When we were invited to work with the University of Continuation on The Cut, bringing together those working in collectives or on collective issues- such as precarity and popular education, we wanted to be there. This was to be the first of THCBTP’s venues further a field, and after an initial search into coach travel, we found the distance to be greater than we’d estimated. This provoked questions on how we should travel, how to negotiate a line between time and ethics.
There is a general trend of international cultural workers to fly between galleries, biennials, studios, and conferences. The possibility that we could jump on a flight to Stockholm to take part in The Cut made it simple to invite the two of us from the UK. It was as if, as artists working in London, we had been invited to work for a week in Manchester. Flying can be an economically cheap and efficient mode of travel, but we both found it a difficult compromise- one of us was arrested during an anti-aviation expansion protest at Standstead Airport in 2008 and the other had been deported from Copenhagen in 2009 via ferry (refusing air travel), having been arrested during counter-climate-summit mobilisations.
Balancing a tension between the ecological damage caused by frequent flying with the desire to travel over a thousand miles was less a tension between personal ‘green’ ethics and an objective pragmatics, but a tension between our practice and a social conditioned construction of time.
Flying is symptomatic of the way capitalism orders time- towards efficiency, profit and immediate, exponential reproduction. Technology and privilege offers an ability to compress time and space. The socially constructed tempo is seemingly limitless, or limited only by the speed of which bodies can move between spaces globally. This is our first major trip as artists, where we align ourselves with others who are interested in similar ideas and with whom we want to develop our involvement in such shared ideas. But can we travel like this beyond Europe, where our peers are equally interesting, and who we want to align our bodies with? The appeal is exciting, but is this appropriate? Â
Within these technological parameters a homogeneous construction of time is set by a business elite with the pressures of delivering exponential reproduction (the pressure to find, ideally increasing, returns for investments). How does an artist interact with these global flows of time? Economically, the pressure for her is to appear in one space followed by another, creating of her work transportable objects which can be packaged for travel and unwrapped again in the space in which she appears. Moving from gallery to festival the moments in between her work’s appearance are presumed silent. Her journey therefore is a map where an arrow from point 1 curves over an empty space to reach point 2. The space in between is leapfrogged to the next. Email coordinates the logistics, a flight is booked online, case packed and leave the door, hoping not to touch ground again until we reach the destination. Plugged into in-flight entertainment we gaze out of the window at a reflection of ourselves gazing back.
The significant costs of land based travel were time and money. Initially we opted to hitch-hike, desiring to trust our bodies and our journey to an unknown other. Researching the weather, we discovered that temperatures varying between -2 and -22 degrees C. The timing of our trip turned out to also co-incide with Copenhagen’s coldest day in twenty six years. The unpredictable nature of hitching, or the possibility of standing by the road exposed to such conditions led us to consider other options.
We made a compromise between hitching and flying- catch a bus from London to Amsterdam, a train from Amsterdam to Copenhagen and another train from Copenhagen to Stockholm. The return journey cost us £230 each and, with stops of eight hours in both Amsterdam and Copenhagen, took two days and two nights. The flight would have cost £40 and taken three hours. It’s easy to come back to these figures when your lying on the floor of a train carriage, on top of someones shoes, trying to sleep.
But the time spent on this journey embedded value into the destination- the day spent with a friend walking round a frozen Amsterdam, the whiskey shared with strangers in a German train carriage and the time to read, talk and reflect while living in a strange in-between space. Still barely touching the ground, but taking time to move through it so that arriving we are no longer only the people we were as we left, picked up and dropped into another city, but embody the affects of our journey. The accumulation of what we read, who we met and what we talked about are possessed by us and given to the destination like pilgrims.
“The nomad who walks or rides, with his baggage stowed on a camel or an ox-cart, may suffer every kind of discomfort, but at least he is living while he is traveling; whereas for the passenger in an express train or a luxury liner his journey is an interregnum, a kind of temporary death. And yet so long as the railways exist, one has got to travel by train—or by car or aeroplane. Here am I, forty miles from London. When I want to go up to London why do I not pack my luggage on to a mule and set out on foot, making a two days of it? Because, with the Green Line buses whizzing past me every ten minutes, such a journey would be intolerably irksome … No human being ever wants to do anything in a more cumbrous way than is necessary.”
George Orwell, Road to Wigan Pier
Our journey hasn’t been a statement of righteous ‘utopianism’ as Orwell would call it. We have no pretense of giving up our packaged sandwiches so that we can return to an idea we have of the past. But as technology changes the dynamics of time it does so according to a logic which excludes value relations built on contact with others, with ideas, knowledge and land. Thus, with the funds from the gallery, our journey was an attempt at a weak form of ‘temporal autonomy’, as outlined in escalate collective’s text SALT, (salt once being ‘a means by which people extracted time from meat and took it for themselves’). It has been a rebellion against a construction of time according to the production of exponential profit extracted from commodities, it is an attempt to follow our own line, drawn more slowly over land to its point.