Artists respond to the times in which they live, and so it’s no surprise that an increasing number of artists have been focusing on the climate change crisis in their work. Art has an amazing ability to spread awareness and inspire change, and can even offer real solutions. Yet, in light of the crisis, the art world might not be taking climate change as seriously as it should. Temporary art fairs all over the world produce massive amounts of waste from booths, art crates and concessions, and the art world elite expels tons of carbon into the air whilst flying on private jets from one to the next. Museums maintain spotty sponsorships with oil companies and fail to address climate change seriously in their protocol. Artists have been calling our awareness to environmental issues since the 1970s, but now sustainability has taken the spotlight.
Two activist groups, Extinction Rebellion and Liberate Tate, are artist collectives that have been putting pressure on the art world to commit real change. They are known for staging performances and interventions that insist major arts institutions change their policies and practices to be sustainable and environmental friendly.
Liberate Tate is mostly concerned with the relationship between oil giant BP and the Tate museums. Over the past ten years, they have put on different creative performances to bring awareness to this issue as they see it. From visual and textual projections on the facade of the museums, to “die-ins” on the museum floors, these artist-activists aim to alert the public to the negative environmental impact of major arts institutions, and the ever-looming threat of climate change. In one performance, an individual covered in a black oil-like substance laid on the Tate Britain Museum floor for 87 minutes, each minute representing each day of the disastrous 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Over the years since, they have staged different performances at the museum focusing on the exact same BP oil relationship. Their tactic is shock-art, in order to ring the alarm to the crisis.
Extinction Rebellion, a climate change activist group based out of London, has been turning its attention to the art world recently. Last year, they targeted Art Basel Miami. The group contributed to the various panel discussions of how the art world can become more sustainable, and they also took the opportunity to stage performance art protests around the event. They’ve been known for holding “die-ins” on the floor of the Natural History Museum, and have enacted other colourful protest marches throughout art fairs and museums to protest the lack of action around climate change. Extinction Rebellion is less concerned with small changes like ridding the fair of plastic water bottles, instead of focusing on entire art fairs and the art world in order to promote accountability across the board. The concern lies with the museum ties to oil companies that wreak havoc in the oceans, the excessive jet setting lifestyle, and the way climate change is included in art fairs merely as a conversation. Liberate Tate and Extinction Rebellion are calling for real action now, and they won’t let up until it comes.
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