Climate Activists Occupy Tate Modern In Dramatic Protest Over BP Sponsorship of the Arts (artnet news)

by Lorena Muñoz-Alonso, Monday, June 15, 2015 original article here.

Protesters participating in the 25-hour “textual intervention" against BP at Tate Modern this weekend<br>Photo: Martin LeSanto-Smith via The Guardian

Protesters participating in the 25-hour “textual intervention” against BP at Tate Modern this weekend Photo: Martin LeSanto-Smith via The Guardian

On Saturday, activists occupied Tate Modern and staged a 25-hour “textual intervention” at the museum’s Turbine Hall to protest against Tate’s ongoing sponsorship agreement with BP.

The protest performance consisted of covering the sprawling hall with quotes from books about, and reports on, climate change—including Margaret Atwood’s sci-fi novel Oryx and Crake, the UN’s latest climate science report, and Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate—which participants wrote with charcoal on the concrete floor.

“We’re filling the Turbine Hall with a tide of ideas and narratives of art, activism, climate change, and oil,” Eva Blackwell, of the arts activism group Liberate Tate, told the Guardian.

Since beginning its crusade to rid Tate of its association with BP back in 2010, Liberate Tate has staged a total of 14 performances at Tate Modern and Tate Britain, including pouring oil on a naked man (see Liberate Tate Plans Mass Protest Over BP Sponsorship) and tossing £240,000 in fake money notes from Tate Britain’s members room to the main entrance.

Liberate Tate stages a protest at Tate Britain (2011)<br>Photo: Amy Scaife Courtesy Corbis

Liberate Tate stages a protest at Tate Britain (2011) Photo: Amy Scaife Courtesy Corbis

Some of these performances were announced to Tate in advance, while others—like this weekend’s—weren’t. Tate has traditionally tolerated the group’s performances, but this last one involved staying overnight in the museum and disregarding the official opening hours.

“At around 10pm, which is when Tate Modern closes on Saturdays, a group of Tate staff approached us and invited us to leave, and threatened to call the police if we didn’t,” Anna Galkina, from the activist group Platform and one of the participants in the action, told artnet News in a phone call.

“After a while, seeing that we wouldn’t leave, they allowed us to spend the night in the museum and didn’t call the police,” Galkina told artnet News.

“We were a group of around 20 participants. The following morning, they closed the public access to the area where we were, but visitors could still see our action from the balcony. We left at around noon, at the cleaning machines started wiping out the texts soon after.”

A Tate visitor reads the texts written on the floor of Tate's Turbine Hall<br>Photo: Martin LeSanto-Smith via The Guardian

A Tate visitor reads the texts written on the floor of Tate’s Turbine Hall Photo: Martin LeSanto-Smith via The Guardian

“Oil companies like BP are trying to carry on pretending it’s business as usual, but time is running out to act on climate change,” protester Yasmin de Silva told the Guardian. “We’re already seeing the impact of climate change globally, and companies, foundations, and institutions around the world are turning away from the fossil fuel industry that’s driving us to climate disaster,” she declared.

In January, after a bitter legal battle over a freedom of information request by Liberate Tate and Platform, Tate was forced to reveal the scale of BP’s support, disclosing that, between 1990 and 2006, it received between £150,000 and £330,000 per year from BP, a mere 0.5 percent of the institution’s annual budget (see Tate’s Hotly Contested BP Sponsorship Is Laughably Small).

“We know how much Tate has received from BP historically, but still don’t know how much it is receiving right now,” Galkina told arnet News. “Tate is supposed to make the decision on whether to continue its sponsorship deal with BP around late 2015, or early 2016, so this performance was a way to make sure they know they are still being watched.”

Protesters participating in the 25-hour “textual intervention" against BP at Tate Modern this weekend<br>Photo via: Twitter @liberatetate

Protesters participating in the 25-hour “textual intervention” against BP at Tate Modern this weekend Photo via: Twitter @liberatetate

Tate is not the only museum tackling budget cuts with the help of sponsorship deals from oil companies. London’s institutions like the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Science Museum all have deals with oil companies (see Emails Reveal Shell Attempted to Influence Climate-Change Program at London’s Science Museum).

Representatives from Tate weren’t immediately available when contacted by artnet News for comment.

Ai Weiwei @ Alcatraz, and legos, lots of legos

Thor Swift for The New York Times

Jori Finkel of the New York Times described the scene at Alcatraz as artist Ai Weiwei prepares for his multiple installation show.

“Judging from the large bags of colorful Legos on the floor and dozens of plastic base plates piled on tables, this room could have been the activities station for a well-funded summer camp. And the five women and men drifting in and out, slicing open boxes and rooting around for the right size toy bricks, were young enough to pass as camp counselors.”

This scene (and subject matter, freedom) is antithetic for the venue of his newest show, the infamous prison Alcatraz. This assembly Lego masterpiece is taking place in the building where prisoners once laundered military uniforms and is normally off limits to the tourists visiting this national park. In With Wind, one part of the show, birds (paper kites) fly around with a large dragon kite wrapped through the ceiling pipes. The dragon carries coded messages and quotes on his scales (actually hand cut paper).


Photo by Hyperallergic,com


Photo by Hyperallergic,com

This show by the artist Ai Weiwei opened September 27 and one installation features 176 portraits of politically exiled and imprisoned men and women from around the world made up of over 1 million Lego blocks. This show, @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz, will be open until April 2015 and was made possible by Cheryl Haines and her team of volunteers who helped to construct the works based off of the designs from a 2,300 page instruction manual. Absent from these portraits is the artist himself who was also a victim of political imprisonment in 2011. He was detained for 81 days, many spent in solitary confinement, and his passport is still being withheld from him today. Those days are fuel for his current show. He is not present at his show; he is still not allowed to leave China. He has never set foot on Alcatraz.