By Andrew Butler
Jun 14, 2015
In the UK calls are growing to end sponsorship of the arts by fossil fuel companies. Members of the Art Not Oil coalition have been staging incredible interventions at institutions sponsored by oil companies, notably BP. Representing “ a cross-section of people - artists, cultural event and gallery-goers, environmentalists, human rights activists and others” they believe “that oil company logos represent a stain on our cultural institutions”.
Oil companies cultivate arts and culture sponsorship relationships to help create a ‘social licence to operate’. This contributes to the veneer of legitimacy that enables them to keep expanding operations at a time of climate crisis and to stifle the demands for justice of those communities who live on the frontline of their destructive, polluting operations.
1. 23 Hour Takeover of the Tate Modern
Using words, bodies, charcoal and sustenance, this Liberate Tate performance took place from High Tide on 13.06.15 (11:53am) until High Tide on 14.06.15 (12:55pm).
Time Piece is a tide of stories and narratives flowing in waves up the slope of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. The texts are fictional and factual responses to art, activism, climate change and the oil industry. The performance explored lunar time, tidal time, ecological time, geological time and all the ways in which we are running out of time: from climate change to gallery opening hours; from the anthropocene to the beginning of the end of oil sponsorship of the arts.
Liberate Tate creates unsanctioned live art inside Tate spaces to free Tate from BP. In 2015, it was revealed that BP sponsorship is worth less than half a percentage of Tate annual spending, and is around forty times less than the sum donated by Tate Members last year.
2. BP Oil Spill & Reverend Billy Inside the British Museum
Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir joined forces with "BP or not BP?" to recreate the BP Deepwater Horizon spill inside the British Museum. The unsanctioned performance filled the Great Court with singing, dancing, a giant pelican drowning in oil and an impassioned sermon calling on the Museum to dump BP, whose sponsorship contract is due to expire soon.
3. 'Out damn logo!' The Reclaim Shakespeare Company at the Roundhouse
On 27th June 2012, to mark one month before the London Olympics opening ceremony, a group of merry players known as the "Reclaim Shakespeare Company" took unexpectedly to the stage at the Roundhouse Theatre in Camden. Five minutes before a BP-sponsored Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) performance of The Comedy of Errors was due to begin, the actors performed a short Shakespeare-inspired piece. They challenged the RSC and the London Olympics over their decision to accept sponsorship from BP in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster and the company's decision to start extracting highly polluting and destructive tar sands oil in Canada.
The surprise performance coincided with a theatre outing for BP employees, which meant that a significant portion of the audience was made up of BP staff, making the pop-up protest especially embarrassing for the RSC.
4. The Gift - Wind Turbline Blade Delivered to The Tate
On 7 July 2012 Liberate Tate installed a 16.5 metre, one and a half tonne wind turbine blade in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in a guerrilla performance by over 100 members of the art collective. The artwork, called The Gift, was submitted to be part of Tate’s permanent collection as a gift to the nation ‘given for the benefit of the public’ under the provisions of the Museums and Galleries Act 1992, the Act from which Tate’s mission is drawn.
5. Royal Opera House hit by double protest during BP-sponsored opera
The Royal Opera House was hit by two simultaneous protests against its BP sponsorship during its first “BP Big Screen” of the year, where an opera in Covent Garden is transmitted live to big screens and cinemas across the UK. As the interval of the BP-sponsored opera drew to a close, two young composers stood up in the stalls of the Royal Opera House and began to sing about BP’s damage to the Gulf of Mexico and unfurled a banner with the words, “BP: Fuelling Tragedy.” Earlier in the performance, two activists at the “BP Big Screen” event in Trafalgar Square gate-crashed a presenter’s piece to camera, causing their “End Oil Sponsorship” banner to be shared live on screens across the UK.
6. Busily Pillaging: BP Vikings Exhibition
BP sponsored an exhibition about the Vikings at the British Museum. That’s right – those remorseless plunderers of wealth and resources are funding an exhibition about the Vikings.
The Vikings believed that Ragnarok, the end of the world, would see a rising of the oceans and a great burning of the earth. BP’s business plan relies on such a future. BP admits that continuing to extract and burn oil will lead to disastrous climate change, but according to its own annual report it is hoping to keep on digging up and selling the stuff until we’ve passed the point of no return.