Blast Theory

This case study looks at Blast Theory’s relationship with environmental sustainability through their artistic programming and their operational values.

Blast Theory is an internationally renowned artist group based in Brighton. They produce work mixing interactive media, digital broadcasting and live performance to create groundbreaking new forms of performance and interactive art that blends live performance and digital broadcasting. The group’s work explores the social and political aspects of technology. Sustainability is embedded within Blast Theory’s core values and this is seen within their inner working culture and numerous works that they produce.

“We all believe that dealing with climate change starts with us as individuals and as a team, taking concrete steps to limit our impact on the world around us. So, for us it’s a profound expression of our values.”

– Matt Adams, Blast Theory

Artistic Programming

Although not exclusively focused on environmental sustainability, Blast Theory’s artistic programming is rooted in ethics and values, which often focus on environmental considerations. The pieces of work they produce respond to a current social, environmental and political climate and present ideas, possible scenarios and alternative ways of approaching things to their audiences.

Rider Spoke, 2007

Alex Kershaw

This piece was first created in 2007 and presented in the Barbican, London. Cyclists were given the opportunity to explore the city at night equipped with a handheld computer, searching for hiding places, finding recordings and leaving their own recordings behind. The piece combined a fascination with the digital social space, the city and cycling, challenging the boundaries of public space, safety at night and theatre. The audience could take part either on their own bike or one supplied by Blast Theory. This work proposed different ways of looking at and experiencing the city.

“We make lots of works that are for people to take part on foot, and again most of that work is inviting people to experience the city in a different way, to do something in a way that is healthy and sustainable.”

– Matt Adams, Blast Theory

Prof Tanda’s Guess-A-Ware, 2007

Prof. Tanda’s Guess-A-Ware was the outcome of a project called Participate, which involved Blast Theory, the University of Nottingham, British Telecom, Microsoft Research and others. This was a great way of working with researchers to look at how to intersect their work with sustainability.

As part of this they developed a test mobile phone app that invited audiences to take part in experiments and measure their environmental impacts. Through a variety of activities, audiences learned about their carbon footprint and discovered ways to reduce it. Prof. Tanda lived on their phone and popped up twice a day to play, inviting them to perform tasks, answer questions or enter text into forms to interact. Sometimes he would ask questions such as how much water they used in the shower or how many bin bags they put out. The goal was to take advantage of the mobile phone generation and use it as a tool to get people engaged with the choices that they make.

The Thing I Will Be Doing For The Rest Of My Life, 2013

Yamaguchi Takayuk

In 2013, Blast Theory produced a work in Nagoya, Japan called The Thing I Will Be Doing For The Rest Of My Life. This was a response to the tsunami in Sendai in 2011. The piece investigated the impact of the incident on the people in Japan. Through site visits to Japan, they developed a work in partnership with volunteers in Nagoya. They brought people together to pull a fishing trawler out of the sea by hand over a period of ten days to take it to the centre of Nagoya and install it in the city. Audiences from all over the world were able to follow the project online, listen to stories and share photos of the journey. They were also able to send messages of support using the hashtag #thethingillbedoing. The entire project was filmed and presented throughout the Aichi Triennale, on tablets, which members of the public could walk with as they looked at the trawler under the flyover in the park.

“In that instance our values around sustainability are directly embedded in the work that we’re making and the conversations we are having with the people that participate in our work.”

– Matt Adams, Blast Theory

Residency Programme

Blast Theory’s international residency programme is run by the artists themselves. It provides a spaces for residents to research and develop new work in a supportive and collaborative environment for one to three months. This has been a great way to invite artists working with environmental issues to develop these ideas and challenge UK audiences on how they work and think.

Hello Weather, 2010

Andrea Polli

In 2008 they invited Andrea Polli from Albuquerque, who installed a permanent weather station at the Blast Theory Studios in Brighton as part of her ongoing ‘Hello Weather’ project. This weather station is part of a network of weather stations currently active in New York, New Dehli and Zurich. She also help a series of student and professional workshops exploring weather data monitoring and how to interpret data and make it more tangible. The weather station still sends data back to Andrea.

Operational Values

The team at Blast Theory believe that everyone has a responsibility to respond to climate change and take action. With this in mind, environmental sustainability is part of their decision-making when it comes to procurement, production, travel and energy use and their efforts to reduce resources.

They have had an environmental policy in place for the past ten years, which addresses inputs, outputs, travel and energy usage. This is always brought onto the agenda when they have a kick off meeting at the start of each of their projects. Environmental sustainability is also always included in the debrief meeting.

Business Travel

Cars, lorries and vans are avoided as much as possible. Many meetings are held by phone or video conference to reduce the need for staff and artists to travel. Blast Theory make a contribution towards the cost of a bicycle for each staff member. They give 50% of the cost up to a maximum of £100 towards a bike for commuting to and from the studio.

International travel is an essential part of Blast Theory’s work and makes up for most of their carbon footprint. Through bringing international artists over to produce work or through producing work abroad, it has become second nature to strategise and streamline this process to reduce their carbon footprint. To tackle their travel emissions, Blast Theory make a payment to offset all flights incurred based on a calculation from www.climatecare.org. At the end of each financial year, the organisation ask all staff to vote on which environmental charity this money is paid to.

Procurement

Blast Theory’s procurement and production approach is rooted in durability, longevity and sustainability. They take a huge consideration in this when investing in any products, with awareness that although a product may be slightly more expensive from the initial costs and thinking about the overall life costs instead. This outlook has been practiced when they were considered shelving and chairs when recently refitting their office.

“We bought expensive office chairs (always second hand), because I believe they will last 30 years, instead of ones that were half the price that would last a quarter of the time. The overall goal is to think about Blast Theory’s sustainability as an organisation at all levels, and making sure we are taking care of that with how we look after the people we work with through to the things we are doing to minimise our environmental impact.”

– Matt Adams, Blast Theory

What Does Blast Theory Think A Sustainable Sector Should Look Like?

It’s about sharing concrete knowledge on how people actually embed sustainability into their organisations. I remember reading about one particular theatre and how they made the switch to using recycled batteries in every single thing they used. What they bought, how they’d set it up, how they made sure everything was charged properly etc. It was one of those things that was brilliant at demonstrating how it can be done, how they did it, and I think those sorts of concrete steps are very helpful.

I feel we are only at the earliest stages of doing that because a lot of waste comes about inadvertently, with not knowing there may be a more sustainable way of going about something. Sometimes, it may be that the sustainable route feels too risky or uncertain and the more knowledge we learn, the more sustainable we can be.

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