Last week CEO Ian was a panelist at the last ESRC-funded seminar series on Ethics in Consumption: Interdisciplinary Perspectives at Birkbeck, University of London. The main speakers were Jonathan Porritt and Danny Miller, and the panel included Kate Soper, Jo Littler, Frank Trentmann and Terry Newholm. Drawing on Louise Ashcroft’s artist in residence (self invited) work at London’s Westfield Shopping Mall, Ian’s contribution to the panel involved reading out one of the cards from Louise’s Mallopoly game. His point – that debates about research-inspired change need to involve more-than-rational argumentation. And that Louise’s work should be required reading. Starting with this interview about her residency’s retail poisoning in We Make Money Not Art. Enjoy!
In January 2017, artist Louise Ashcroft invited herself to be an artist in residency at Westfield Shopping Centre. That’s the mega mall in Stratford, East London. Its retail area is as big as 30 football pitches (says wikipedia), it has famous chains of fast fashion & fast food, screens budget-bloated blockbusters, rents kiddy cars and boasts some seriously boring ‘public’ artworks. Because there’s nothing remotely boring, mass manufactured nor glittery about her work (and also because she is quietly plotting the demise of capitalism), Ashcroft spent her time there undercover, pretending she was only looking for a bit of shopping fun.
The artist will present the result of her stealth research this week at arebyte in Hackney Wick, a five-minute walk from Westfield. Some of the works she developed at the shopping mall include a transposition of words from slogan fashion T-shirts on traditional narrow boat signs, offers to exchange ‘happy’ meals toys with more ‘soulful’ artist-designed toys, seditious retail therapy sessions, bookable tours of Westfield where she will guide participants through playful (pseudo)psychoanalytical activities, ‘mallopoly’ cards that invite shoppers to use the mall and its contents as a material, etc. Oh! and, since the Westfield area is the home of grime she also compiled words from Argos shopping catalogues into a cut-up text and grime artist Maxsta recorded it as a track.
This is not Ashcroft’s first incursion into the magical world of retail poisoning. She regularly smuggles unfamiliar-looking African vegetables into supermarkets and then throws the store in disarray when she attempts to buy them (Vegetable, 2003-17.) …
Regine (2014) Retail poisoning: a disruption of materialism. We Make Money Not Art, 19 November
PS Louise’s website is here.
Here’s Ian et al’s first paper about the making of followthethings.com. It was published in French in 2014 and has recently been made available on open access. You can now download the paper as it was originally written in English. If you want the French version, click here.
followthethings.com was not designed and then made, but emerged from an iterative, creative, collaborative, conversation-infused, open-ended, making project. The paper is written to reflect this. Here’s the abstract: Continue reading
At the end of 2015, followthethings.com CEO Ian Cook gave a talk explaining why we re-create scenes described on our website it LEGO, what our shoppers like about them, and what they add to our scholar-activist work. That talk was filmed and you can watch it below. He talked through a series of re-creations made in response to the controversy provoked by a TV documentary film called ‘Primark on the rack’ that was first broadcast 2008, and re-energised by Primark’s response to the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013. It draws upon the work of Political LEGO artists like legofesto, whose conversation with Julia Zielke we published a few months ago. Ian’s talk outlines the argument being made in an academic paper he’s currently writing. Think of this talk as its Trailer….
We re-create scenes from the trade justice documentaries, art and activist work in LEGO. We photograph them, put them online and embed them on our site’s pages. You can see what we’ve done here. This work was inspired by LEGO scenes from the ‘War on Terror’ produced by a person calling herself Legofesto. We read interviews with and articles about her that were published in 2009, but hadn’t found anything since. This year, after teaching Political LEGO on the MRes Critical Human Geographies at Exeter University, one student – Julia Zielke – emailed Legofesto to interview her for an essay. What questions hadn’t been asked in those 2009 pieces? What had Legofesto been doing since then? Can we expect any new Legofesto work? This is what she said… Continue reading
A couple of weeks ago, we published a guest post from Eeva Kemppainen describing the ways in which her work for followthething.com and her masters thesis on trade justice pedagogy in the UK and Finland, had led to her work on a ‘Closing the Gap’ project with Finnish pro-ethical trade NGO Eetti . This is Eeva’s second post, in which she describes how she works with diverse groups of students (using followthethings.com as a resource) and shows the kinds of subverts that her students create.
Today, we started to play with the Fashion Ethics Trump card game we’ve made for, and with, Fashion Revolution Day.
We ended up tweeting some #fashtrumps selfies and a step by step guide for anyone who wants to join the #fashtrumps conversation.
We present to you here: some examples of #fashtrumps selfies, those guiding tweets and a twitter box that will show the ones that you have made…
Give this a go!
