In January 2007, the container ship MSC Napoli was run aground in rough seas off the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site in South West England. The unfolding drama of oil spillage, containers washing up on shore and their contents being salvaged near the village of Branscombe was international news. The wreck and its aftermaths was also researched in incredible detail by a well established local history group called the Branscombe Project whose members produced and exhibited original art work in response to it. Much has been written by journalists and academics about the Napoli, and artists (notably Melanie Jackson) have drawn it into their work. But it’s the inside story that emerges from this local research is perhaps the most interesting. At the end of her often-given talk, Barbara Farquharson – formerly an academic archaeologist and anthropologist and member of the Branscombe Project – has said that:
“When you think about it, the creation of World Heritage Sites are part of a global phenomenon involving the creation of iconic places that are both physical and cultural. So in a curious way the beaching of the Napoli hits the cross-wire between global cultural and environmental and economic and political issues” (Farquharson 2009, np).
The Napoli wreck is a brilliant insight into the geographies of material culture, the out of sight geographies of trade, and ways in which art and social science can make sense of its complexities. So the Napoli at Branscombe is worth revisiting for anyone who’s fascinated by these issues. We end with a reading list:
In January 2007, the drama of the MSC Napoli container shipwreck was unfolding on the East Devon coast. Our CEO Ian wrote a book chapter about this with Divya Tolia Kelly. This wreck provided vivid insights into the hidden geographies of international trade. It was published in 2010, and made available freely online without the photographs. In 2013, we re-created these photos in LEGO, although the pieces we had available meant that 100% faithful re-creations were impossible. Here’s the chapter and below are the re-creations, adapted for the 10th anniversary. What can they add to our understanding of what happened? That’s the question for those who practice Political LEGO.
See here for the original set on Flickr, with links to the photos re-created.
Given that over 90% of the world’s goods have travelled by sea, anyone interested in ‘follow the thing’ research needs to have a detailed sense of the geographies of container shipping. This animated, interactive shipmap shows global commercial shipping movements (including but not limited to container shipping) in 2012. It’s awesome. It was shortlisted for the Global Editors Network Data Journalism Awards in 2016. Click the image to get to it. Click play and all is explained. Then experiment.
Greenpeace convincingly argue why it’s important to own a metal spoon and to wash it.
Dear followthethings.com shopper
We have been doing some Christmas ‘shopping’ (see definitions 11 and 12 of this glorious verb here) and have some recommendations for you: 3 unmissable Christmas movies and a Christmas list.
If you have one of our shopocalypse bags, please take it to town with you this month, and send us photos of its contents. Its ladybirds are Santa’s little helpers. They know everything about world trade.
Ian et al.
Our Christmas movies
a) Xmas unwrapped (2014)
Where’s this from? See here.Continue reading
Talking about our site with students at Bath Spa University this week, I wanted to show the most literal (and chilling) example of the ‘follow the things’ genre. It’s the only example we have come across which follows something as it’s being made, shipped, and used: telling the story of a thing’s life from the perspective of the thing itself, from its ‘point of view’, like a ‘shoot-em-up’ video game. It’s the ‘Life of a bullet’, the opening scene from the 2005 movie ‘Lord of War’.
Life of a bullet
Revisiting this opening scene, we made a new Lego re-creation today using the decommissioned AK47 bullet that we bought as a necklace from an E-Bay seller in Canada. We initially bought it to take the product photo on this example’s followthethings.com page, but it’s still sitting in our office, with our Lego, so…
This post began as a contribution to a special issue of the journal ACME on the new ‘impact’ agenda in British Higher Education. Our shopping bags and ‘ladybugging’ activities seemed to fit this bill, although their ‘impact’ wasn’t measurable (and that was the point). In the end, another short piece on impact was written for the journal. We have revised that original paper to post here, and hope it may be interesting for readers who are keen to use our site and/or bags in their teaching and wider ‘shopping’ activities.
Update September 2016: sorry, we have no bags left to give away. They’ve all gone. If you have one, it’s a priceless collector’s item. If you see someone carrying one, please say hi.
“We need to develop forms of critique that inspire hauntings, feed feelings, come alive, leap out and grab us, … that are not just about vital materiality but are themselves vitally material” (Cook & Woodyer 2012 p.238).
This is the ship that brought our shopping bags from China (where they were made) to the UK (where we are located, and from where we send them to you!) in 2011.
The idea is that ‘shoppers’ do this over a period of weeks or months and send us the location (if you want to do this now, just paste its latitude and longitude into a comment on this post). We then pin – with a followthethings.com ladybird – each spotting on the map below and add your name as the spotter. Ian has started this off with a ladybird that shows the ship leaving the southern end of the Suez Canal.
Together, we can map it’s travels. What route does it use to get from here to there and back? Please check back…
You will notice that we have added an extra icon to the map: a ghostly sunken ladybird. These mark the locations of some container ships that have caught fire or sunk during the course of this followthethings.com project. Click these icons, see the wrecks and find out more about the dangers of container shipping.