On #DropTheShell performance & #VanGogh8 affair

It’s Friday evening in the entrance hall of the Shell-sponsored Van Gogh Museum. Seven muses silently look over the public as they sip their indigestibly oily amuse-bouches from a scallop shell. One muse recites a paragraph from Vincent van Gogh himself —from a letter to his brother— on the subject of courage in the face of danger. It talks about the rising waters, and finding the strength to struggle to survive.

The museum however, is not amused; it corrals the artists and calls the police on them. They spend the night in jail. Four among them choose not to identify themselves, as is common practice amongst detained people of good conscience who wish to show solidarity with undocumented migrants. For this they are taken to foreign detention for a second, and then a third night.

The #VanGogh8 affair quickly sends its ripples across the world. According to the museum, the dripping of a non-staining glucose syrup on the floor is public ‘property damage’ — but fracking, drilling, burning and spilling fossil fuels planet-wide is somehow not. According to the museum, an unsolicited art performance is ‘trespassing’ — while allowing corporate polluters to host parties in front of publicly-funded national treasures is not.

Following a spontaneous, hundred-strong ‘wake’ for justice on Sunday, and museum phones being flooded with calls all weekend, the museum momentarily comes to its senses. It decides not to press charges against the #VanGogh8, despite having called the police on them in the first place. In a vain effort to appease tensions, the museum director poses in front of the Sunflowers and speaks, while four performers spend Mothers’ Day silenced in solitary confinement. After sixty-eight hours in detention with persistent bullying from police, all remaining muses are finally released on Monday.

In a statement published later that day, the museum offers no consolation to the performers or their supporters. Unable to give an accurate account of their mismanagement of the situation, the museum maintains the ludicrous position that such artistic performances constitute a ‘security risk’ to the collection. The verifiable reality is that the performance was staged for the entrance hall steps, very far from any paintings. The oil substitute had long ago been tested and proved to be non-staining to the museum floor. The nature of the performance itself was very clearly peaceful and aesthetic.

As the performance took place, a spokesperson (also arrested) voluntarily informed the security about the intention, non-violence and duration of the piece. The performance, with a total length of five minutes, was planned to end with a dignified exit. Contrary to the museum’s claims, the performers were never asked to leave, but in fact prevented from doing so, and held inside the museum against their will.

The museum’s press statement works very hard to portray the partnership with the climate-wrecking company as benign. Sounding exactly as though it was written by Shell’s PR department, such a statement only serves as a prime expression of the museum’s misguided affinities and priorities there.

While the few drops of glucose syrup on the museum floor are long gone, we believe that the stained reputation of the museum will take much more effort to restore. We call on the museum’s director Alex Rüger and head of security Adrie Kok to take responsibility for the disproportionately punitive response they directed against this peaceful creative criticism, and offer an apology to those that they arranged to have arrested.

As long as the Shell sponsorship remains in place, the stain on the museum will be there. The Van Gogh Museum and all the other public institutions with fossil fuel stained finances should put their houses in order, and take a stand on the right side of history. Fossil Free Culture NL remains committed more than ever to exposing the toxic ties between fossil fuel companies and cultural institutions.

Let it be loud and clear: this is only the opening act. Expect us.

Performance Brochure [PDF]

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Beyond Insanity

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Creative performance in Van Gogh Museum protests sponsorship by Shell

This afternoon, September 16th at 14:00 p.m. Fossil Free Culture NL (FFC) staged a disobedient performance at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam to protest the irrational relationship between Shell and a public art institution.

Beyond Insanity shows how the sponsorship by Shell intoxicates the arts. Four men dressed as hospital patients walked into the entrance hall of the museum. At the background, a large screen displayed the title of the temporary exhibition: “On the Verge of Insanity: Van Gogh and His Illness”. One patient stood attached to an intravenous infusion, a black substance intoxicated his body. The second patient suffered from heavy petroleum poisoning drooling oil out of his month, another couldn’t hold his black tears totally depressed by the toxic cultural partnership, while the fourth wandered hopelessly around the hall, dripping oil out of his wrists, after a suicidal attempt.

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“Through the “Partners in Science” program, the Van Gogh Museum allows Shell to create the illusion that the company contributes to society positively. While in reality, the extraction of fossil fuels causes ecosystems depletion, undermines the livelihoods and well-being of communities, and is the primary driver of runaway climate change.” – Fossil Free Culture NL

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The exhibition “On the Verge of Insanity: Van Gogh and His Illness” examines the artist’s mental illness through paintings and drawings from his final year, including the many diagnoses put forward by doctors over the years. With the performance Beyond Insanity, FFC wrote its own diagnosis: “The nature of Shell’s activities is toxic and destructive to all life systems on earth”. 

