“Which is a greater crime: the befouling of art or the destruction of life?
The Van Gogh Museum —like many others— takes the dirtiest money in the world to fuel its activities: oil money. With this, Royal Dutch Shell is ‘artwashing’ its image.
The ‘collateral damage’ of the oil business is deaths, spills, wars and the injustice of the climate catastrophe. Such extreme situations call for extreme responses. Today we are blacking out Van Gogh’s Sunflowers because art sponsored by oil is not worth seeing. This is also collateral damage.”
Fossil Free Culture NL strives to end fossil fuel sponsorship of the arts. Through sponsorship deals, fossil fuel companies promote a false and misleading image of their societal generosity, in an attempt to secure the social license they so badly need to continue to operate. The climate is on a knife edge. Humanity can’t afford to sanitise the reputation of these companies any longer in any way.
The profoundly unethical and violent nature of the fossil fuel business has been revealed over and over again. On the other hand, the ethics of arts funding by fossil fuel companies in the Netherlands has neither been discussed nor challenged with the urgency it calls for.
Blackout Shell is a hoax* intended to provoke the fundamental questions:
Can we afford to look at art that has been stained by oil money?
Why is it painful to see an iconic piece of Western culture being damaged yet somehow manage to accept the endless spills, destruction of livelihoods and ecologies, and violent repercussions of climate change directly caused by Shell?
In the context of a contemporary art event, the statement and the video are intended to trigger a conversation about ethics and arts funding and create a myth: Were the Sunflowers really destroyed? Are activists ready to take extreme actions to end oil sponsorship of the arts and stigmatise Shell and other big polluters?
* A hoax is a deliberately fabricated falsehood to make the invisible visible.
Creative performance in Van Gogh Museum protests sponsorship by Shell
This afternoon, September 16th at 14:00 p.m. Fossil Free Culture NL (FFC) staged a disobedient performance at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam to protest the irrational relationship between Shell and a public art institution.
Beyond Insanity shows how the sponsorship by Shell intoxicates the arts. Four men dressed as hospital patients walked into the entrance hall of the museum. At the background, a large screen displayed the title of the temporary exhibition: “On the Verge of Insanity: Van Gogh and His Illness”. One patient stood attached to an intravenous infusion, a black substance intoxicated his body. The second patient suffered from heavy petroleum poisoning drooling oil out of his month, another couldn’t hold his black tears totally depressed by the toxic cultural partnership, while the fourth wandered hopelessly around the hall, dripping oil out of his wrists, after a suicidal attempt.
“Through the “Partners in Science” program, the Van Gogh Museum allows Shell to create the illusion that the company contributes to society positively. While in reality, the extraction of fossil fuels causes ecosystems depletion, undermines the livelihoods and well-being of communities, and is the primary driver of runaway climate change.” – Fossil Free Culture NL
The exhibition “On the Verge of Insanity: Van Gogh and His Illness” examines the artist’s mental illness through paintings and drawings from his final year, including the many diagnoses put forward by doctors over the years. With the performance Beyond Insanity, FFC wrote its own diagnosis: “The nature of Shell’s activities is toxic and destructive to all life systems on earth”.
Fossil Free Culture NL is a recently formed group of artists, activists, researchers and critics that challenge oil and gas sponsorships in order to liberate Dutch cultural institutions from the sick influence of the fossil fuel industry. They are the first artist/activist collective that uses art as a tool to protest against big corporate polluters in the Netherlands. The aim is to regularly perform unofficially and unannounced in cultural institutions sponsored by the fossil fuel industry.
Undeterred by the rain, many people showed up —30 according to the police, 50 according to us ;-). John Jordan delivered nothing short of a condensed masterclass, summarising a complete list of 15 principles for creating Beautiful Trouble, illustrated with impressive Liberate Tate performances.
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• join us this Saturday at 1PM for our ‘dress rehearsal’ [Zeeburgerdijk 112], or get in touch with us for more info,
• watch this space for exciting developments next week!
Fossil Free Culture NL is excited to invite artists, activists, thinkers and makers, to collectively kickstart their campaign with an informal gathering next Wednesday, April 6th, hosted by staff_room at De Punt.
