Fossilfree Culture - Teresa
Art & Activism
Fossil Free Culture was born after the COP21 in Paris in 2015 when Teresa and a group of other engaged climate activists saw an opportunity to erode the reputation of fossil fuel industries through art. Fossil Free Culture was created with one foot in both sectors, art and activism, and the core board is composed of artists engaged in political and environmental issues and environmental activists working in the cultural sector. The foundation’s goal is to eliminate fossil fuel industry’s influence on cultural institutions in the Netherlands. Indeed, many fossil fuel companies engage in artwashing by presenting themselves as charitable supporters of art. Thereby, they polish their image while keeping their environmental impact in the shadows.
The organisation started by mapping out which cultural institutions in the Netherlands receive funding from fossil fuel companies. Then, they targeted an institution by acting out unsolicited performances inside the museum, bringing this malicious partnership into the public eye. The Van Gogh museum was their initial target and was specifically chosen because of its high prestige in Amsterdam. Teresa explains that not only the museum’s ties to Shell, but also the commercial way in which it is run. The performances that took place there are visual art pieces, combining theatre and choreography, and sometimes spoken text,. Their performances were characterised by strong symbols such as black ink spilling from the mouth of the performers and stained seashells.
Each of these performances were spread on social media with videos, in order to reach a wider audience and intensify their impact. Teresa also told us that the videos of the performances posted on social media were crucial to intensify the impact of their action and reach a wider audience. They reflected the philosophy of the organisation, to use “aesthetics to denounce the unethical”. This impact has proven to be big: After seven performances over two years and six arrests, it was announced that the Van Gogh museum was dropping its partnership with Shell. In the weeks that followed, Not only did the Van Gogh museum abandon its partnership, but three other museums in the Netherlands followed suit. This was an immense success for Teresa and the movement proving that cultural institutions can be publicly challenged about their ethical choices by artistic activism.
Teresa explained that she felt that artistic activism especially thrives because of its contrast with the ways to how environmental activism and protest is usually characterised. “Environmental protests and civil disobedience are often portrayed as being ugly in the media”, she explained. The choice of carrying out climate activism through performances, counters this image because of the highly aesthetic nature of the visual art. Furthermore, “performances address people on a different front” Teresa stated, “by connecting to the audience’s emotions as to the urgency of the environmental crisis”.