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Fossil Free Culture NL is a recently formed group of artists, activists, researchers and critics that challenge oil and gas sponsorships in order to liberate Dutch cultural institutions from the sick influence of the fossil fuel industry. They are the first artist/activist collective that uses art as a tool to protest against big corporate polluters in the Netherlands. The aim is to regularly perform unofficially and unannounced in cultural institutions sponsored by the fossil fuel industry.

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Creatively Resisting Oil Sponsorship

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Fossil Free Culture NL is excited to invite artists, activists, thinkers and makers, to collectively kickstart their campaign with an informal gathering next Wednesday, April 6th, hosted by staff_room at De Punt.

We are lucky to have John Jordan from the Labofii, whose 2010 workshop at Tate Modern challenged the gallery’s BP sponsorship head on. In the following six years, the art collective Liberate Tate has been effectively confronting this sponsorship with beautiful performances and creative actions. Their campaign has been ultimately victorious —BP dropped the sponsorship two weeks ago.

After the talk, we will briefly map the oil sponsorship deals of cultural institutions here in the Netherlands, followed by the opportunity to take part in preparing our first action!

Where: De Punt, Frans de Wollantstraat 84, 1018 SC Amsterdam.
When:  Wednesday, April 6 at 7:30 PM – 10:30 PM
Programme (check Facebook event for eventual updates):
7:30 pm. Doors open. Have a drink!
7:45 – 8:00 Introduction by Fossil Free Culture NL
8:00 – 8:30 John Jordan on creative activism
8:45 – 9:30 Sneak preview of upcoming plans

Fossil Free Culture NL is a network of artists, activists, and scholars committed to disentangle cultural institutions in the NL from the influence of the fossil fuel industry.

Based in Amsterdam, STAFF_ ROOM exclusively represents socially and politically engaged artists. As a not-for-profit gallery STAFF_ ROOM has no permanent exhibition space; it manifests online and offline wherever social and political issues lead her.

De PUNT is a work- and project space in de Czaar Peter neighborhood in Amsterdam, initiated by De Derde Verdieping in collaboration with the Sandberg Instituut Amsterdam. The location offers a cultural program as well as a work space for residents from the neighborhood and other cultural workers.

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John Jordan is an artist and activist. He co-founded the direct action groups Reclaim the Streets, and the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army (CIRCA). He and Isabelle Fremeaux founded the The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination, infamous for fermenting mass disobedie
nce on bicycles during the Copenhagen Climate Summit, throwing snowballs at bankers, launching a rebel raft regatta to shut down a power station and initiating the unsolicited covering of the Tate gallery in molasses. Following the publication of the film-book Les Sentiers de L’utopie (Editions Zones 2011), they have been setting up a commune, farm and school of art and activism in rural Brittany. Their most recent project has been the Climate Games, an online-offline disobedient action-adventure game that took place during Paris Climate Summit.

Join us

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Girl with the Shell Earring

We are a network of artists, activists and scholars at the intersection of cultural work and climate politics. We are excited to announce that we are launching a campaign to expose and confront the influence of the fossil fuel industry on cultural institutions in the Netherlands.

Our demand: a Fossil Free Culture

Fossil fuel companies —the most profitable sector of all time— are structurally and actively opposed to a sustainable energy transition, and they have a disastrous track record on human rights violations and environmental degradation. Meanwhile, the same companies sponsor prestigious cultural institutions and events around the world to greenwash their image. In this way, they enjoy social respectability in order to carry on business-as-usual.

Let’s get the Shell out of here!

In the Netherlands, Shell has been a major cultural sponsor for decades. It has set up partnership programs and sponsorship deals with the Van Gogh Museum, Het Mauritshuis, Nemo Science Center, Het Concertgebouw, and EYE Film Museum. The Rijksmuseum also deserves a special mention here: despite having the biggest budget of any museum in the Netherlands, it is sponsored by Aramco, the Saudi state oil company.

Join the global movement for Climate Justice

The stakes are high; but luckily, we are not alone. In the global movement for Climate Justice, there are many groups demanding and bringing an end to such partnerships. In the UK, Liberate Tate has gained international recognition with their creative interventions, which ultimately forced BP to terminate its decades long sponsorship. In the US, the coal baron David Koch resigned from the board of New York’s American Museum of Natural History, thanks to the efforts of The Natural History Museum – a project by Not An Alternative. We are ready to bring the movement and its victories home  —but we need your help.

What can we do?

  • Build a platform of organisations, artists, cultural workers and citizens. Together we can influence these cultural institutions to break their ties with Shell and other fossil fuel companies. Let’s go!
  • Shape this campaign collectively and reach out to the broadest audience possible. In order to do that, we would like to get to know you better! We kindly ask you to fill in this brief survey (5 minutes).
  • We also encourage you to already make a commitment not to take direct funding from fossil fuel companies by signing the international Fossil Funds Free pledge.
  • Finally, please help us spread the message by forwarding this letter to your friends and colleagues that are also engaged in cultural work. You can also follow and share on Facebook and Twitter.

Looking forward to meet soon —in fossil free cultural spaces near you!