th September 2005. James Marriott.
THE END OF THE EMPIRE OF GOG & MAGOG
(Slide showing on screen at start : Robin Territories at Dartington 1935 – 1945)
First of may I say thank you to Alan (Bolden), Lara (Riley) and Kamay (O`Keeffe) for inviting me to give this talk on behalf of PLATFORM. I`d like to point out that it`s a rare event for PLATFORM to do a presentation such as this with just one of us, normally we like to have two of us speaking in order to better represent the collective practice – but circumstances mitigated against that this time around.
Delivering the final presentation in the conference is both an honour and a challenge. My mind is filled with the understandings and images gained from many wonderful presentations over the past two days. I`m especially filled by the immense melancholy of Propellor`s performance `We are the rivers we swim in` that I just saw – with it`s evocation of the mass extinction of species.
From the conference I draw two themes : 1) the landscape and the stories that lie across it – explored by David (Abram), Alice (Oswald), and Maggie (Atkinson) & Andrew (Fenemor) 2) the combination of the arts and sciences – represented in the talks of Peter (Randall- Page), Satish (Kumar), and Bruce (Gilchrist) & Jo (Joelson)I`ll approach the second of these two first. I`m an artist and part of PLATFORM, an interdisciplinary group that has focused on social and ecological justice since 1983, mostly in London and the Tidal Thames valley, our home. We try to combine the arts and the social sciences – and occasionally we`ve involved the hard sciences. Currently there are twelve people employed, six more or less full time, six part time. Of those 12, 5 come from arts backgrounds and 7 from science backgrounds. Our financing likewise comes more or less half from the arts sphere and half from the environmental and human rights sphere. Several streams of funding, which in the past couple of years has proved far more productive, in part due to the work of my colleague Glen who concentrates on this sphere.
Most of us have a long-term perspective on our engagement with PLATFORM, so this is an ongoing collaboration, rather than a project-specific collaboration. We work together not only on particular issues, but also on the organisation of PLATFORM itself – coming from my perspective, I see the group as an artwork in itself, a social sculpture in the Beuysian sense. Indeed we draw heavily on the inspiration of Beuys and his concept of `Everyone is an Artist` referred to by Satish last night, and the spirit of the Coomswarry quote he also gave :
`An artist is not a special kind of person, each person is special kind of artist.`
Collaboration in this way is hard. I don`t believe we are educated to behave democratically – I certainly was given an oligarchic upbringing and have to work hard to remember that the voice of the other is of equal import as my own voice. Consequently I admire the attempts at collaboration that we see in the likes of Propeller and Bruce & Jo`s work, or Maggie & Andrew`s work … or indeed in the intention of Alan in the design of the forthcoming MA in Arts & Ecology at Dartington. A unique model where artists and scientists will teach together and will rotate with the students, so the teacher becomes a student and the student a teacher.
Our experience in PLATFORM suggests collaboration is hard. We`ve had some big fights, but at the best of times it becomes like a dance. And in the last period we`ve definitely been assisted by the skills of Nick, who comes from a systems background, and has radically improved the efficiency of communications within the group. However it does not help to imagine we all start from the same premise – as might be drawn from the Coomswarry quote – no, a training in the arts or sciences frames the imagination in distinct ways. It leads to different perspectives on fundamental issues, of:
Truth Time Efficacy Value
There is much to be said on these things and sadly not time to explore them here, but I`ll follow just one line. This is that these different perspectives mean that we can look at the same subject matter, the same`material`, in different ways. We find ourselves using the same knowledge of what`s happening in a Georgian village or the Niger Delta in different forms – as data for a report to the World Bank, as inspiration for a short story, and the substance of a performance text, and the material for an exhibition in the Centre for Contemporary Art in Glasgow, or as the inspiration for a non-fiction book somewhere in the spirit of Sebald.
To return to the first issue of landscape and stories. (Holding up a copy of D. Lack (1965) The Life of the Robin, Fontana) This is one of my favourite books, The Life of the Robin, by David Lack. As Tony (Whitehead) here from the RSPB will tell you this was a seminal work, one of the first monographs on a bird ever produced. I was taught about birds and plants by my mother in the Weald of West Sussex. I was obsessed by birds and reading about them, I think I read this when I was ten or twelve. What particularly struck me is that it explained how to chart Robin territories by watching where a particular Robin sings from and marking it down on a map.
