Art collective raises questions over John Browne’s conflict of interest as ex BP CEO
Press release: 15 October 2012
Tate Trustees have decided not to accept ‘The Gift’, a 16.5m wind turbine blade, as part of its permanent art collection.
‘The Gift’ was installed in Tate Turbine Hall in an unofficial performance on 7 July, involving over 100 members of Liberate Tate, the group that has made headlines for dramatic artworks relating to the relationship of public cultural institutions with oil companies.
The artists submitted official documentation for the artwork to be a gift to the nation ‘given for the benefit of the public’ under the provisions of the Museums and Galleries Act 1992, the Act from which Tate’s mission is drawn.
The refusal of the offer comes despite the fact that more than a thousand people signed a petition started by a Tate member calling on Nicholas Serota and the Tate board to accept the artwork and return the blade to the Turbine Hall for public viewing.
Informing Liberate Tate of its decision, Tate stated the reason being that: “in line with the current strategy, commitments and priorities for the Collection and the size of the object in relation to existing pressures on collection care – the offer of The Gift is declined.”
Giving Liberate Tate 7 working days’ notice, Tate also said that if the art collective did not respond by 16 October, it would “recycle” the artwork.
Today, 15 October, Liberate Tate has responded asking Nicholas Serota questions including:
Whether Tate chair Lord Browne (and ex BP CEO) chaired the agenda item when Tate Trustees considered The Gift.
Whether Tate Trustees considered The Gift within the context of the Tate Sustainability Strategy it has agreed.
Whether Tate Trustees have also agreed a Size Strategy.
Whether Tate Trustees considered The Gift as art.
The decision comes at a time when controversial art sponsors have again been in the news. Last week the National Gallery announced that its sponsorship agreement with arms dealer Finmeccanica was ending a year early following on from protests and public pressure.
Sharon Palmer from Liberate Tate said:
“We are not disappointed for us as artists – our future work will continue to be seen at Tate as long as BP is supported by Tate, although we would welcome an early end to our practice – but we are disappointed for what this decision says about the present nature of the institution that is Tate.”
“Recent studies have shown that BP sponsorship of the Olympics managed to improve the public perception of the company, despite the fact that they are continuing to devastate the climate and are pushing ahead with devastating tar sands extraction and arctic drilling. Tate’s relationship with BP is fulfilling the same function in actively helping the oil giant to avoid accountability for countless destructive activities. The Gift is an artwork that celebrates the possibility of real change – for Tate as much for everyone else facing the challenges of the climate crisis.”
The Gift is Liberate Tate’s fourth artwork in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall.
The government’s own advisors have today issued what amounts to a damning indictment of UK climate policy. Climate changing emissions fell by just 0.8% in the UK in 2011 after adjustments for a warm winter, high fuel prices and a slight drop in average earnings. At the launch of the Climate Change Committee’s Fourth Annual Progress Report this morning, Professor Dame Julia King said that “underlying progress was basically flat.” The report notes that the “lead-time … has now elapsed. Therefored the step change is needed urgently if we are to remain on track to meeting future carbon budgets.”
Decarbonising our electricity production is critical so the CCC says the Draft Energy Bill now before parliament needs to include a “clear carbon objective” and they recommend an Emissions Performance Standard of 50gCO2/kWh for electricity producing power stations to be reached by 2030. This compares to the 450g/kWh in the current draft of the Bill which the CCC say will drive a second dash for gas and add £25 billion by to the cost of energy bills by the 2020s.
Another key test for the government over the coming months will be whether or not they commit to including aviation and shipping in the UK’s annual carbon budgets. CCC CEO David Kennedy this morning described this a “no brainer”.
Over the remaining sectors, any progress was “relative to a low level of ambition for the first budget period.” The impression given of the current state of UK climate change policy was one that could – at best – be characterised by drift. The report includes 21 recommendations (see page 13) for action.
On Saturday four activists climbed the gates of Buckingham Palace and dropped two banners declaring a Climate Emergency and demanding annual 10% cuts in emissions. Here is the letter they wrote to the Queen:
The UK government’s climate policy is undergoing a slow sacrifice at the alter of commercial interests.
Today’s revelations that the UK government has been secretly doing the bidding of the “Big Six Energy Companies” by arguing against action on energy efficiency and renewable energy at the EU level is just the latest in a long string of evidence that our government is prepared to pander to the whims of business rather than protect our common future. [Update: on June 14 The Guardianreported that the UK government was successful in watering down EU energy efficiency targets].
The recent publication of the Draft Energy Bill appears to light a flame underneath the UK’s hard-fought for Climate Change Act by advocating pointlessly weak standards for the efficiency of new electricity generating plants. Even worse, the bill gives a get out clause for new coal plants as long as companies say they might capture and store some (unspecified amount) of their carbon emissions, somewhere, somehow at some unspecified point in the future.
