Cracks fill the floor of the British Museum during 100-strong “freezemob”

  • 100 performers fill the British Museum – without permission – to challenge BP sponsorship with a mass creative protest
  • Current BP-branded Scythians exhibition includes items from Russian permafrost – which BP’s emissions are putting at risk
  • Performers sing, and British Museum floor covered in huge artistic cracks, to symbolise damage to the permafrost from climate change
  • Rewritten oil-themed Christmas carols contributed by supporters – including playwright Caryl Churchill
BP logo surrounded by cracks. Photo by Diana More
Photo by Diana More

On Saturday 9th December, activist theatre group “BP or not BP?” brought 100 performers into the British Museum, to challenge the BP sponsorship of the British Museum’s current blockbuster exhibition ‘Scythians: warriors of ancient Siberia’. This was the group’s 30th unsanctioned performance in the museum since its formation in 2012 and at the end of the performance they vowed to keep coming back until BP is dropped as a sponsor.

Today’s ice-themed flashmob – known as the “freezemob” – used theatre, song, and the laying of artistic “cracks” on the white marble floor to bring the threatened permafrost into the oil-sponsored museum. The performance was advertised publicly on Facebook and more than 100 people took part, including museum visitors who saw the protest happening and decided to join in.

At 2.30pm, around 50 people dressed in white, blue and silver were led by a team of “ice leaders” in a musical performance that involved “freezing and thawing” their way around the museum, while singing:

 

Don’t burn the future
By melting the past
Frozen for eons
How long will we last?
Don’t burn the future
By melting the past
Mountains of methane
Could slip from our grasp
Don’t burn the future
By melting the past
Drills in the tundra
We feel every blast
Don’t burn the future
By melting the past
Freeze out the logos
BP’s time has passed
Don’t burn the future
By melting the past

Freezemob 1. Photo by Diana More
The freezemob makes its way around the museum. Photo by Diana More.

When they reached the entrance of the BP-sponsored Scythians exhibition, they were met by a choir dressed in Dickensian style, with bonnets and top hats, who sang rewritten “Carols of Oil” about BP, melting ice and climate change, including “Arrest These Oily Gentlemen” to the tune of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (full lyrics of carols below). Two narrators told the story of climate past, present and future, and another team of performers laid a giant BP logo on the floor and began spreading giant black paper cracks which eventually covered a large section of the museum floor, to represent to cracks being left in the permafrost by BP’s global warming.

The performance continued – with the cracks spreading and the freezemob joining in the rewritten carols – for another hour, until finally the performers symbolically removed the BP logo from the museum, leaving the cracks behind.

Meanwhile, the group’s supporters contributed rewritten Christmas carols online – including legendary playwright Caryl Churchill, who contributed the following version of “The First Noel”:

The first no oil the people did say
Was to certain rich bastards who made the oil pay
In fields where they were digging so deep
And making the profits they wanted to keep.
No oil no oil no oil no oil
No more pollution to damage the world

Dickensian choir. Photo by Diana More
The Dickensian choir. Photo by Diana More

 

The performers believe that the British Museum is engaging in a form of climate denial by allowing BP to sponsor this specific exhibition, when the future of Scythian archaeology is being directly threatened by climate change. Hundreds of unexcavated Scythian graves in the Altai mountains are at risk from melting permafrost caused by climate change and yet this major threat to Scythian archaeology is not mentioned in the oil-sponsored exhibition. This highly suspicious omission inspired the performers to bring the issue into the space – with people, visuals and song.

Archaeologists are in a race against time to preserve this extraordinary culture before warmer temperatures do permanent damage. Leading Scythian archaeologist Hermann Parzinger has said, “Right now we’re facing a rescue archaeology situation. It’s hard to say how much longer these [Scythian] graves will be there.”

BP has a long history of sponsoring British Museum exhibitions that further its geopolitical interests. Russia is responsible for a third of BP’s global oil and gas output, primarily through a 20% stake in Russian state oil company Rosneft, but Western economic sanctions targeting the oil industry are hampering the company’s activities in the region, including efforts to drill in the Arctic. BP lobbied against recent US sanctions on Russia in the midst of turmoil around Trump’s ties to Russia. Sponsoring an exhibition in partnership with the Russian State Hermitage Museum provides BP with lobbying and networking opportunities with British and Russian government officials [1].

Carol singers by Ron F
“Arrest these oily gentlemen, let nothing you delay; for they have drilled and spilled and killed, and still do to this day”. Photo by Ron F.

Today’s unsanctioned performance was part of a growing wave of criticism of oil sponsorship of the arts. In just the last few months:

The British Museum’s sponsorship deal with BP is already on shaky ground – its trustees were given no say in the highly controversial decision to renew the deal last year. The company only provides around 0.5% of the museum’s budget.