To read from the book : `Observation soon establishes that each … male robin sings only in its own territory, and by noting on a map every place in which each bird is seen singing, the boundaries of the different territories are quickly determined. It is impossible to drive a singing robin from its territory. (rpt) As the observer approaches the bird retreats, but on reaching the edge of the territory it does not proceed further, and if chivied it unexpectedly flies back over the observer`s head to the middle ground`
Using this guide I plotted Robins around the garden and the neighbourhood where I lived. What astounded me was that the Robins` boundaries bore so little reference to the boundaries of my world, that fence, this hedge, they even seem to ingnore the house that I lived in. I was struck by a sense of a Robin`s eye view of the world, a sense of their territories, their `desire lines`. This was part of my `deep experience` as a child that Stephan referred to yesterday as being so influential.
Consequently it was a delight the other day to be drawn back to that book for some reason, and to discover that this seminal study was undertaken at Dartington. As confirmed by conversations with Tony and Kamay, David Lack worked here between 1935 and 1945. So these maps (refer to slide) show the territories around Dartington in those years – here is Bidwell Brook, here the buildings of Foxhole, and here where the Cider Press Centre now stands. So we spend our days here in the territories of Robins, and as Robins are basically sedentary birds, we are listening to the song of the great- grand children of the Robins that Lack knew. They interrupted the meditation that Ansuman took us through this morning, I could hear them singing in the Great Court as I wrote out this talk.
This is a continuous tradition of song, passed down from bird to bird, an oral tradition, the song laid over the landscape again and again. A protective veil.
Robins have a particular proximity to humans. We do not marry them like Bear or Seal – as David referred to – but they have a powerful symbolism for us. I read again from the book:
`A Robbyn readbreast, finding the dead body of a Man or woman, wyll cover the face of the same with Mosse. And as some holdes opinion, he wyll cover also the whole body` Thomas Lupton, 1579
This passage puts me in mind of my dear friend and colleague in PLATFORM, Dan. He suffered the tragedy of his father dying in an accident far too young, he was only in his early 50`s. He was a wonderful man – an angel. In the days immediately after his death, a Robin repeatedly entered the family home, and took to sitting on the father`s chair. This behaviour was observed by Dan`s brother, an Ornithologist, a determined rationalist.
We live our lives within our own territories, of favoured shops, of well chosen pubs, of particular streets we follow – our territory. But we also live in the territories of others, those of friends – which we can read to some extent, and other citizens – of whom we a generally ignorant. And we also live in the territories of other species. These Robins territories here at Dartington are part of a web of territories that stretches from Land`s End to John O`Groats, a seemless patchwork which – as Robins live in woods and cities – is rarely punctuated.
We also live in the landscapes of industrial systems, in the territories of industrial corporations. Behind me is the boiler room that provides heating for part of the college, somewhere just above my head is the chimney, like the chimney of a crematoria, from which rises the vapour of geology turned into gas. Go outside after this and take a good look, listen to the rumbling of the boiler, night and day, behind the locked door.
On a regular cycle a road tanker comes up the hill to this building, delivering heating oil from the depot of Watson Oils at Board Marsh Industrial Estate, down by the River Dart, in Totnes. Near the station. Deliveries are made to Watson`s by road tanker, along the A38 – passing South Brent, Ivybridge, and Plymton – from Cattedown in Plymouth, near the mouth of the River Plym. The Texaco terminal here is supplied by ship, by tankers transporting refined oil around the Lizard and Lands End, across the Bristol Channel, from Milford Haven and the Pembroke Refinery owned by Chevron Texaco. The refinery itself draws crude oil from a range of places, the North Sea, probably Kuwait, perhaps Iraq or Nigeria. Some of it may come by ocean going tanker crossing the Bay of Biscay, passing the Straits of Gibraltar, traversing the Mediterranean, the Bosphorus and the Black Sea, and picking up its load at the Georgian port of Supsa. The crude here will have travelled across Georgia and Azerbaijan, along the valley of the Kura River, and then 140 miles across the bed of the Caspian Sea to the drilling rig of Chirag 1. Here the drill bit draws oil from three kilometres below the seabed, draws up the crude, which passes through the pipeline, the tanker, the refinery, the tanker, the terminal, the road tanker, the depot, the road tanker … to the boiler room behind me. In that room the landmass of the Caspian turns into gas, the smoke goes up the chimney like the spirit of the Shaman, and disperses in the damp Devon air.
