“The action of the two activists against Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ is part of a tradition of activism”

Ln October 14, two young activists projected the contents of a can of soup onto the blackboard Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh, exhibited at the National Gallery in London, before sticking (literally) to the wall. The performance included the following query: “Which is more valuable, art or life? » Should we see in this mode of action a turning point and a radicalization of the activism of young ecologists? Or should we, to understand this gesture, place it in the British political and historical context?

The objective was to provoke reflection on the internal contradictions of contemporary society by imposing on the media agenda two subjects – the crisis of purchasing power and environmental destruction – ousted by the setbacks of the Truss government and the crisis in Westminster. . Using a can of soup and wearing a t-shirt in the name of their Just Stop Oil movement (“Simply stop the oil”), the two activists made the connection between the energy crisis, inflation and the energy transition: “The cost of living crisis is part of the oil crisis, fuel is inaccessible to millions of frozen and starving families who can no longer even afford to heat up a can of soup. »

Use of direct action

This intervention in the debate is all the more striking as the United Kingdom is the European country most affected by inflation and as the action follows a series of decisions by the British government which have been strongly criticized by environmental associations: judgment the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, revival of shale gas, authorizations for oil extraction projects in the North Sea.

This political message, however, was not easy to decipher by international audiences, deprived of the exegesis provided by activists. The debate therefore focused on the dangerous radicalization of the climate movement. Yet such actions aimed at shocking and directly challenging those responsible are a direct part of British political history.

Faced with the refusal of the authorities to take their demands into account and with periods of reinforcement of repressive police means, social movements have repeatedly resorted to direct action. One thinks, of course, of the suffragettes, who, excluded from public life and with no response from politicians, turned to a more offensive modus operandi: damaging works of art, destroying windows and setting fire to buildings. public. Such actions shocked, but they pushed into the agenda the right to vote for women, which was obtained for those over 30 in 1918.

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