“Never have the stakes been so high,” said French President Francois Hollande at the COP21 United Nations climate change conference, which began in Paris today. World leaders are meeting there in the hopes of creating a legally binding and universal agreement on how to fight climate change, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C. And, since no world summit would be complete without artistic demonstrations, activists around the globe have created art protesting climate change and corporate sponsorship of COP21, from live tattooing performances to parody advertisements installed on Paris streets.
“Same Bullshit, Different Conference”
When they arrived in the French capital on Monday, world leaders were greeted with 600 pieces of unauthorized protest street art installed around the city denouncing corporate sponsorship of the COP21 conference. Created by art collective Brandalism, these advertisements parody the gas-guzzling corporations sponsoring the event, including AirFrance, Mobil, and Volkswagen. They aim to highlight what the protesters see as the hypocrisy of environmentally unfriendly companies supporting the talks.
“We’re sorry that we got caught,” reads a fake ad for Volkswagen, a reference to the car company’s recent emissions scandal. Other billboards, created by 82 artists from 19 countries, include a poster for a fake film called Deniers, an illustration of Alice in Wonderland huffing poison gas, and slogans like “Same bullshit, different conference.”
“By sponsoring the climate talks, major polluters such as Air France and GDF-Suez-Engie can promote themselves as part of the solution — when actually they are part of the problem,” Joe Elan from Brandalism said in a press release. “We are taking their spaces back because we want to challenge the role advertising plays in promoting unsustainable consumerism. Because the advertising industry force feeds our desires for products created from fossil fuels, they are intimately connected to causing climate change.”
“The Shoes Are Marching for Us”
In a state of emergency in the wake of November 13’s terrorist attacks in Paris, which left 130 people dead, the French government has banned protest marches across the country during the COP21 conference.
In response, the activist network Avaaz created a public protest art installation at the Place de la République in Paris. Thousands of shoes, from slippers to spike heels, were lined up on the ground, symbolizing the activists who would have been marching had there not been a ban. Handwritten messages were tucked inside the shoes, pleading with world leaders to consider their children and grandchildren when addressing climate change. A group of Australian women dressed as “climate angels” and stepped quietly through the rows of shoes. “The shoes are marching for us,” one Parisian man told CNN.
On Monday, however, hundreds violated the protest ban, taking to the streets in Paris and clashing with police.
Tate Britain Becomes a Tattoo Parlor
The protests were not limited to Paris. In London, 35 members of the activist group Liberate Tate took over part of Tate Britain, where they demonstrated against BP’s sponsorship of the museum by permanently tattooing willing visitors with the numbers of the CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere in the year they were born.
Earlier this year, after a freedom of information request and an ensuing three-year legal battle, Tate was forced to reveal that it had accepted £3.8m (~$5,721,280) from BP over a 17-year period. The black marks on the visitors’ skin are meant to represent the “taint of BP on Tate,” as one activist put it. “Implicit in the tattoo itself and the performance, which took place in the 1840s gallery of the chronological BP Walk Through British Art, is a direct criticism of Tate’s relationship with BP,” Yasmin de Silva of Liberate Tate tells Hyperallergic in an email. “The golden-framed Victorian era-art juxtaposes against our very visceral live art performance, highlighting how utterly inappropriate it is for our cultural estate to be propping up the oil industry; the very thing that is systematically destroying our wider culture, and our ultimately our planet. Tate and the wonderful artworks it holds responsibility for (a history of our culture and creativity) is worth more, Tate can and should do better.”
“It’s a commitment to continue to struggle for climate justice, for a just transition for a low-carbon future,” said another of her new “346” tattoo in a video by the Guardian. “I know that when I look at it, even though what’s happening is depressing, I’ll take a lot of courage from this birthmark.” When she was born, in 1985, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was 346 parts per million (ppm), just below the safe limit of 350ppm. The concentration is currently estimated to stand at 397ppm. In 2016, it’s expected to pass 400ppm.
“Fiddling While Earth Burns”
Also in London, Fiddling While Earth Burns, an exhibit at the Royal College of Art, features work about the threatened environment by the college’s Climate Action Collective and political artist Peter Kennard. Artists created various designs for protest placards, from images of thirsty polar bears trying to survive on Coca-Cola to portraits of a burning, oil-splattered earth. Many of these provocative posters were used in London’s Campaign Against Climate Change march, which 70,000 people attended on November 29.