Its aim is to encourage its players to think about their clothes and fashion ethics, a topic that’s more important than ever after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 24 April last year.
It’s a playful way of encouraging some serious discussion about who and what we are wearing.
Here, we want to showcase the new FRD pack – which was published yesterday – and to provide a match report that will give you an idea of how the game can be made and played in your classroom, home, shed … wherever you play cards!
Creative academic expression
There’s an undergraduate module at the University of Exeter called ‘Geographies of Material Culture’. It’s one of two University modules whose student coursework form the basis of almost every followthethings.com page. The module is assessed through students’ critical self-reflections on whatever comes to mind through reading the academic literature and working together to research and publish draft ‘compilation’ pages and new work for the site. They are encouraged to be creative, to express themselves in ways that rework the traditional essay formal that everyone is used to. The work is diverse and fascinating. You never read the same thing twice.
‘How am I gonna be an activist about this?’
One type of work that’s started to emerge in 2013 are original songs, written, recorded and published online by students and written about on paper. There have been two so far. The first is by Jenny Hart, who submitted her song at the start of the module this year (in October). She’s trying to get her head around the key theoretical baselines of the module. The second is by Tommy Sadler, who submitted his song at the end of the module last year (in January). He’s expressing what the module was about, for him. Both shared their songs via Soundcloud, and you can listen to them here:
Yesterday at the Department of Geography at the University of Exeter, we heard Carry Somers talking about Fashion Revolution Day at our ‘What (not) to wear?’ conference. There was mention of an Ethical Trade Trump card game invented by students taking ‘Geographies of Material Culture’ in 2012 – using data from free2work.org – being adapted as followthethings.com’s contribution to this campaign.
A new Fashion pack will soon be designed, but today we tested out the idea in class. Students each made a card based on something they were wearing, sketched it, added the grades from free2work and – for extra information at the bottom of each card – added whether that company / brand had signed the Accord on Fire & Building Safety in Bangladesh.
The match report
6 teams of 8 students each made one or more cards in the first 15 minutes. One student was elected from each group as their player, and we staged a 6 player tournament at the front of the classroom. The cards were shuffled and dealt. The game began with player one calling out a brand (Cheap Monday!), a category (policies!), a grade (A+!), and then slamming the card on the table (drama!). The other players then took the card at the top of their pack, one after the other, called out its brand (Calvin Klein! or Adidas!), and its policy grade (C-! or A+), and slammed their cards on the table. The audience gathered round, watching their cards being played, helping their players to win and lose each round.
In each round, the player who called out the highest grade took all of the cards, and started the next round. If there was a draw – like between Cheap Monday and Adidas, both with A+ grades for their policies – the ‘key fact’ could be played: had the brand / company signed the Accord? In this case, only Adidas had (only very recently, the referee had to say), so that was the winning card.
The game went on with rounds in which, for example, only ‘worker rights’ scores could be played. It ended with a ‘winner takes all’ round, with the 3 remaining contestants. This was dramatic: a draw that was resolved by the key fact. The Accord-signatory won. Well done Adidas! Good job you signed the accord. Nobody wants a losing card. Whoops all around.
After the game ended, we discussed what had happened, why some cards were worse to play that others, why – with one exception – the policy grades were higher than the ‘workers’ rights’ grades, and how to find out why by looking at brands’ detailed free2work ‘score cards’. So, 40 minutes into class, we were talking about, asking informed questions about, and having a good idea how to find out more about the relations between ethical trade policies, transparency, monitoring, workers’ rights and the Accord.
This game can be made and played by any group of people trying to learn the basics and/or intricacies of Ethical Trade and Corporate Social Responsibility.
This is our 46 card pack, scanned after the game. What would your pack be like?
If you want to have a go:
- download the pack template, research and playing instructions here
- find the grades for your cards here www.free2work.org
- find out who has signed the Accord here www.bangladeshaccord.org/signatories/
Let us know about your game, send us your packs and match reports!
This game was devised in 2012 as coursework ‘Geographies of Material Culture’ at the University of Exeter by Joe Thorogood, Michael Franklin, Sophie Angell, Florence Flint, Bryony Board, Toby Swadling, Jack Saxton, Jake Pincock, Emma Hargreaves & Joe Harrison. This pack was re–designed by Ian Cook, in consultation with the #followtheteachers ‘user crew’ Alan Parkinson, Oprah Whipp, Victoria Salt, Charlotte Wild, Jenny Thomas, Natalie Batten, Heather Taylor & Mary Biddulph for use in schools and universities.
This pack was revised in 2014 as followthethings.com’s contribution to Fashion Revolution Day, an Ethical Fashion Trump Card Game is part of its Education Pack (download link to be added when this this is live).