I read from one of the Fables of Gog & Magog, the Fable of the Hive and the Hard Drive.
The photo shows the figure of a man clambering about on the flat roof of a windowless and doorless building. Behind him a line of poplar trees shakes in the breeze of a late afternoon in the uplands of Eastern Turkey. Fazli Kilic is the beekeeper at the village of Hacibayram. It is a village with many hives and no people.
Fazli was born in Hacibayram. Like those that he lived alongside, and those that had lived in the generations before him, he worked the fields – pasture for livestock, meadows for hay, and the flowers that feed the bees. Then the guerrillas from the PKK came and soldiers from the Turkish Army shortly after. What followed is not clear, but every single person from the village left their homes and the buildings were purposefully destroyed.
Those that had lived for so long in Hacibayram were scattered, some went to the cities taking their stories with them, to the shanties of Ankara and Istanbul, and some to the nearby villages and towns. Fazli settled in Tercan, 6 miles from Hacibayram, and he travels back and forth to the deserted village each day, tending his hives. Sometimes he stays overnight in the ruins.
A year or so ago they came to build the pipeline. Alarco, working for the Turkish gas company Botas, came to construct the Eastern Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline. Neither Fazli, nor any of those who tended the land of the abandoned village, knew anything of the project till the bulldozers arrived. Digging a deep trench, ripping across the wide meadowland where the bees feed. The scar is still visible, much of the hay harvest was lost, and no compensation was received. “I`m not angry, cos its the state … they`re like that.” says Fazli.
The map shows Hacibayram in the corridor of a new industrial project. For hot on the heels of the East Anatolian Natural Gas pipeline, comes a grander scheme, the Baku- Ceyhan Oil Pipeline is planned to pass this way. The thin black lines on the white paper are spewed out from the belly of a hard drive. This is the Social Base Line Map, part of the Social Impact Assessment for the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, produced by ERM.
Environmental Resources Management , based in Cavendish Square, just off Oxford Street, in the West End of London, won the contract from BP May 2000 to conduct this study. Sometime in the next 18 months a team headed out from ERM to consult with those who lived along the proposed pipeline route, to ask them their views, to reassure them of the benefits of the planned project.
The study was published by ERM in June 2002, the careful detail reassures the reader in the city that time and attention has been given in the villages and fields. A little `T` is marked on the map by Hacibayram, it indicates that here the consultation with villagers was carried out by telephone. Yet all the time the study was underway, the village was in ruins, there were no telephones, there was no one to answer the phones.
On the same afternoon as the photograph, as Fazli climbed along the roof among the hives, that `T` lay buried in hard drives and CD`s in the offices of ERM and BP. It is as though a huge funnel had sucked up the fields and the hay harvest, the ruins and the eviction, and concentrated it into one tiny byte of information. The noise of the bees, the breeze of the late afternoon, is translated into some new language, so that the eyes of those few who read it – glowing on a computer screen – can say `yes`.
PLATFORM has been working in coalition with Friends of the Earth, the Cornerhouse, the Kurdish Human Rights Group, Green Alternatives in Georgia, and groups and individuals in Azerbaijan and Turkey since September 2001. We`ve been campaigning on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline – known as BTC – which is currently being built through villages and fields, mountains and forests in the Caucasus. (Point at slide of map)1,087 miles long it runs from Baku on the Caspian Sea to Ceyhan on the Turkish Mediterranean coast – if, as expected, it is completed this year it will deliver oil to Western Europe from deep beneath the Caspian. I talked of fuel for the boiler here coming via a port called Supsa (point), the new pipeline to Ceyhan (point) will dramatically increase the flow of Azeri oil to the West, to boilers like the one here. It will deliver 1 million barrels of crude a day by 2008 according to the plans. This new piece of infrastructure, driven by BP, is a tool that assists the release of the carbon that has lain locked beneath the Caspian … into the atmosphere. It is a driver of climate change. The CO2 emissions of the crude passing through the pipeline will be equivalent to 30% of the entire UK annual emissions. This project will impact on the atmosphere, as well as the villages through which it passes, as well as through the Caucasian landscape and the veil of stories that lies across it.
