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LONDON — On the afternoon of Sunday, April 27, the environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion staged a “Critical Swarm” outside Tate Modern in a protest against climate change, and in particular, the death of bee colonies. This event follows ten days of mass protests in central London, including a “die-in” at the Natural History Museum. The actions have resulted in over 1,000 arrests.
Extinction Rebellion, which goes by the abbreviation XR, describes itself as an “international movement” that uses “non-violent civil disobedience” to bring issues such as climate change to the fore. Organizers say they want to see “radical change” to “minimise the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.”
On the event page for the Tate Modern protest, organizers told participants: “With thunderous sounds of swarming bees filling the air from cargo bike sound systems, we will swarm past some key locations (like Parliament Square and Defra) then head towards the Tate Modern. When we arrive at the entrance, we’ll perform a ‘sudden colony collapse’ die-in with all of us lying down just the flags standing upright.”
Around 100 people took part in the action. Some protestors carried yellow flags with images of bees, while others held green, orange, or blue flags bearing the Extinction Rebellion logo. One of the protestors, Tia Fisher, tweeted: “The insects are dying. We are killing them and nature will die with them. That’s everything, folks. #ExtinctionRebellion die-in at #TateModern – sponsored by Qantas, Deutsche Bank & BP amongst other planet-destroyers.”
In an online statement explaining their choice of location, Extinction Rebellion said: “The Tate is the most popular and influential public, cultural institution in the UK. Tate Modern is in a building that was previously a power station. As we seek new and creative ways to shift from a carbon-intensive economy, our arrival serves as a reminder of the urgency for the subject of climate change and ecological destruction to be addressed within culture both in London and across the country.”
In a statement emailed to Hyperallergic, a spokesperson for Tate Modern said: “We respect the right to protest in our public spaces and support the aims of Extinction Rebellion in drawing attention to this critical issue. As a museum we are committed to reducing our environmental impact, helping protect the planet from the global threat of climate change. We recognise there is more work to be done and we are committed to making significant change.”
This is not the first Extinction Rebellion protest to take place at Tate Modern, which this year became London’s most visited tourist attraction. In early February, the artist Gray staged an artistic intervention called Tipping point, during which he placed 15 life jackets made from ice outside the museum, as well as on Parliament Square.
In a statement published on Extinction Rebellion’s website, the artist explained: “‘Tipping point’ is about the relatively untalked about link between migration and climate change. As 300,000– 400,000 people lose their lives annually due to climate change, many more in climate change hot-spots are already left with no choice but to move, including some of those who have risked their lives to cross the Mediterranean.”
Tipping point is not dissimilar to the installation, Ice Watch, created by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson and geologist Minik Rosing and displayed outside Tate Modern last December. The installation featured a group of 24 blocks of ice from the Nuup Kangerlua fjord in Greenland. Over the course of nine days, the ice blocks slowly melted.
A press release about the installation, which forms part of the upcoming retrospective on Eliasson at Tate Modern, said: “Warmer climates have caused the Greenland ice sheet to lose around 200 – 300 billion tonnes each year, a rate that is expected to increase dramatically. By bringing the ice to London, and creating a temporary sculpture similar to the form of an ancient stone circle, Eliasson and Rosing enable us to engage with the ice directly.”
Extinction Rebellion protests in London have grabbed international headlines for the last couple of weeks. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, met yesterday with representatives of the group. A statement released by the climate activists following the meeting said: “Sadiq Khan has already declared a Climate Emergency — thanks to the London Assembly urging him to. This is an important first step, but he needs to do more and in today’s meeting he recognised that.”
In the last couple of days, governments in Wales and Scotland declared a “climate emergency” and the UK government is under pressure to do the same. Today, key members of Extinction Rebellion will meet with UK environment secretary, Michael Gove.