Tega Brain & Sam Lavigne: Offset

Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne
Offset 2023
Alternative carbon credit registry

Offset 2023 is a new digital artwork by New York based artists Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne, which functions as an alternate carbon credit registry for the emerging global voluntary carbon offset market. The work has been commissioned by ACCA as part of Data Relations, an exhibition that includes major new commissions and site-specific installations by Australian and international artists and collectives who critically and speculatively engage with the ways in which the data economy and related technological developments inform interpersonal and wider social relationships.

Brain and Lavigne have collaborated on a range of digital projects that playfully make visible the opaque political and economic conditions that shape computational technologies and data systems, and their impact on the social and material conditions of the wider world. As a speculative art project, Offset is a provocative intervention into the carbon offset economy that aims to calculate carbon credits from direct action political activism, advancing an innovative new methodology for quantifying the climate benefits of these activities.

There has been a rapid increase in demand for carbon credits from the corporate sector, as companies seek to strengthen their appeal to increasingly environmentally conscious consumers. But academics and environmental campaigners are divided about the efficacy and ethics of the market.[1] In Offset, Brain and Lavigne provocatively grapple with the wisdom of applying the logic of capitalism to atmospheric interactions, at a time when climate activists across the globe face increasingly harsh restrictions and punishments.[2] They assert:

‘This logic assumes that all activities on earth can be quantified, abstracted and exchanged by means of a price. This logic produces the capacity to export or outsource the effects of one’s consumption, whether at the scale of the individual or the corporation or the nation state, to someone, somewhere else, or even to the generations of the future. In short, existing carbon offset markets act to maintain a status quo rather than address root causes of the climate catastrophe.’

Offset seeks to test how political work that slows or prevents combustion might be recognised in carbon markets just like other biophysical efforts to reduce emissions.

Offset is conceived as an iterative and reflexive venture, that will evolve over coming months and years. For Data Relations, Brain and Lavigne have launch the first stage of the project, Offset: Versions 0.1., which establishes a methodology and roadmap, and suggests how historic direct political actions might be quantified and sold as carbon offsets.  

Brain and Lavigne present Offset alongside another of their works, Synthetic messenger, in Data Relations. Appearing as a 20-channel video installation at ACCA, Synthetic messenger stages a technological guerrilla intervention that explores how AI might be used to enhance public discourses on climate change. More information on the project is available here.

Notice and disclaimer: This digital commission is an artwork which has been supported by the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) to link from this website, but remains the property and ultimate responsibility of the commissioned artists. ACCA acknowledges the value of direct action and political activism. We note that this project is a speculative artwork and proposition, and as an organisation, we do not promote illegal activities. ACCA does not make any guarantees, representations or warranties in respect to this artwork, including in relation to quality, operability or data security and has no responsibility or liability for any loss, damage, cost or expense you might incur if you interact with this project, including arising from any data breach, virus or other contamination.

[1] Numerous academics, researchers, scientists and activities argue that the markets are inherently ineffective and suspectable to corruption – see a recent expose on one of the world’s largest carbon credit registries, Verra, here: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jan/18/revealed-forest-carbon-offsets-biggest-provider-worthless-verra-aoe (accessed 15 Jan 2023). While others contend that increasing market standards could deliver huge co-benefits for the planet, Indigenous peoples and local economies – see a recent statement from the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market,  https://icvcm.org/integrity-council-unveils-timetable-to-introduce-high-integrity-label-to-voluntary-carbon-market-in-q3/ (accessed 15 Jan 2023)

[2] For example, a new state law passed in by the New South Wales government in April 2022 sees protesters face up to two years in jail and fines of up to $15,000 for participating in protests that disrupt economic activity. For a discussion of the new laws, see https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/01/world/australia/climate-protest-laws.html (accessed 15 Jan 2023).