Monday, November 1, 2010
Leave Only Footprints
The term carbon footprint is understood to indicate a measurement of our consumed carbon. Usually discussed on the individual level (the singular footprint), it is rarely quantified and portends an aura of guilt by shifting the onus of green house gas emissions from large scale industry to individuals. In doing this it suggests that individual action/choices are at the root of climate change rather than global market forces. While this grand simplification of consumer power neglects larger market forces and economic structures, it could be argued that the term also works to empower people by awakening them to the gesture of personal choice as political act.
In contrast to a carbon footprint, I contend that there is also a carbon fingerprint to consider. It is not just the consumption of carbon, but rather an understanding of the specificity of what kind of carbon is consumed and a recognition that all materials maintain their history or trace when they are purchased. For example, if we added “how many things in your house are made in China” we would get a different number on the carbon calculator determining our footprint. A shift to local micro-economies offers an opportunity to reduce climate impact simply by opting out of the transport. It is not just how much carbon, but what kind, where, and how it is released/consumed.
The project Carbon Footprint engages on all of these levels. Taking local wool, hand-spinning it, and turning it into beautifully made garments is not so much about the garment as it is about the choice to act. In this work Inishowen wool and spinning are used as the primary metaphors to explore the above ideas and translate climate change data into something tactile. The project quickly went from singly driven to the work of many.
My first connection with the community was through a series of spinning workshops in three of the larger villages and in several schools. This resulted in Spin-in, a one day art-action where community members spun Inishowen wool into yarn on drop-spindles in front of empty shop fronts in Carndonagh. For that one stormy day, the town centre was bustling with people in front of the empty stores re-activating these spaces. As one person remarked, “Even though there's a recession on there is still work to be done and work to be had.” In a Ghandian ploy, we used spinning as an act of independence, achievement, ability, and resistance.
Subsequent to this, the Carbon Footprint Studio emerged as a hub for activity around wool and the associated craft processes. Workshops began immediately with locals offering their knowledge and skill to teach each other about felting, dyeing, spinning, knitting, and crochet. Developing a life of its own within days, the Studio continued to run for 10 weeks and assisted in spawning a new wool-craft co-op in Inishowen. One of the virtues of this work is a re-introduction to wool as a material with value. Though it is ubiquitous in Donegal, it is a zero-profit undertaking for farmers and is treated almost as a waste product. This year's market price was 75¢ per kilo.
If explored, one discovers wool to be one of the most durable, resilient, versatile, and easily produced forms of fabric. Wool requires no processing, can be spun by a single person with only a drop spindle, transforms quickly from raw wool to yarn or felt, and possesses incredible strength and endurance. It is a material iconographic of Ireland for a reason; it's perfect for this landscape and climate both in terms of farming and wearing. Able to absorb 30% of its weight in moisture without feeling damp, the interlocking scales of the wool fibre allow water to spill off of it, and if it is homespun the small amount of retained natural oil (lanolin) will also work to repel water. The traditional Aran sweater was not just a garment of fashion but rather of sheer practicality. A jumper made from home-spun will feel warmer, dryer, and stay cleaner. My own spin on the use of the material, beyond that of local economics, is to phrase it as a form of small-scale, local carbon capture. Composed of 44% carbon, the wool represents fixed carbon sequestered from the atmosphere. In a time where environmental industry and science are scrambling to find methods of carbon capture, it is valuable to look to what already exists around us. When the sheep consume the grass, air, and water of this area, they create a distinct substance that truly is a portrait of the land. Inishowen wool is made of Inishowen.
The final component of this work is the socks. An easy visual link to the idea of a carbon footprint, the socks also translate and house meteorological data from the local weather station, and climate change and economics data. Inviting the many makers of the socks to contribute their own design abstractions from the original data set, the socks become an opportunity to play as well as transmit.
A community of many people formed to create this work. It has grown through generosity, happenstance, perseverance, and the belief that art activates, transforms, inspires, and awakens us.
Thank you to everyone who made this project possible.