Culture declares emergency… we interviewed a young climate activist who has found the power of participation in creative activity as part of Extinction Rebellion protests.
AWA: What creative protesting have you taken part in?
I have been involved with art installations, performance art, dance and street theatre. I helped a friend make a giant mixed material Earth, weighing 400kg, to be locked onto as part of occupying central London. It included ash branches from trees which have died of ash dieback disease.
I also took part in the ‘Faceless Financers’ performance, walking solemnly with blood on our hands and placards reading ‘Fossil fuel finance is killing the Earth’. And dressed in scrubs, with the Earth on a stretcher, I was a ‘Planet Medic’, performing a skit with an ominous soundtrack of medical beeps and a voiceover describing how the Earth is dying.
I have also been involved in flash mobs and mass participation dances such as ‘Disobedience’ and a ‘Burning Ballroom’.
AWA: What did you experience when taking part in these actions?
While performing, locking on or doing outreach, I was moved by what we were communicating, the atmosphere we created, and the creativity and love we put out into the world.
While locked on to the Earth, I felt on top of the world (in all its meanings), seeing both friendly faces and strangers sending me and my team so much love and gratitude. And seeing other activists’ art filled me with gratitude for their efforts.
There was such a sense of community and togetherness: everyone feeling inspired, motivated and also entertained. And at times, I had overwhelming feelings of grief at the unjust, destructive systems we live in, compared to the microcosm of compassionate diplomacy that XR embodies.
AWA: How did people react to what you were doing?
I was delighted to see members of the public stopping to take in our street theatre and hear our message. In particular, the drama of the Planet Medics really engaged people. Our Faceless Financiers were very popular with photographers and journalists and we had thousands of photos taken of us. The more effort people put into the art installations and performances, the more it seemed the public, journalists and other activists enjoyed and engaged with the work and the message.
AWA: Was there anything in particular that led you to protesting through creative ways?
My local XR group have a few set pieces of street theatre/performance art, so I got involved quite naturally through that. Each time I am involved in creative activism, it inspires me to do more, as I see how engaging it can be.
AWA: Have you been involved in arts activity before – and are you involved in the arts otherwise?
I had little experience of arts activities before XR. I did do LAMDA drama (just before it was axed) at school and was one of a small group of students chosen to work with a community film maker on a production that got nominated for a First Light award. That helped me deal with being at school and was a great excuse to get away with not wearing school uniform ‘because of filming’. I then got my friends to act in a video I made in our house and back yard. But that was all a long time ago. Currently I make many cards for people’s birthdays etc. and that’s about it!
AWA: What have you learnt from taking part in this kind of arts activity?
I have really appreciated the impact art activism can make. It can inspire, motivate, entertain and make people laugh. I have seen how art is an integral part of XR and how it can reach different people, in different ways.
AWA: What difference do you think this will make to you in the future?
I will continue to get involved in art activism. The reaction from the public is generally more positive compared with occupations and civil disobedience, so I believe it is as important to use art as engaging in disobedience. I have lots of ideas for rebellions more focused on art, drama and performance.