In May 2010, a group calling themselves Liberate Tate released black helium balloons carrying ‘oil-slicked’ dead fish and model birds to the upper airspace of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall during the gallery’s BP sponsored birthday party. A movement was born. Gushing from floral skirts, spilling elegantly from giant white eggs, jetting from paint tubes across the floor of the iconic Tate Turbine Hall, the flood of oily resistance that followed has generated a fierce debate in the art world around oil, ethics and sponsorship.
Impressed, PLATFORM stepped up to argue the case, launching the campaign Licence to Spill, with support from over 171 artists. We argue that the oil corporations’ stamp on these hefty cultural institutions buys it a badge of acceptability, a social licence to operate. This quietly smooths over decades of ecological damage and devastating impacts on communities that are living with oil extraction.
In January 2011, during five days in a Central London art space, we will exhibit artifacts, images and videos from the work of the Liberate Tate collective, and host workshops to actively engage the public. We will explore the power of aesthetic interventions to disturb, re-vision and re-form the relationships between artist, institution, sponsor and viewer. This project is about celebrating resistance to big oil sponsorship deals. It’s about creating a dynamic and exciting space for people to learn, discuss, make, plot, strategize and empower themselves. We believe art is not just a mechanism to reveal the world, but also a force to change it. We will widely promote and advertise the event to ensure that the mainstream art world engages with the issues, and that their is a visible point for new people to get involved in whatever way they can.
In a time of massive public funding cuts in the we know this campaign is going to face critics. But if artists fold at the feet of big oil when they flash their cash, who exactly do we expect will stand up to them?