Two colleagues at PLATFORM, Mika and Greg are travelling to Georgia and Turkey next week, to visit villages and meet individuals along the pipeline route. It will be our sixth journey since 1998, and a report will be written up from their findings – and the findings of the other NGO`s we are working with. A report aimed at drawing the attention of private banks – such as the Royal Bank of Scotland, and public banks – such as the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, who assisted in the financing of this project. Indeed we all assisted in the financing of this project, for the public banks – guided by government minister such as Hilary Benn at the Department for International Development – utilised our taxpayers money to support this private infrastructure project.
The pipeline is built in the Caucasus, yet constructed in our cities. The fable I read earlier illustrates the agency of BP, but also of the consultants ERM. Indeed a web of companies creates this $4 billion project. We`ve created this diagram (point) to illustrate the range of institutions and companies behind the project, the web of bodies that enables a corporation such as BP – the UK`s largest company – to carry out its work. We can see here (point) some of those I`ve referred to – ERM, Royal Bank of Scotland, European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, and the Department for International Development.
Note especially these here (point) – the British Museum, the Tate Britain, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Opera House. For these two play their role, wittingly or unwittingly in the construction of projects such as BTC. In a gathering such as today`s, we will all be aware that the name Tate comes from Henry Tate, the sugar baron of Tate & Lyle, and brings with it the legacy of the sugar plantations and their slave past. It is well accepted that this history sticks to the institutions. The same is true of these institutions sponsorship by BP. This is the `culture` created by the wealth generated by such infrastructure projects, and these institutions enable their construction by assisting the companies in their pursuit of a positive image – of a `social license to operate`. The BTC pipeline is part of the landscape of the Tate and the Royal Opera House, it is part of their territory – their `desire lines`.
PLATFORM, as I`ve said, is based in London – we work in our home London and the Tidal Thames valley, the catchment of the Thames and his tributaries : Effra, Fleet, Walbrook, Westbourne. Like Maggie and Andrew, we`ve been exploring these river valleys since 1989, sometimes more intensively, sometimes less. The Thames is an amazing valley, who`s ecological life is slowly returning. The Tidal Thames – all 70 miles of it – was officially dead in 1957, when the water carried no oxygen and the only thing living in it were Eels who can breath at the surface. Sailing last weekend, about 12 miles from the sea, a dolphin came alongside our dinghy, perhaps he or she was curious.
Since 1996, and the beginning of our current initiative 90% Crude, we`ve been slowly exploring the territory of companies and corporations in our city. For London is fundamentally a trade city, built in a valley of rivers. The best icon of this combination, is the city`s foundation stone – London Bridge, the key to a vital trade route crossing a tidal river, crossing the place where the force of the North Sea rips in and out of the land every twelve hours. We`ve been trying to understand how oil and gas companies operate and how they impact on our lives and imaginations. Indeed how they impact on the lives and imaginations of those who work within them.
This schematic map that we created shows the distribution of some of the companies that realised, and are realising, the BTC pipeline. (point) Here is ERM, and here the EBRD. The pipeline was built in these offices in our city, before it was built in the villages of the Caucasus.
A second of the Fables of Gog & Magog, This is our Empire.
June 2005. I am up at six to write. There is gentle breathing in the bed that I have left. The village too is asleep.
As the Earth turns, the sun`s light falls upon it evenly. In anticipation the woods, fields and gardens burst into birdsong. A wave of sound that passes around the planet ceaselessly, night falls as dawn rises elsewhere. A singing planet.
Where I am sitting, is due north west of Umuechem, Soku and Isoku – Ijaw, Igbo and Urhobo villages. Dawn broke there just a little before it did so here. I try to imagine the birdsong in the mangroves, the creeks, the fields and forests, and how different it is to here.
But much of the birdsong would be familiar to me, for so many of the songbirds in my village migrate here from West Africa. The Nightingale that sings in the blackthorn scrub at the end of the orchard, winters in Nigeria. Perhaps it spends half the year in the mangroves? The sounds of my Summer nights depend upon the health of the Delta.
