MoCC card

The Museum of Contemporary Commodities, Exeter (May 2016) and London (August 2017) - Paula Crutchlow, Ian Cook, et al

Dust

Dust (2015) - Neville Gabie, Joan Gabie, Ian Cook. Photo: Drew Lefay

how2be

How to be a Fashion Revolutionary (2015) - Sarah Ditty, Ian Cook & Laura Hunter

ftt homepage

followthethings.com (2011-date) - Ian Cook et al

Professor Ian Cook
Professor of Cultural Geography

Research

Research interests

Ian is perhaps best known for developing with others a 'follow the thing' approach to commodity geographies, combining interests in material geographies, multi-sited ethnographic research, connective aesthetics and critical pedagogy. Much of this work has been undertaken via a series of small, collaborative projects exploring ways in which abstract commodity relations can be made 'real' enough to make a difference to the ways in which people imagine, understand and act as citizens and consumers.

He has examined the potential of web2.0 for 'follow the thing' research, pedagogy and activism by bringing together, for the first time, in one place, a wealth of academic and popular work on this topic in a spoof 'shopping' website called followthethings.com.

This research has fed into new collaborative art / social science / activist projects including the Museum of Comtemporary Commodities, Dust and Fashion Revolution.

Research projects

1) followthethings.com

followthethings.com is a research website with the look, feel and architecture of an online store, with Grocery, Fashion, Electronics, and other departments. It showcases ‘follow the thing’ films, books, academic journal articles, art installations, newspaper articles and undergraduate research. This work has followed nuts, t-shirts, tablet computers, perfume, books, cash, bullets and more. Most of the original work is freely available in-store to watch or download. Most also come with things to discuss. How was the original described by reviewers and audiences? Why, how, by whom and for whom was it made? How did its makers aim to grab its audiences? What (if anything) does this work seem to have done in the world? This site is made for teachers, researchers, journalists, film-makers, artists and other shoppers. It’s an online shop, a database, a resource and a field-site for people who want to learn from, and create, this kind of work. Its social media include a wordpress blog, a facebook page, a twitter feed, and a flickr group

followthethings.com has been produced, in significant part, from an ongoing research and pedagogic partnership between Ian and Prof. Keith Brown of the Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University, Providence RI, USA (for details see here). In 2012, it was featured as a case study in digital scholarship and curriculum development for the CASCADE project (see here). New pages continue to be added and, since 2014, the following papers about this project have been published:

Cook et al, I. (2014) Organic Public Geographies and REF Impact. Acme: an international e-journal for critical geographies 13(1), 47-51 [in English]

Cook et al, I. (2014) Fabrication critique et web 2.0: les géographies matérielles de followthethings.com. Géographie et Cultures, 91-92, 23-48  [in French | in English]

Cook et al, I. (2016) Les géographies du numérique: on en veut encore! | More digital geographies, please. Justice Spatiale | Spatial Justice 10 [in French and English]

Cook et al, I. (2017) followthethings.com: analysing relations between the making, reception and impact of commodity activism in a transmedia world. In Söderström, O. & Kloetzer, L. (eds.) Innovations sociales: comment les sciences sociales transforment la société, Neuchátel, Switzerland: University of Neuchátel, 46-60 [in English]

Cook et al, I. (2017) From 'follow the thing: papaya' to followthethings.com. Journal of Consumer Ethics 1(1), 22-29 [in English]

This research has been funded by Brown University and the University of Exeter International Office. In 2017-8 funding from the Kone Foundation will expand its culture jamming content and pedagogical experiments in Finland.

2) The Museum of Contemporary Commodities

Founded with artist and PhD student Paula Crutchlow, The Museum of Contemporary Commodities (or MoCC) is neither a building nor a permanent collection of stuff - it's an invitation: to consider every shop, online store and warehouse full of stuff as if it were a museum, and all of the things in it part of our collective future heritage. MoCC invites people to imagine themselves as its curators with the power to choose what is displayed and how. To trace and interpret the provenance and value of these things and how they arrived here. To consider the effects this stuff has on people and places close by or far away, and how and why it connects them. What do we mean by things or stuff? Everything that you can buy in today's society. The full range of contemporary commodities available to consume. MoCC invites people to join us on our journey by browsing and adding to our collection, attending an event, becoming a researcher.

In 2015, Paula, Ian and their collaborators curated connections between trade-place-data-values in Finsbury Park, culminating in July in MoCC's 'Free Market' at Furtherfield's Galllery (watch the video here). From 17 October to 22 November, MoCC was featured in 'The Human Face of Cryptoeconomics' exhibition at the Furtherfield Gallery in Finsbury Park, London (see here). In August 2017 MoCC will open in the Pavilion Gallery of the RGS(IBG) on Exhibition Road in London. This work culminated in the opening of the Museum of Contemporary Commodities online on 1 May 2016 and in a disused shop in Exeter from 4-21 May 2016. In each location, visitors have been asked to add commodities to the online collection, to answer and ask questions about them, to rate them according to values like 'freedom' and 'sociability', and to appreciate how the site's algorithms surface and change the collection's top commodities by 'attention', 'controversy', 'positive' and 'negative'. 

This project has been funded so far by the ESRC, AHRC, Arts Council England, Islington Council, Exeter City Council, the University of Exeter and the Department of Geography at the University of Exeter.

From 24-27 August 2017, MoCC was hosted by the RGS(IBG) in its Pavilion Gallery on London's Exhibition Road. 

3) Dust

From 2014-5, Ian (via followthethings.com) was a project partner for an Arts Council England project called Bideford Black: the next generation based in the North Devon town's Burton Art Gallery and Museum. Bideford Black is a unique pigment sourced from a 'paint seam' in the geological strata of the area, which was commercially mined until 1968. Building on the first phase of the project, in which oral historical research was undertaken with former mineworkers, the 'next generation' project commissioned eight artists and one filmmaker to make new work for the Burton collection, and to develop ways of using it as a medium and inspiration.

After a 'Biddiblack' collecting fieldtrip in October 2014, Ian worked with artists Neville and Joan Gabie to create a body of work entitled ‘Dust’ which included a five screen video installation, a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ containing experimental making work with plastic and rubber, and a suit worn by Neville to work with the material. This work, along with their collaborative artist notebook, was exhibited at the Burton Gallery in October 2015. Watch the exhibition trailer (here) and read an exhibition review (here).  

This project was funded by Arts Council England.

4) Fashion Revolution

Since 2013, Ian has been working with a group of ethical fashion pioneers, NGOs, journalists, academics and others dedicated to marking 24 April (in 2013, the day the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1,100 workers) as Fashion Revolution. Now active in over 90 countries worldwide, its key question to fashion brands and retailers is 'Who made my clothes?' Here, followthethings.com's fashion department and fashion ethics trump card game have been adopted as education resources on the Fashion Revolution website.

In June 2014, Ian directed a week-long public research project called 'Fashion ethics after the Rana Plaza collapse' from a disused shop in Exeter's Guildhall Shopping Centre. From 2014-2016, he was Fashion Revolution's Global Education & Resources lead, designed its Education Resources, curated its Research Library, Film Library, Do Something and Education Pinterest Boards and, in 2015, co-authored the movement's book:

Ditty, S., Cook, I. & Hunter, L. (2015) How to be a fashion revolutionary. London: Fashion Revolution.

In June-July 2017, Ian ran a free 3 week online course with/for Fashion Revolution called 'Who made my clothes?'. Check the details here

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