On 18th July 2011, American performance artist Reverend Billy and his Church of Earthalujah choir joined art activists, artists, Tate members and concerned members of the public at the Tate Turbine Hall to lay hands on Tate Modern and “cast out the demon” of BP’s oil sponsorship of the arts.
An ‘exorcism’ of the evil spirit of BP was performed in a special service where Reverend Billy had a symbolic oil-like substance dramatically poured over his white suit by his gospel choir. The choir then sang choruses of ‘Tate Takes Money From BP’ and ‘BP’s Money Is The Devil.’
The event was brought to Tate by five different UK-based groups – Liberate Tate, UK Tar Sands Network, London Rising Tide, Art Not Oil and Climate Rush – all of which have been funded by Artists Project Earth over the years – as part of a growing movement to rid public arts institutions from the negative social and environmental impacts of oil companies.
The infamous preacher Reverend Billy said: “For twenty long years, BP has embedded its foulness deep within Tate, using the fair face of the arts to mask the stench of its true nature. Today the possession of this dark beast lurking within the bosom of one of our most cherished arts institutions is coming to an end. While good-hearted, gallery-goers glory in the miracle of art, the beast below is encircling the planet with its oily tentacles, destroying righteous communities, poisoning God’s beauteous creations, and bringing us all ever closer to the climate apocalypse. Art will soon be free of big oil interests. Eviction has begun. Brothers and sisters, it’s time to liberate the Tate!”
Chris Sands, a participant in the performance said: “When Tate takes money from the fossil fuel industry it is endorsing climate change rather than backing activity which moves us away from an environmental crisis that is already destroying lives and livelihoods. We have to ensure our public arts institutions are financed responsibly, transparently and ethically for the good of the art world and the planet.”
Tate and other public cultural institutions have seen long-standing public concern about their relations with oil companies. The numbers of artists involved has grown over recent years. The exorcism comes less than a week after a ‘guerilla ballet’ performance – also supported by APE – took place at the BP-sponsored Big Screen in Trafalgar Square, highlighting the oil company’s involvement in destructive tar sands extraction in Canada.
BP continues to use its arts sponsorship to project a public image at odds with its operations and lobbying. As part of a multi-million pound effort to create a social license to operate, the company has launched its first television advertising campaign since the Gulf of Mexico oil spill which centres on its arts, culture and sports sponsorship: a cynical attempt to alter public perception about the company.