The concept of ‘wildcrafting’ of consumer goods in the work of UK artsits Kate Ruch and Kayle Brandon explores the relationship between information access and the production of commodities, art and social networks as an inter-related set of sustainable or unsustainable processes. An emergent, and potentially sustainable network ecology of relations is realised in and through the process of production.
Mark Garret, of UK network/arts organisation Furtherfield describes the work of Kate Rich & Kayle Brandon who produce an ‘open-source’ cola drink and ‘trade’ it through a ‘social media’ distribution network ‘Feral Trade’ that focuses on non-commercial sustainable network ecologies for material goods – (description from Thing.net blog): ‘cube-cola’
“With a hackivist consciousness or attitude, they are exploring the creation of their own version(s) of Coca-Cola. Both are bar managers at the CubeCinema (Bristol UK), and have actively steered away from selling the ‘real -thing’, due to their feelings about the environmental practises of the multi-national company Coca-Cola. “We’d tried Pepsi and Virgin Cola and various others too,” says Brandon, “but they weren’t really a positive alternative. They were acceptable, but they weren’t Coke. And people really want Coke / We are wildcrafting our own cola from an on-line, open source recipe. A process developed through home-lab experimentation, merging domestic and scientific methadology.”
and from Feral Trade website:
“Feral Trade is a public experiment trading goods over social networks. The use of the word ‘feral’ describes a process which is wilfully wild (as in pigeon) as opposed to romantically or nature-wild (wolf). The passage of goods can open up wormholes between diverse social settings, routes along which other information, techniques or individuals can potentially travel. / Products are chosen for their portability, shelf-life and capacity for sociability: feral trade goods in current circulation include the coffee from El Salvador plus grappa from Croatia, mountain-grown antidepressants from Bulgaria and fresh sweets from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
An ‘open-source’ recipe for cola which evokes the principles of hactivism and DIY culture and looks at the role of the prosumer in terms of consumer goods and their relationship to social media networks. By ‘wild-crafting’ their own cola from an online ‘open-source’ recipe, the work presents an analogy between the forms of access and control of ‘data’ that relate equally to both ‘secret recipes’ and ‘software code’ within network ecologies. The work comments on the networks of global capital, consumer goods, marketing, and intellectual property, but also the inevitable laments over a homogenised, mass-produced culture of which Coke is emblematic. The open-source cola project and moreover Feral Trade itself is interesting because they seems to offer both critique of the unsustainable ecologies of global networks of capital / consumer culture as well as a tangible and ‘practical alternative’. Where related practices such as the ‘open-source hardware’ movement in audiovisual culture seek to un-black-box AV technologies and re-mediate them as ‘social media’ (post on this coming soon!) the wildcrafting experiements are notable for their reorientation of the role of the ‘prosumer’ away from ‘hi-tech’ social, cultural and information networks and towards the production of sustainable social network ecologies through the most everyday and material of ‘consumables’ – food and drink.
The Feral Trade / wildcrafted cola experiment might also draw attention to other aspects of ‘network ecologies’ – that of the incredibly complex ecology of relations that on the one hand ‘produce’ the Coca-Cola and on the other position it where it is accessible: psychologically, economically and physically. Rather than a ‘black-boxed’ consumer product, ‘Coke’ is decomposed into an networked collection of elements and flows; precariously structured, yet fiercely guarded data flows within a global network ecology of physical, economic, cultural and informational relations. It brings to mind the network of relations that incorporates a phenomenal flow of energy both material (aluminium production, ingredients, brewing costs, shipping costs etc) as well ‘immaterial’ (marketing, logistics, intellectual property and trademark issues, and the general market-domination of the psychological cola landscape). The ‘unsustainablilty’ of this kind of network ecology in both physical resources as well as its impersonality or asociality is rendered starkly ‘material’ in the practical solution of open-source recipe and the use of a social media / local area / community network for the distribution of cola. The emphasis on the production of sociality in and through the process prosumer craftmaking is made tangible in its drinkable, consumable materiality and raises interesting questions about the sustainability of network ecologies and the flows and stoppages of global and local consumerism and marketing, labour and information access and control.
Furtherfield article : ‘Feral Trade Coffee: A New Media For Social Networks’ http://www.furtherfield.org/displayreview.php?review_id=142
Thing.net blog post : http://post.thing.net/node/1142
Guardian article : http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2006/jul/28/foodanddrink.shopping
Feral Trade Website : http://www.feraltrade.org/cgi-bin/courier/courier.pl
Cube Cola website : http://sparror.cubecinema.com/cube/cola/