Helen Glynn from BP or not BP? said, “Our paper cracks can be easily removed from the museum floor, but BP’s impact on the permafrost – and the global climate – is much more permanent. We’re proud to be celebrating our 30th unsanctioned performance in the British Museum. The movement for fossil-free culture is going from strength to strength, and we’re ready to carry out another 30 performances in the museum if that’s what’s needed to end its destructive partnership with BP.”

BP or not BP? is a member of the Art Not Oil coalition.

 

[1] See this Art Not Oil report for examples of how BP has used previous exhibitions as lobbying opportunities with target governments

Long view of cracks. Photo by Diana More
Photo by Diana More

Lyrics to the “Carols of Oil”

1) Silent Night

Silent night, frozen white
All is calm, all is bright.
Snow across the mountains wild,
Permafrost suspended in time,
Sleeps in undisturbed peace,
Sleeps in undisturbed peace.

Silent night, woeful night
Cracks appear, oil’s blight
Melting ice and rising seas
Nature’s balance upset by BP
For the planet we grieve
For the planet we grieve

Silent night, fearful night
How we quake at the sight
Exploitation of sacred lands
Profits laundered by dirty hands
Leave our earth in peace
Leave our earth in peace

2) Arrest These Oily Gentlemen (God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen)

Arrest these oily gentlemen,
Let nothing you delay
For they have drilled and spilled and killed
And still do to this day
Corruption, greed and sponsorship,
The planet pays the cost
And BP makes profits from oil
Profits from oil
And BP makes profits from oil

3) BP Bosses (Good King Wenceslas)

BP bosses all looked out
On frosty Siberia,
Where the snow lay round about,
With motives most ulterior.
Brightly shone their boon that night
And their thoughts were cruel
A museum was in sight
To wash their fossil fu-u-ell.

(Low voices sing)
“Sign this page, and stand by us,
Take our cash, no telling.
Render pleasant what we do
Let culture do our selling.”
(High voices sing)
Oil and museum, forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the changing wea-e-ather

(All sing)
Fire and flood afflict the earth
And the wind blows stronger
People raise their voices loud,
They’ll take this no longer
Arctic to West Papua
Egypt to the tar sands
People casting BP out
To defend their la-a-ands

4) Free the Walls (Deck the Halls)

Free the walls from BP logos
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Tis the season to bid them go
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Gather we in freeze-mob wonder
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la.
To kick out this oily sponsor
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la

5) See Beneath the Winter’s Snow

See beneath the winter’s snow
Permafrost deep down below
See the slender cracks appear
Growing with each passing year
(Chorus)
Hail and frost and ice we mourn
As our planet starts to warm
Sing through all these galleries
Don’t let ice be history

(Verse 2)
Lo, beneath the ice they lie
Warriors under starry skies
They who roamed Siberia
Frozen for millennia

(Verse 3)
As we watch the cracks extend,
Lo we fear a frightful end
Ice retreats and thaws the earth
Warning us of something worse.

6) No Fracking in Argentina (We Wish You A Merry Christmas)

No Fracking in Argentina
No Fracking in Argentina
No Fracking in Argentina
And no fracking here
We won’t let you blight
Indigenous rights
No Fracking in Argentina
And no fracking here

We all want climate justice
We all want climate justice
We all want climate justice
And no BP here
The people will fight
Stand up for their rights
We all want climate justice
And no BP here

We won’t rest
until we’ve stopped them
We won’t rest
until we’ve stopped them
We won’t rest
until we’ve stopped them
BP, do you hear?
Solidarity
With the Mapuche
We won’t rest
until we’ve stopped them
So see you back here!

7) Oil and Tar (We Three Kings)

See the kings of oil and tar
Drilling in the land of the tsars
Spill eruptions, such corruption
Across the land they scar

O, O….
Offshore drilling, permafrost
They extract at any cost
Oil forever, ceasing never
Using culture to greenwash

8) The Coventry Carol

All land and sea, destroyed will be
By, by, BP, BP.
All land and sea, destroyed will be
By, by, BP, BP.
O Scythians, too, how may we do
For to preserve their tombs.
The ice melting, and still we sing
By, by, BP, BP

9) In the Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago

Gas and oil drillers
Now have gathered here,
Smog and greenhouse gases
Throng the air;
Tearing Mother Nature
From her wild bliss,
Poisoned and polluted
By a carbon kiss.

Now the weather’s changing
Earth cannot sustain;
Glaciers melting away
Now that oil reigns.
In the bleak midwinter
A stable planet thrived
Now these storms and floods are
On the rise.

 

 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.