We are lucky to have John Jordan from the Labofii, whose 2010 workshop at Tate Modern challenged the gallery’s BP sponsorship head on. In the following six years, the art collective Liberate Tate has been effectively confronting this sponsorship with beautiful performances and creative actions. Their campaign has been ultimately victorious —BP dropped the sponsorship two weeks ago.
After the talk, we will briefly map the oil sponsorship deals of cultural institutions here in the Netherlands, followed by the opportunity to take part in preparing our first action!
Where: De Punt, Frans de Wollantstraat 84, 1018 SC Amsterdam.
When: Wednesday, April 6 at 7:30 PM – 10:30 PM
Programme (check Facebook event for eventual updates):
7:30 pm. Doors open. Have a drink!
7:45 – 8:00 Introduction by Fossil Free Culture NL
8:00 – 8:30 John Jordan on creative activism
8:45 – 9:30 Sneak preview of upcoming plans
Fossil Free Culture NL is a network of artists, activists, and scholars committed to disentangle cultural institutions in the NL from the influence of the fossil fuel industry.
Based in Amsterdam, STAFF_ ROOM exclusively represents socially and politically engaged artists. As a not-for-profit gallery STAFF_ ROOM has no permanent exhibition space; it manifests online and offline wherever social and political issues lead her.
De PUNT is a work- and project space in de Czaar Peter neighborhood in Amsterdam, initiated by De Derde Verdieping in collaboration with the Sandberg Instituut Amsterdam. The location offers a cultural program as well as a work space for residents from the neighborhood and other cultural workers.
John Jordan is an artist and activist. He co-founded the direct action groups Reclaim the Streets, and the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army (CIRCA). He and Isabelle Fremeaux founded the The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination, infamous for fermenting mass disobedie
nce on bicycles during the Copenhagen Climate Summit, throwing snowballs at bankers, launching a rebel raft regatta to shut down a power station and initiating the unsolicited covering of the Tate gallery in molasses. Following the publication of the film-book Les Sentiers de L’utopie (Editions Zones 2011), they have been setting up a commune, farm and school of art and activism in rural Brittany. Their most recent project has been the Climate Games, an online-offline disobedient action-adventure game that took place during Paris Climate Summit.
We are a network of artists, activists and scholars at the intersection of cultural work and climate politics. We are excited to announce that we are launching a campaign to expose and confront the influence of the fossil fuel industry on cultural institutions in the Netherlands.
Our demand: a Fossil Free Culture
Fossil fuel companies —the most profitable sector of all time— are structurally and actively opposed to a sustainable energy transition, and they have a disastrous track record on human rights violations and environmental degradation. Meanwhile, the same companies sponsor prestigious cultural institutions and events around the world to greenwash their image. In this way, they enjoy social respectability in order to carry on business-as-usual.
Let’s get the Shell out of here!
In the Netherlands, Shell has been a major cultural sponsor for decades. It has set up partnership programs and sponsorship deals with the Van Gogh Museum, Het Mauritshuis, Nemo Science Center, Het Concertgebouw, and EYE Film Museum. The Rijksmuseum also deserves a special mention here: despite having the biggest budget of any museum in the Netherlands, it is sponsored by Aramco, the Saudi state oil company.
Join the global movement for Climate Justice
The stakes are high; but luckily, we are not alone. In the global movement for Climate Justice, there are many groups demanding and bringing an end to such partnerships. In the UK, Liberate Tate has gained international recognition with their creative interventions, which ultimately forced BP to terminate its decades long sponsorship. In the US, the coal baron David Koch resigned from the board of New York’s American Museum of Natural History, thanks to the efforts of The Natural History Museum – a project by Not An Alternative. We are ready to bring the movement and its victories home —but we need your help.
What can we do?
- Build a platform of organisations, artists, cultural workers and citizens. Together we can influence these cultural institutions to break their ties with Shell and other fossil fuel companies. Let’s go!
- Shape this campaign collectively and reach out to the broadest audience possible. In order to do that, we would like to get to know you better! We kindly ask you to fill in this brief survey (5 minutes).
- We also encourage you to already make a commitment not to take direct funding from fossil fuel companies by signing the international Fossil Funds Free pledge.
- Finally, please help us spread the message by forwarding this letter to your friends and colleagues that are also engaged in cultural work. You can also follow and share on Facebook and Twitter.
Looking forward to meet soon —in fossil free cultural spaces near you!