I try to imagine the roar of the gas flares – bright orange flames 100 foot long. As loud at dawn as there were at nightfall. As it was at midnight, as it will be at midday.
The rocks beneath the Delta farmland spew up their black gold, ceaseless, dismissive of night or day. The crude passes through flowlines, flowstations and pipelines. The liquid that moved beneath the rocks now courses through these steel veins above ground – bound for Bonny, Escravos, Forcados. Qua Ibo, Pennington and Brass.
At the terminals, I imagine the roar of the tugs` engines as they manoeuvre the tankers alongside and away from the loading jetties. The night shift gives way to day shift. The tankers arriving and departing at any time of day or night.
It is now dawn somewhere out in the Atlantic. Is there a big sea or is it flat calm? Are there whales and dolphins visible from the bridge 30 feet above the surrounding ocean? What is the captain doing as his crude carrier, fully laden with thousands of tonnes of Bonny Light, ploughs through the waves. Is he awake or asleep? As watch gives way to watch, the ship – computer and satellite guided – heads for the night of America.
Does the tanker arrive at night or day? Whatever the hour, the tugs at the terminal of Port Arthur refinery, a hundred miles east of Houston,Texas, will be on stand-by – engines turning over – waiting to guide their charges.
The tanker will unload in the shadow of the vast complex, part refinery, part chemical works, of storage tanks and cracking towers, of product pipes and olefins plant. High above, from the towering stack, a sheet of orange flame and a cloud of black smoke. The refinery’s flare burns night and day. Ijaw, Igbo, Urhobo geology filling the Texan air. I wonder does it drown out the Texan birdsong?
And the plastics from these plants, do they build the foundations, and enable the workings, of my laptop ?
In this early morning, this is my Empire. Its working sustains my life. This is our Empire. We were born in it, we inherited it, its comforts and cruelties. This is our Empire, ours to retreat from, and ours to dismantle.
I try to imagine a life without oil.
That story forms part of our forthcoming book `The Next Gulf`, due to be published in November – available now on Amazon – written by the journalist Andy Rowell, and my colleague Lorne and myself at PLATFORM. It looks at the last ten years in the Niger Delta, the decade since the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa, writer and activist, and eight other Ogoni, on 10th November 1995.
Again I don`t doubt that all of you will know about that event, but how many of you know of the nature, the landscape of that area, the Delta – I certainly did not know myself till we began to look closely. The Delta is a vast alluvial plain, a rainforest and mangrove swamps, a maze of brackish creeks and lagoons. An area the size of Belgium, densely populated, with villages whose traditional economy has been based on farming and fishing.
Amongst these people there is a vital oral tradition and an active animist religion – David mentioned the Ogoni in his talk on Thursday night. (Point)This map from the forthcoming book, shows the great array of different ethnic and linguistic groups in the Delta. There are approximately fifty distinct languages and sub-languages in this area the size of Belgium, each one laying over the landscape its own web of stories – the territories of Ogoni, Ijaw, and Itsekiri and Uruhobo.
This map shows the oil development in the Delta as it was in 1960, at the point of Nigerian Independence. The blobs are the oil fields – each with tens of oil wells – and the lines are the pipelines running – above ground – between them and to the terminal – the square.
And this is a map of the same area today – an area the size of Belgium, utterly dominated by the oil and gas industry. This is another form of territorial marking, another web of stories, laid over those indigenous territories, puncturing that existing veil of tales.
The writer Ken Wiwa, son of Ken Saro Wiwa in an interview for the book spoke as follows :
“We don’t even know how much oil there is in Ogoni. Only the oil companies know that”. He argued that what is needed is a re-drawing of the oil company concession maps into cultural inventories. “You figure out what the natural resources are, what the human resources are, what the indigenous knowledge systems are. Produce an inventory of what these communities are. So when these communities engage with foreign direct investors, there is an inventory. Based on this inventory, this is who we are. You can come and invest in our community, but you must enhance the inventory. You must also be accountable”.
