The insights of American anarchist ecologist Murray Bookchin into environmental crisis hinge on a social conception of ecology that problematises the role of domination in culture. His ideas are becoming increasingly relevant to those working with digital technologies in the post-industrial information age, as big business daily develops new tools and techniques to exploit our sociality across high-speed networks (digital and physical). According to Bookchin, our fragile ecological state is bound up with a social pathology. Hierarchical systems and class relationships so thoroughly permeate contemporary human society that the idea of dominating each other and the environment (in order to extract natural resources or to minimise disruption to our daily schedules of work and leisure) seems perfectly natural, in spite of the catastrophic consequences for future life on earth (Bookchin, 1991).
This essay presents We Won’t Fly for Art, a media art project initiated by the artist Marc Garrett and I in April 2009, in which we used online social networks to activate the rhetoric of Gustav Metzger’s earlier 2007 protest work, Reduce Art Flights, in order to reduce art-world-generated carbon emissions (Furtherfield, 2009). In this reprise we pledged not to fly for art if others joined us and themselves propagated the pledge. We Won’t Fly for Art is described here in the context of the Furtherfield Media Art Ecologies programme (running since 2009) of review, debate, exhibitions, events, and infrastructural interventions that focus particularly on the networked context of artistic process and production.1 It pays attention to the dynamic interactions, connectedness and interplay between entities and environments: artist, viewer/participant, distributed materials and material and social contexts (Bascompte, 2007). This project links with others in the field and demonstrates both a particular approach to collaborative working and some shared theoretical and artistic processes.
Metzger suggests that:
the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ mantra of environmentalism be transformed and integrated into a more radical spectrum of consideration of humanity’s destructive potential… [inviting] voluntary abandonment – a fundamental, personal, bodily rejection of technological instrumentalization and a vehement refusal to participate in the mobility increasingly endemic to the globalized art system. (Andrews, nd)
We Won’t Fly For Art, our networked remix of RAF, explored how the rhetoric of Metzger’s manifesto might take effect in the social and material domains using artists’ social networks to propagate its ideas. We hoped that, in turn, it would change behaviours, bringing about a reduction in flight-related carbon emissions. Garrett and I published our manifesto in Pledgebank, a website that allows users to set up pledges and then encourage other people to sign up to them. The manifesto functioned as a simple participatory algorithm, a pyramid pledge for exponential growth which, if successful, could change how the contemporary art world felt and operated for millions of art workers on the ground.
The pledge begins:
We will not take an aeroplane for the sake of art. For the next 6 months we will find other ways to visit and participate in exhibitions, fairs, conferences, meetings, residencies. We will not fly for inspiration, nor to appreciate, buy or sell art. But only if 6 others will do the same AND replicate this pledge.
This is a public art experiment in the de-escalation of carbon-fuelled, high altitude, high velocity, global art careering. For six months we choose to cover less physical distance, move more slowly between destinations, to look future-ward with more attention to the view from the ground, the network, and ways to connect with others around the world. (Catlow & Garrett, 2009)
excerpt of essay by Ruth Catlow, in Culture Machine