Two Extinction Rebellion climate activists glued their hands to the perspex protective layer over a Picasso painting at the NGV on Sunday. The painting was undamaged, but the action caused a stir on social media and on the Project on Monday night when co-host and known turd Steve Price called the activists “vandals”.
It’s not the first disruptive stunt the global collective has pulled and it won’t be the last — that’s the point.
So why, after decades of desperate climate activism, are we still missing (or ignoring) the message?
“People might be empathetic to a green way of life but carrying on as usual is not going to help,” one of the glued activists Daisy Nutty told PEDESTRIAN.TV.
“If we all take to the streets and all occupy where the money and the power is then they have to listen to us.”
The 49-year-old activist and nurse is also a Lismore resident of seven years. Although she has been involved with climate action groups for a number of years, seeing the region’s worst floods on record wipe out her town last summer gave her renewed motivation to draw eyes to the climate emergency.
“I’ve seen it first-hand, pretty much all my friends and the people I work with have lost everything,” Nutty said.
“The town I love … it’s all gone, it’s changed. The climate crisis has taken that away from us, it’s made it more personal.”
“This is coming from my heart, I don’t know what else to say to people. We need to stop what we’re doing and change our way of life completely.”
Sunday’s action was the first in a series planned for this spring which will target fossil fuel production and native logging in Australia. But the NGV action was also an attempt to connect onlookers with Picasso’s his own political messages and use the powerful artwork to elicit an emotional response.
“One of the things that’s really difficult to get people to do is to connect emotionally with the issues around climate and using art is a really effective way of doing that,” Extinction Rebellion Australia spokeswoman Catherine Strong told PEDESTRIAN.TV.
“We deliberately chose a painting that had a theme that could relate to some of the things that will come about when the climate crisis gets worse.”
Picasso’s “Massacre In Korea” depicts the horrors of the US intervention in the Korean War, with dehumanised soldiers pointing guns are naked women and children. As part of the action Nutty and fellow activist Tony Gleeson laid a banner beneath the work that read “Climate Chaos = War and Famine” to make a comparison between war and the potential for conflict to increase amid more extreme weather events and scarce resources.
“You could describe it as a bit of a stunt and I guess it is, but it’s anything that we can think of to get people’s attention,” Strong said.
Extinction Rebellion’s objective has been to draw attention to the climate crisis since its inception in 2018.
“The sort of messaging we’ve seen around COVID in the last couple of years where it was very clearly treated as an emergency that needed to be acted on quickly — it was always front of mind, it was always in the news, it was always being talked about — that is the sort of situation we think needs to be the case when it comes to the environment, the planet,” Strong said.
The activists were criticised when people mistakenly thought the work was damaged and Strong said some at the gallery were upset their day had been disrupted. But she hoped the minor disruption would make people reflect on what a major disruption caused my climate change would look like.
“If you think an unpleasant day at the gallery is having your day disrupted then you need to be looking at what’s happening in Pakistan or talking to people from Lismore,” she said.
“We are sorry we ruined your day, but think about what it means to have your day ruined by an unfolding climate catastrophe. That’s what we want people to be focussing on.”
“I was already freaked out by what’s happening around the world … [but now] every time it rains people start crying, people start freaking out,” Nutty said.
“I just feel absolutely heartbroken, what kind of a future are [kids] going to have? This tiny, defenceless little person just wants to run around and be happy in the world, I have to do this for them.”