He said that you “end up with maps that are drawn up by the local people, rather than maps drawn by Shell or maps drawn by a colonial entity” whose maps “were drawn to reflect what their own ambitions were, not what the ambitions of the local people were”. The methods of cultural mapping are being developed in Canada, he explained.
It is also what Ken Saro-Wiwa was trying to do in Ogoni. “If you look at my father’s writings, he says that after thirty years of Shell we took stock of who we were, what we had lost and what we wanted. But that stock taking exercise was stopped in 1993. We need to continue that. We can then say to Shell this is who we are and your investment is jeopardising the value of this community”.
This mapping, these cultural inventories, are essentially a means of telling the stories of the land from the perspective of those who live there – the Ogoni, or the Ijaw.
Once again, some part of this oil doubtless passes through Pembroke refinery and comes to fire the boiler behind me. Ogoni geology in Devon air.
By far the largest player in the Delta industry is Shell – the second largest oil company listed on the London Stock Exchange. The Delta constitutes 18% of Shell`s global output, and is ranked as one of the companies most profitable provinces. Once again Shell operates as part of a web of companies.
Who are again spread across our city – London.
I should explain the title of this talk – the End of the Empire of Gog & Magog. Gog & Magog were two giants, commemorated in Cambridgeshire hills and Glastonbury trees. Mythically they fought a great battle, and when exhausted they finally made their peace and decided to found a city on their battleground – they named it New Troy, and it later became known as London. The names of these two giants are the names we`ve given to the giants, the webs, that lie around and incorporate BP and Shell. Gog & Magog and their Empire – our Empire.
As I mentioned, we have been slowly exploring this landscape, and this exploration forms the backbone of a number of performance pieces we`ve created. Each of these
utilises the essential form of walking in the landscapes of the corporations, telling stories at particular locations, creating a kind oral tradition around the cityscape of capitalism. Telling stories at the places where key decisions were made, trying to put memory back into those places. For the building in which a decision was made by the board of Shell, in 1936, to acquire the exploration rights for the entire territory of Nigeria, is no longer occupied by Shell. And the building where the finance was arranged by Lazard Brothers for the BTC pipeline project, is now vacant.
An extreme example of attempting to recreate a corporate landscape in story is demonstrated by my colleague, Jane`s project `Loot ! a reckoning with the East India Company` – created with Nick Robins who is an investment manager in The City. Loot is a Hindi word meaning treasure, and the East India Company was the largest corporation the world has ever seen – it had its own private army and controlled the better part of India and many outlying points in South East Asia. It existed for 250 years, from 1600 to 1857, and yet today the only mark of it in its home city, London, is pub sign. The event Loot ! re-tells the story of the company in the locations in which it existed – recreates the web of stories across the cityscape.
The performance events of Gog & Magog – that Alan referred to – take place usually on a quarterly cycle. Created by myself and Ben, every three months the two of us conduct a tour, utilising stories and soundtrack, images and objects, around the web of companies engaged with BP in the BTC pipeline, and Shell in Nigeria. (Last year we explored the web of Shell in relation to Iraq). These particular days are chosen to coincide with the days on which the respective corporations – Shell and BP – announce their quarterly financial results. We use telephones to enable the audience to listen in to the dialogue between the corporations and the financial analysts. It`s an exploration of the physical landscape of the giants, and also the mental landscape of those who work within the web. The audience is specially selected to, ideally, include participants from within the oil & gas industry as well as academics, media and campaigners. The latter half of the day brings the small group together in a workshop in which they, we, explore our common engagement in this realm, our common landscape.
For the engagement of all of us in the web of stories around the corporate realm, the world of Gog & Magog , is a key part of what PLATFORM is trying to do. We are exploring the landscape of the mind, the mind of those who make key decisions – decisions which we are to some extent complicit in, and certainly impacted by. If we are the not perpetrators, we are occasionally the victims, and almost always the by- standers.
