As the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists resets the Doomsday Clock to just two minutes to Armageddon for the first time since 1953, it might be time to reflect on a project that was permanently set at just 12 seconds for Peace.
Back in 2009, as the smartphone was starting to dominate the mobile phone market, and prior to the launch of most of the popular social media apps we all know today, a project was launched that gave voice to the desire for peace of ordinary people around the world.
12seconds for Peace, built on the back of the now-defunct social media platform ‘12seconds.TV’ was a collaborative video-arts project, that was fast becoming a global phenomenon. Backed by the then-Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Bryant McGill, and Julian Lennon’s ‘White Feather Foundation’ amongst others, the project asked people to create a 12 second video on what peace meant to them. The videos flooded in. It’s amazing how much you can say in just 12 seconds. Farmworkers from Canada, lawyers from Lithuania, rock musicians from Spain, housewives from Palestine, businessmen from the USA, Bollywood stars, all contributed. Music production company, Murdock’s Trinity Records in Arizona made concert goers stop in front of a camera to make a video, prior to entering the heavy metal concert they were staging. The global cross-section of those clamouring for peace was monumental.
The only rules to follow were: no finger pointing, no religion and no going over 12 seconds. Most people back in those days didn’t have a smartphone and the video quality on those that were around, was not that great. So those wishing to contribute, were basically forced to use a video camera and then plug it or its memory card into their computer, download and then upload to the site. It was a pain to say the least. But many made the effort.
A 6-year old girl sat on a sofa in Palestine, while the bombs dropped in the background, asked why we couldn’t all live in peace. An 8-year old boy in Arizona wanted the soldiers to come home from Afghanistan. A poet in Canada lay down in front of a tank. Musicians sang, activists shouted, artists painted, and children cried.
Peace is an elusive concept. For some it is a state of mind and a way of being. For others, it is the cessation of violence and the ending of war caused by our governments. Others add that peace is not just the end of violence but also the cultivation of positive qualities such as compassion, goodwill and social justice. However you define it, we all want it and we all have our own roads to it.
As 12seconds for Peace grew, it started to get noticed by the celebrity-class and the question arose; what to do with all of those videos? The pressure-cooker of it’s success was starting to heat up and out of it grew its first tangible expression: The Global Concert for Peace.
The Global Concert for Peace was scheduled to be held at the pyramids of Egypt on Peace Day 2013 and had the tentative support of Peace One Day (the NGO responsible for engineering the day of peace through the United Nations), who were planning a concert in Rio De Janeiro for the same day. The two concerts would be twinned together. A third concert was added in Alexandria on the north coast of Egypt.
As a backdrop to the celebrity singers performing in Cairo, the 12seconds for Peace videos; faces and voices of ordinary citizens clamouring for peace, would be projected onto the pyramids by British artist, Pete Thornley.
The Egyptian government provided the concert venue for free, along with hotel accommodation for the performers and flights. Pete Lawrence, music producer, and creator of the Big Chill music festivals in the UK, agreed to orchestrate the project. A film company in Australia offered their services in recording the event and helping with the 12seconds videos. There was talk of trying to add London to the schedule of venues. The whole project was spiraling madly into potentially the biggest musical event in the history of the world, with the apex performance being held at the most prestigious venue on the planet: the ancient pyramids of Egypt.
And then in January 2011, the Egyptian Revolution happened. Chaos, blood and death ensued. Tanks and bodies and banners in the streets. The concert was shelved. Soon after, 12seconds for Peace itself was also mothballed.
The plans for the videos had been prodigious. Once edited, they would have been shown not only at the pyramids, but in art spaces around the world, formed the backdrop for various musical events and screened in any public space that would take them. The urgency of the message was visible and palpable, streaming from videos made by people all over the world.
Perhaps as the Doomsday clock ticks inexorably towards midnight, it is time for 12seconds for Peace to once more give voice to the ordinary citizens of the world.