Ruining a masterpiece: Has climate action gone too far?

The gasps in room 43 of the National Gallery in London capture the raw emotion of a moment of terror.

On Friday, two Just Stop Oil activists entered the gallery and threw a can of tomato soup over a priceless painting by Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh. It is one of the most important parts in the museum, worth millions of dong.

That protest was met with shouts of “Oh my god” and calls for museum security to respond to the brazen and illegal act.

“Are you more interested in protecting a picture or protecting our planet and people?” One of the activists, Phoebe Plummer, 21, screamed as she threw soup at the painting. Joining her in the protest was another young activist, 20-year-old Anna Holland. Both were arrested by the London police.

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There was no damage to the painting as it was covered with glass, which protesters said they accounted for ahead of time. However, their disruptive action, which has gone viral on social media, is raising questions about the extent to which climate action is seen as ‘fair play’.

“We’re not doing this to be popular,” said Grahame Buss, a spokesman for Just Stop Oil. “It’s about bringing about change.”

Except that it can backfire.

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Climate protestors eat Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ with tomato soup

Edward Maibach, an authority on how people engage with the climate emergency, said the study showed “many people advocate nonviolent civil disobedience to protect our climate.” me”.

However, he suspects that those willing to engage in such action “will not understand or support the actions of the property-damaging protesters that are completely unrelated to the production or transportation of natural resources.” fossil material – such as a priceless Van [Gogh] picture.”

In fact, many comments on social media have talked about the seemingly absurd strategy of targeting an artist living a poor life to make a point about social inequality.

“Indeed,” Maibach added in an email to Global News, “I suspect that tactics like these will only alienate many people who care about the climate, and will therefore backfire.”

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The art of targeting

The vandalism on Van Gogh’s masterpiece ‘Sunflowers’ is the latest in a series of attacks on artworks, the latest target of the most disruptive form of climate action. Such action has included everything from blocking traffic to damaging pumps at gas stations.

Now it is art.

In July, protesters in Italy self-adhesive Painting by Sandro Botticelli at a museum in Florence. They did the same thing with a Picasso work in Australia.

Just Stop Oil, the group behind Friday’s London attacks, called the form of protest “an act of art”.

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Buss, who has worked for energy giant Shell for 33 years, told Global News: “We feel we have no choice but to take these actions. He called the attack on the painting an act of desperation but also “an act of love”.

“That’s no longer an issue in the future,” he added, referring to the climate crisis. “That’s no longer something that’s going to happen at the end of this century.”

Swedish author Andreas Malm, whose book is provocative How to blow up a pipe creating many ripples both in the climate movement and outside it.

In an interview with media outlet Vox last October, Malm said he was unsure whether nonviolent action, which he defines as action that does no harm to people, is effective for forcing Politicians must act to mitigate the climate crisis or not.

“But I think the situation is so dire, so extreme, that we have to experiment, we have to try,” he said. “What we have tried so far has only taken us so far. It has given us limited success, but we have yet to manage to smooth the curves and reduce emissions and begin the transition. “

Cry for help

Just Stop Oil insists it wants to pressure the UK government to immediately halt plans to open a new round of licensing for oil drilling in the North Sea, which climate activists see as incompatible with the possible planet. habitable on Earth.

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“We are not saying to stop all oil and gas production right now,” Buss stressed. “What we’re saying is we stop new projects.”

However, in the soup throwing video, Plummer, one of the activists, says, “Fuel is not enough for millions of cold-starved families. They can’t even afford to heat up a can of soup.”

Much of that fuel, at least for now, will still come in the form of oil and gas, especially after Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Read more:

As Europe developed, Germany returned to coal

War has raised concerns about energy security across Europe this winter, and countries like Germany are using the dirtiest fossil fuel – coal – as a temporary relief measure. Even China, the world leader in renewable energy, is doubling down on coal, a worrying prospect for the planet.

“I see why,” says Tara Mahoney, a Vancouver-based campaigner who has years of experience building social movements to engage ordinary people in the climate crisis. Someone gets offended by disparaging a masterpiece.

Students study Vincent van Gogh’s painting Sunflowers at the “EY: Van Gogh and England Exhibition” on March 25, 2019 in London, UK.

Stuart C. Wilson / Getty

Still, she says, at heart, the calculation that drives these young activists is fear — and that’s understandable.

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“Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You’re in the early stages of your life and you’re scared about what the future might hold,” she says.

There is despair, Mahoney said. “Nothing seems to be working. Decision makers won’t react the way it seems you would if the future of a habitable planet was at risk. “

She said it and the truth is that climate change is caused by big companies deliberately ignoring science and bringing the world to this point.

It’s not as if “one day we wake up and oh the climate crisis is a problem.”

“There are companies that have chosen to bring us here,” she said.

As for insulting a priceless work of art, Mahoney says, there are other priceless treasures that are also at stake, but something the world gives little thought to.

“You want to talk about destroying masterpieces […] What about the masterpieces of coral reefs off the coast of Australia or the jungles of Vancouver Island? ‘ Mahoney said.

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“These are timeless masterpieces that once they are gone, they are gone.”


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