Much of our interpretation of this landscape of the mind comes via the work of my colleague Dan, who is currently researching a book – to be published in 2007 – that will mix travelogue and non-fiction, the novel form and history, in its exploration of corporate psychology. He`s been greatly assisted over the summer by Pete of Propellor. Entitled `Desk Killer`, it maps in particular the activities of the white-collar workers involved in the Holocaust, those for example who were managers in IG Farben, the chemical corporation who had a vast complex at Auschwitz, in what is now Southern Poland. We`ve just returned from our second journey there, walking around the enormous chemical works that still operates on the site – it was the largest industrial plant in Europe with nine slave labour camps, and the death camp itself, feeding this massive undertaking. Walking the perimeter, we were exploring the stories of this landscape, whilst at the same time trying to understand how it is that ethical individuals working in such industrial systems can seem to divorce themselves so effortlessly from the impacts of those systems, from the impacts of the decisions they make in the day-to- day practice of their working lives. How is that people avert their eyes, so subtly as not to realise they are doing so?
This landscape, these stories, stands as an exemplar, as a warning, of a practice throughout corporations, both over the past couple of centuries and today. It offers us a lens through which to more closely observe the behaviour of those who work in the companies of London, and indeed to observe aspects of our own lives. How is it that we avert our eyes from the smoke rising from the chimney?
* How to alter the landscape ? The landscape of corporations and oil & gas ? As I`ve mentioned, PLATFORM`s been campaigning with others to alter the plans and constructions of BTC in the Southern Caucasus. My colleague Greg has been campaigning on Shell`s attempts to map out the Iraqi oil industry. And Lorne is about to begin campaigning on Shell`s activities in Nigeria, drawing inspiration from groups in the Delta calling for a halt to oil development there. But we`re also trying to alter the landscape of our city, partly by altering the veil of stories that lies above it. And partly by physically altering the fabric of London.
We`re currently in the thick of an initiative to create a `living memorial` to Ken Saro- Wiwa – the Remember Saro-Wiwa project. Driven by my colleagues, Jane, David, Lorne, Dan and Tim, the initiative has created a coalition that includes, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Amnesty UK, English PEN, the Mayor of London, Human Rights Watch, African Writers Abroad, Christian Aid, Anita and Gordon Roddick, and several others. Following a public launch at The City Hall in March and an open call for submissions, we`ve now reached a shortlist of 5 artists who are creating designs for a `living memorial` that will be nomadic around the public spaces of the city over the next three years. On 10th November this year – the tenth anniversary of the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight Ogoni compatriots, the winning design will be chosen. The announcement will be part of a festival of events in commemoration of the Ogoni struggle at venues such as the Museum of London and the South Bank, featuring readings and lectures from the likes of Wole Soynika.
The winning design will then be built, and from next Spring it will tour London. At each of its locations there will be an education project, and the weaving of the fabric of stories – stories that tell of the connection between our city and the Niger Delta. Finally, we hope that the `living memorial` will find a permanent resting place, that it will stand solidly in the city landscape, proclaiming that here is a place where we can think of the impact of our city`s oil & gas industry on the Earth and its Peoples.
And there`s a second aspect in which we`ve endeavoured to alter the landscape of London. Some of you will know of the Delta project in which we installed a micro-hydro turbine in the River Wandle to generate electricity for the nearby St Joseph`s School. We see this as part of a physical alteration of London, part of a vision of a city run not on oil & gas but on the renewable sources of it`s own valley – water, tide, biomass, wind and solar.
From the Delta project – by a decade long tortuous path – we`ve now arrived at the situation of having a body who`s effectively a sister organisation, SEA/RENUE whose twenty odd staff are dedicated to installing renewable energy systems all across London. For example, a biomass-fuelled community centre, solar-hot water assisted businesses, small wind turbines on housing blocks, and schools partly powered with solar photovoltaic. In October we will celebrate the opening of a partly solar powered secondary school in Mitcham, South West London. Actual changes in the cityscape that mirror the changes in the stories of the city.
There are physical changes being undertaken here at Dartington too. I know that Camay contacted Future Forests and arranged that the CO2 emissions of the flights of the delegates from the US and New Zealand were off-set by tree planting. And Anthony and Mary are begining a dialogue with the Dartington Estate to see how the buildings here can switch from burning imported oil to burning of timber from the Estate`s woods.
If this latter takes place it will alter the landscape of the burning in the boiler room behind me. Not only will it alter the physical processes, but it will also doubtless give rise to new stories, a new fabric of stories laid across the land. The period of the fossil fuel burning began, persisted and then ended. It passes, but the song and the territories of the Robins remains.