by Manu SharmaOct 10, 2022
Despite the pandemic, the art industry has been steadily expanding. Sotheby's and Christie's have made significant strides, as have the galleries' engagement in NFTs and contemporary art. While focusing on revenue, people appear to have forgotten the single planet to which we owe our life, with the economy narrowly averting recession and the world's acute concentration on building more increasing. Humans rely on earth's resources. We appear to have gone full speed with technological development while turning a blind eye to the issue of climate change. It is not long before the climate crisis will be inevitable. We are continuously reminded to make positive changes when it comes to the environment, and artists, via installations and interactive art, have played an essential role in this as well. However, this is insufficient, and hence numerous organisations have stepped in to take responsibility.
Recently, the activists belonging to 'Just Stop Oil' halted a major art institution, the Royal Academy of Arts in London, for the sixth time in the previous week in an act of civil resistance. Five members of the Just Stop Oil organisation splashed paint inside the Royal Academy and affixed their hands on the frame of the copy of The Last Supper painting. Giampietrino's The Last Supper is a full-scale replica of Leonardo da Vinci's iconic painting, and it is based on the biblical scene in which Jesus announces that one of his Twelve Apostles will betray him. Under the picture, the protestors also spray-painted the demand "No New Oil" in white.
Just Stop Oil, which was founded earlier this year, describes itself as a coalition of groups aiming to ensure that the government commits to ending new fossil fuel licensing and production. The organisation wants the government to immediately freeze all future licences and consents for fossil fuel exploration, development, and production in the United Kingdom. The group's website accuses the government of intentionally assisting the fossil fuel business through outrageous subsidies and tax incentives for new fossil fuel extraction, describing the exploitation of new oil and gas resources in the UK as an obscene and murderous strategy. The group states that there has been no quick and wide-scale societal transformation, mass adoption of low-carbon technologies, or war-like mobilisation.
Just Stop Oil also issued a statement following the latest protest at the Royal Academy of Arts, naming several of the protestors. One of them being a 21-year-old art student, Jessica Agar, added a plea to art institutions to join their cause. "If the directors of this gallery really believe that art has the power to change the world then I demand that they claim that power, close and refuse to open until the government commits to no new oil," she said.
To get their voices known, the organisation has conducted multiple protests this year, including a red-carpet appearance at the BAFTA (The British Academy Film Awards) in March, when activists yelled and beat drums while wearing t-shirts reading 'Just Stop Oil' and 'Just Look Up’. Later that month, members of the group attempted to tie themselves to goalposts at Premier League games, including Everton vs. Newcastle and Tottenham vs. West Ham. Members of the organisation have lately made pleas at art institutions, affixing themselves to renowned artworks around the UK. The event at the Royal Academy of Arts in London comes only days after another group of protesters fastened themselves to John Constable's The Hay Wain at the National Gallery in London. Three more paintings, including Van Gogh's Peach Trees in Blossom, were targeted at galleries in London, Manchester, and Glasgow last week. While demonstrators have been detained on each occasion, the campaign has persisted.
Just Stop Oil further states, “In eight years, we need to end our reliance on fossil fuels completely. The transition will require massive investment in clean technology, renewables, and energy storage but it cannot be done at current levels of energy consumption. We need to cut energy demand by insulating Britain and rethinking how we travel including providing free public transport everywhere. This starts by switching government subsidies from dirty fossil fuels towards clean energy, transport, and insulation.”
(Text by Vatsala Sethi, Asst. Editorial Coordinator (Arts))