Just Stop Oil’s Van Gogh Soup Stunt Sparks Critique of the ‘Alienating’ Strategy
Two climate activists threw two cans of tomato soup at one of Vincent van Gogh’s famous dishes. protected by glass paintings in a London museum on Friday, renewing a debate about the effectiveness of some of their group’s strategies.
Phoebe Plummer, 21, and Anna Holland, 20, who stuck their hands against the wall of the National Gallery after dousing the $84.2 million ‘sunflowers’ in soup, wore Just Stop Oil t-shirts (JSO). The UK-based group share images of the action and their motivations on social networks.
“Is art worth more than life? More than food? More than justice? Plummer said in a report. “The cost of living crisis is fueled by fossil fuels – everyday life has become unaffordable for millions of cold, hungry families – they can’t even afford to heat a can of soup.”
“Meanwhile, crops are failing and people are dying in frenzied monsoons, massive wildfires and endless droughts caused by climate breakdown,” the activist added. “We cannot afford new oil and gas, it will take it all. We will look back and mourn all we have lost unless we act immediately.”
The national gallery and metropolitan police confirmed that “there is some minor damage to the frame but the paintwork is unscathed”. The latter added that the protesters “were arrested by Met police on charges of criminal damage and aggravated trespassing”.
Some members of the art and climate activism communities have expressed support for the action.
French visual artist and environmental activist Joanie Lemercier declared that “art is absolutely useless on a dead planet” and pointed out that the painting had not been damaged by the protest.
Scottish historian and human rights activist Craig Murray first said that “I support the direct action of Just Stop Oil, including the blocking of roads and refineries. We need to wake people up. But it’s stupid vandalism, and counterproductive. This beautiful painting has no negative impact on the environment.”
However, Murray later added that “I was wrong about that. The painting is behind glass and unscathed. In this case, it’s a very effective ad campaign.”
Hyperallergic editor and co-founder Hrag Vartanian said in a video that the ultra-rich who “buy and sell Van Goghs” are “the same people” who sit on the boards of big polluting corporations and “who are celebrated by these museums”.
While the right of the whole world grasped the opportunity to portray JSO activists as ‘crazy’ vandals, other critics have suggested the soup shot could hurt efforts to bring more people into the global movement to tackle the climate emergency caused by fossil fuels.
“They really know how to get attention. And while their passion is admirable, their tactics are repugnant,” said Mother Jones editor-in-chief Michael Mechanic.
Bispirit Tuscarora (Haudenosaunee) television and musical writer Kelly Lynne D’Angelo said that “this is why you all need to sit down and listen to indigenous peoples when it comes to climate activism”.
The co-creator of the musical Star of Theo and Vincent van Gogh, D’Angelo added that “destroying art – an extension of our humanity – is not the solution. The piece is fine. But the damage to the spirit is not. no. Ignorance wins.”
American comic artist Jamal Igle stress that “that’s not how you make your point. Luckily the painting is covered in glass so nothing was damaged and they will likely be charged with trespassing. Whatever you did, it It’s angering the very people you’re trying to appeal to.”
YouTube Vegetarian Chef Jerry James Stone had a similar message for activists: “What a horrible way to express an important cause. It is beyond stupidity, immaturity and alienation.
Social media content creator Matt Bernstein tweeted: “I agree with the cause but Van Gogh was a broke and mentally ill painter who was considered a failure until his death as does it have to do with it,” and pitted Friday’s stunt against some “effective” art-related actions.
Dana Fisher, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland who studies protest movements, Explain at The Washington Post that actions like throwing soup at a multi-million dollar board are a form of “tactical innovation” to gain media attention.
According to Job:
The media are getting used to particular types of activism; a march or sit-in that once attracted attention quickly fades into the background. The climate protesters, Fisher explained, started out sticking to the artwork, which initially caused a stir. Now that attention for it has cooled, they have moved on to at least the appearance to disfigure works of art, in order to attract more attention.
The action at the National Gallery made headlines in British newspapers and across Europe; by late afternoon, a video of the incident on YouTube had been viewed 13.3 million times. At least for the activists involved, the fact that the protest went viral was probably seen as a success. The climate issue, which is sometimes buried by geopolitical, economic and celebrity news, has once again made headlines.
But as the tactics escalate, protesters risk pushing back people who might otherwise be sympathetic to their cause. “Research shows that these kinds of tactics don’t work to change minds and hearts,” Fisher said. Someone prevented from getting to work – or someone who thinks irreplaceable works of art are damaged – could be disabled by the climate movement for a time, or even permanently.
“It works to get attention,” Fisher said. “But to what end?
AlJazeera Noted On Friday, “experts predicted that acts of so-called ‘climate sabotage’ will increase as extreme weather events such as droughts, wildfires and storms proliferate and the urgency to act grows.”
Daniel Sherrel, author of Heat: coming of age at the end of the worldwarned that such sabotage “would be a gift to right-wing opponents of climate action, who would use it, fully exploit it to accelerate their rampant fascism, make the issue politically toxic for moderate voters, shut down a generation of young climate activists, and sow division in the climate movement itself.”
Damien Gayle reported of the museum on Friday that “driving people away from their cause was a concern,” said Alex De Koning, a spokesperson for Just Stop Oil, who spoke to The Guardian outside the gallery after the room has been emptied.”
“But it’s not The X Factor“, said the spokesperson. “We are not trying to make friends here, we are trying to make change happen, and unfortunately, that is how change happens.
Gayle also noted that “the canvas of the painting is protected by a glass screen, a factor Just Stop Oil said it took into account”.
write for The environmentalist in July, Chris Saltmarsh, co-founder of Labor for a Green New Deal and author of Burned: Fighting for Climate Justice– noted other recent instances of JSO activists “disrupting high-profile sporting events and cultural institutions,” including sticking to the frames of other high-profile works of art.
As Saltmarsh detailed:
Targeting cultural institutions is not new to the climate movement. Since 2004, the Art Not Oil coalition campaigned (with some notable successes) against oil sponsorship, creatively protesting to institutions such as English Museum, the Tateand the national portrait gallery.
Just Stop Oil differs, however, in that their request is generic and aimed at the UK government rather than the subject of the protest.
Although Just Stop Oil is formally a separate organization, this general social disruption approach originated from Extinction Rebellion. Initially, XR blocked off key roads and junctions to maximize disruption. However, although they exist in the same trend of the environmental movement, Isolate Brittany and Just Stop Oil now represent a strategic divergence with XR.
“Since its inception, the XR strategy has evolved to target those who are directly complicit in climate change (e.g., fossil fuel companies, the murdoch pressand financial institutions),” wrote Saltmarsh. “On the other hand, Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil respectively applied the general social disruption approach to highways or sport and culture.”
“Some have criticized Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain for alienating ordinary people from supporting radical climate demands,” he added. “There is no evidence that this is actually the case. However, the real limitation of Just Stop Oil’s strategy is that it tends towards marginality rather than building the power and mass movement that we need.”