Slow Travel to Oslo: privilege, hope, or red herring

7 Nov 2010 jane

Slow Travel Enquiry for Gentle Actions, Oslo.
Disclaimer: this blog is written by Jane and some views may not be shared by the whole of PLATFORM.

When we got the invitation from curators Eva Bakkeslett and Anne Karin Jortveit to work on the Gentle Actions: Art, Ecology, Action project at Kunstnernes Hus in Oslo, it made us think deeply yet again about how to share arts & culture over distance, how to exchange, how to meet across the miles with a commitment to low carbon practices. PLATFORM pretty much operates a no-fly policy except where it is completely impractical or strictly necessary. If this is so, then we must be able to argue the case to each other. We argue the need to physically be there, bearing in mind there is always skype…

It seems to me that we start from no-fly on several grounds: aviation is the fastest growing transport sector and this should be discouraged; aviation fuel is the most expensive (in process and finance) to produce; its exhaust fumes put carbon directly into the most fragile part of the atmosphere where it does most damage; but it’s also crucially about social justice – a growing number of people in the so-called rich world think that it is their birthright to fly cheaply and frequently, when for the majority of the world, basic safe reliable and frequent public transport is out of reach. Even big environmental NGOs campaigning on climate change seem to justify frequent or long-distance flying if it is “for the cause”. Who should get to fly is a big issue.

So, three colleagues have recently gone by train to meetings in Netherlands and Germany; 2 months ago one colleague crossed the United States from San Francisco to New York by train, and then the Atlantic by cargo ship – he was writing a book, so this slow travel made a lot of sense, carving out time to write and think; earlier this year, 2 colleagues travelled by train and coach to Azerbaijan and back – they were researching the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline and meeting the communities it affects in preparation for a book, so this too was a good plan.

On the other hand, a colleague has flown to Iraq and Jordan; colleagues have on a few occasions flown to the US or Canada. We recently submitted a presentation by video to a conference in New York, and have become used to skyping in colleagues from abroad to our events here.

This is about time, money, carbon. And privilege. And thinking it all through.

Working with arts institutions in other countries is therefore one aspect of wider thinking.

The Gentle Actions invitation gives us a chance to build on the experience of our two-month project “C Words: Carbon, Climate, Capital, Culture” at Arnolfini (arts centre) in Bristol last year, where we tried to consider the carbon implications of everything that we did. We thought long and hard about what we put in the gallery not only in terms of aesthectics but also carbon, the implications of the transport and travel of artists, campaigners, activists, audiences and objects, as well as addressing climate change and environmental justice through the artwork and events we programmed. We built low carbon requirements into the seven commissioned artist-activist group’s contracts, and spent a lot of time asking audiences and participants where they had come from. There was quite a lot of pressure from Arnolfini’s director to invite international artists – sister organisations from Argentina, India, United States. We resisted. We didn’t want to fly people in and raising the time and money to have people travel slowly wasn’t possible on this occasion. Two of the C Words artists’ projects were overtly about this issue: The Walking Forest and the Slow Travel Agency.…

However, backed by Arnolfini’s director and the Chair of Trustees, we also worked to engage Arnolfini’s staff and the tenants of Arnolfini’s huge building (Bush House) in a discussion of how to radically reduce the building’s carbon footprint. We created a guided tour “Stopping the Bush Fire” from basement to top floor about this, attended by 50 people, which included addressing how the finance department might consider banking and pension schemes that avoid promoting carbon culture.

This current Norway trip increases the challenge. It also includes an amazing opportunity to go hundreds of miles north to Arctic Norway – to the town of Kirkenes, 10 miles from the Russian border. We are invited to meet with a group of artists from Barents Spektakel who are putting on a festival in February 2011 on who owns the Arctic seabed, in light of the discovery of massive oil and gas there and the race to extract it as the ice recedes due to global warming. See what they did in 2010 here:
This fits with the work Anna Grigoryeva and Adam Ma’anit -PLATFORM’s two Arctic researchers/activists – are doing, and our agenda for art as a catalyst for change. How we are travelling there and back is another subject of this blog…

With C Words we were only scratching the surface. And we certainly didn’t make public enough what we were trying to do. This blog attempts to address that…I’m setting out from London to Oslo by train, to be followed a week later by Anna. Another artist-activist Rebecca Beinart who is commissioned by Gentle Actions is also recording her slow travel thoughts…

We are really happy to launch artist Richard Houguez’s C Words bookwork “From A to B via C” during Gentle Actions. The piece combines mapping, drawing and statistics with a sometimes hilarious account of the research and realities of trying to move ourselves and artworks from A (London) to B (Bristol) via C (a concern about carbon).

Given the urgency of climate justice and climate chaos we are calling our work for Gentle Actions “Scorch/Drench”. For Scorch/Drench, we are showing 3 pieces – the large print “Carbon Map” to be put in poster tube and sent by Parcel Force; Other two pieces – video “No Condition is Permanent” featuring poets Simon Murray and Dorothea Smartt (African Writers Abroad) and the graphic of our research & analytical tool “Carbon Web” – are digital and are sent through internet. These pieces will be projected. More on that later too.

The first travel decisions were about how to get ourselves to Norway for the week of film screenings and discussions, workshops we are running. Gentle Actions was prepared to pay for our slow travel from both their travel budget and also the artists’ material budget – slow travel is more expensive for sure. Seeing it as part of the artwork made at least the outward journey fundable – ie. the travel could be funded by the travel and artists’ materials budget. The ferry that used to go from Newcastle to Stavanger was stopped a few years back. Terrible shame. The Harwich-Esbjerg overnight ferry was tempting (then the 3-hour train to Copenhagen and then on to Oslo), but due to cost because we hadn’t booked enough in advance and timings, Anna and I decided against it. So, Eurostar to Brussels, Brussels – Cologne, Cologne – Copenhagen (sleeper), Copenhagen – Goteborg (Sweden), then on to Oslo.
Cost for me (full adult): £209 one way, train journey time 28 hours; check-in 30 mins
Cheapest flight London to Oslo – £37 one way; plane journey time just over 2 hours, check-in 2 hours

So, how will it go? What will it raise?

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