The draft energy bill came days after the Independent on Sunday printed a frank assessment of the government’s environmental record. That article alone provided sufficient evidence that the “greenest government ever” aspiration had been dumped in the coalition’s post-election policy bin. Key points:
Lack of leadership from Prime Minister on environmental issues
Treasury blind to potential green shoots of growth
Lack of urgency and ambition in relation to the Green Investment Bank
A £3bn tax break in March to help oil firms drill new deep wells off the north of Scotland
Weak, mixed signals to fledgling renewables industry and investors
Attempt to privatise forests
Possible reversal of commitment not to expand Heathrow airport
Today’s revelations start to fill in the wider picture of the UK’s influence on climate policy beyond the domestic arena, adding to what we already know, for example, about the UK’s indefensible support of the Canadian government in its promotion of oil from the tar sands in Europe.
“No doubt this is one innovation that the Tate feels it could do without.” Rebecca Armstrong, The Independent (19 April 2012)
“A tricky and thought-provoking topic, handled with imagination and a lightness of touch.” Rahul Verma, Metro (18 April 2012)
“Drilling the Dirt (a temporary difficulty) is the most devastating indictment of BP’s sponsorship. Of all the tours, it is the [one] that moves me the most, leaving me in no doubt that BP’s sponsorship needs to be challenged.” Sarah Cowan, Occupied Times (May 2012)
“This isn’t a lecture, or an ordinary audio tour. But it is a phenomenal way to spend a free weekend. The three artworks come alive through your participation only. Pressing play immerses you in a subversive world that six award-winning artists narrate. The listener enjoys a sensory experience beyond the curator’s wildest corporate-sponsored dreams, being led gradually through the galleries, spliced together with a cacophony of sounds, spoken word, rhythmic beats and poetry. The triumph is that this is a highly effective, unpreventable form of non-violent dissent – and also a sensual, personal work of art in its own right.” Tim Sowula, The Kentish Towner (6 April 2012)
“England and Welton’s Tate Modern piece is a note-perfect subversion of the standard form. What enables this process to be rerun without exhausting the listener is the wealth of information presented, the convincing way it cleaves to the artworks chosen and the use of the building’s own acoustic properties – the Turbine Hall’s echo and ambient gallery chatter – to create a seamless sense of place … Today direct action, text or speech – particularly if it relates to the UK – seems to be regarded as the unsophisticated sibling of criticality: that emasculated but institutionally acceptable state of political awareness where a certain bureaucratic aesthetic is de rigueur. Liberate Tate and Platform are encouraging us to look at things differently, and with Tate à Tate, a portable piece of cultural activism for the modern age, their message has the potential to reach, engage and politicise a much wider audience.” Morgan Quaintance, Art Monthly (April, 2012)
“Drilling the Dirt (A Temporary Difficulty) is a more playfully subversive guide, which employs selected artworks, as illustrations of, or metaphors for, aspects of BP’s operations. While touching on more sobering material, including BP’s history in Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan and the human cost of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Drilling the Dirt (A Temporary Difficulty) is also a bit more fun, managing to inject humour into the format and actively enlisting the listener in an occasional self-conscious subversion of gallery norm. I’m not going to walk into either Tate Britain or Tate Modern again without remembering what I’ve heard there before and nor am I going to see BP’s logo without immediately associating it with corporate irresponsibility. Tate à Tate presents a thought-provoking experience that asks its listeners to question the ethics of Tate’s acceptance of BP’s sponsorship and to consider this in the wider context of escalating global climate change. It’s well worth taking the tours, wandering the galleries and listening in. Increase the burden of your awareness of these issues, and then choose what your next step will be.” Dr Andrew Filmer, Red Pepper (10 April, 2012)
“An interesting example and provoking of cultural hacking. What I find interesting is the potential to redefine events, experiences, spaces and environments (in the ecological meaning and current meaning). There are similar examples of things in Wales that deserve a similar kind of project.” Carl Morris, Y’Twll ar(8 May, 2012)
“I downloaded Drilling the Dirt (a temporary difficulty), the audio guide for Tate Modern – an insightful and thought-provoking introduction to BP’s history, its record of causing devastation around the world, and how it has used sponsorship and marketing to create a responsible corporate image for itself … All in all, an engaging and educating experience which encouraged me to become active in the debate around BP.” Alice Turner, Peace News (May 2012)
Special Report | #London2012: an Olympian exercise in corporate greenwashing
Amidst its lofty rhetoric about excellence and sustainability the London Olympics have chosen some of the world’s most unethical companies – including BP, Dow Chemical and Rio Tinto - as corporate sponsors. Phil England presents powerful first-hand testimonies from victims and campaigners dismayed and angry at this betrayal. Read the full report for Ceasefire magazine.