Kat Austen Comes Forward

Kat Austen Comes Forward

Do you know where all your stuff comes from? Your shoes? Your laptop? Your coffee? A new artwork raises questions about the sometimes questionable processes that bring everyday items to ourhomes.

First, we have to say sorry for missing a week of Context Independent content. It’s for a good reason though, as it was my turn to write something and I got rather tied up with launching a new project of mine, an artwork called Flows/Flujos.

We’re breaking from our usual, albeit nascent, tradition here at CI to run a named author blog post in this one instance, because our other editor, Jamie Condliffe, suggested this week we should introduce Flows/Flujos briefly.

A year or so ago I heard about a project called sourcemap.com, a mapping platform that came out of MIT, headed up by Leonardo Bonanni, and allows you to pinpoint the provenance of each resource used to create different consumables. The content on the website is incredibly detailed in some cases, and has really caught on to the conscience of the ethical consumer.

Equipped with a text descriptor, space for image media and a carbon footprint calculator for each point on the map you can really get an idea of where things are coming from. Bonanni has even been approached by large companies who want to trace the provenance of their components – from raw materials, through processing, until it falls within their purview.

This week I launched the Flows/Flujos website. The glitzy front end is a stylised map showing the global journeys travelled by six everyday household objects. This is linked by QR codes to the business end of Flows/Flujos: 6 online sourcemaps. For each point on the map, corresponding to an important point in the supply chain for an item – be it a Sri Lankan tea plantation or a Californian supermarket – there is a fact-based but fictional story in either English and Spanish, giving an idea of what might be the story behind the things we all take for granted.

Take tea: did you know that just this year, riots over pay and conditions in an Indian tea plantation resulted not only in murder but also cannibalism of the plantation owner?

Originally designed to be experienced in a gallery space, Flows/Flujos should be printed out to stand a few metres tall. The physicality of the piece is important in bringing into the physical world the reality of the impact of our consumer behaviour. But globally, not many people can access one gallery and I wanted the concept to reach further than its first installation in Museo Diego Rivera Anahuacalli – hence the online presence.

It’s not my first foray into using sourcemap for art. I’ve also used it to map out the origins of bike parts for an article and workshop about ethical consumption of “green” goods. This time, I wanted to harness the power of narrative to really engage people with the stories behind everyday consumables. Let me know what you think.