Oct 24, 2009
Artists and activists have been given public money that could be used to take part in civil disobedience at the Copenhagen climate change conference.
They are working together at the Arnolfini art gallery in Bristol before the Cop15 conference, which is expected to attract thousands of demonstrators. Most are producing work intended to draw attention to climate change issues, such as inviting people to bring in unwanted trees that will be planted in a community wood or perhaps along a cycle route.
But many will be travelling to Copenhagen, and some admit that they will take part in acts of civil disobedience.
One of the most striking projects is being organised by a group called the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination - Lab of ii.
It will be designing a huge "carnivalesque" installation out of old bikes that it may use to blockade the streets in Copenhagen or to trap fossil fuel lobbyists in their hotel.
"We're not sure exactly how we will use it. It just depends how it turns out," said one of the Lab technicians, John Jordan. "It will certainly be used in some act of civil disobedience."
The Lab of ii will build a prototype of their work in Bristol and then put together the real thing in Denmark. Jordan said: "As far as we are concerned history changes through disobedience. Freedoms we take for granted happened because people broke the rules."
Jordan said the exciting thing about the Arnolfini project was getting artists and activists together. "Artists are imaginative but don't have much real courage or involvement in the real world but bringing the two together is magic. For me art is now about showing life to people, it's about changing everyday life."
Jane Trowell, of the eco-artist group Platform, which is curating the project, called C Words: Carbon, Climate, Capital, Culture, agreed. "A lot of environmental art is being made. It's beautiful, touching, engaging but can be a way of just commenting on rather than provoking discussion and action on climate change.
"We're hoping to say it's not just enough to make work about it or comment or describe it, let's do something," she said.
The Arts Council is funding the project and the Arnolfini is also supported by Bristol city council. In effect, taxpayers' money is being used to help artists and activists, some of whom are vowing to take part in civil disobedience.
Tom Trevor, the director of the Arnolfini, said that 10 years ago public money would not have been used for such a project - and it might be well different after the next election.
"But for now the state is funding anti-state activity, which is very interesting," he said. Trevor also conceded that if the conference was taking place in Bristol, the gallery would almost certainly not support direct action so overtly. "It would be difficult to keep all our stakeholders on board," he said.
Another group taking part in the project is the Anderson family - parents Gary and Lena and their sons, Neal, Gabriel and Sid, aged from two to nine. They go under the name the Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent and Home.
The family, from Liverpool, are spending half term living on a boat moored in the harbour outside the Arnolfini, and running activities including an anti-capitalist Halloween.
They will create performances from what they learn and will stage them in Copenhagen. "We won't want to get into any trouble but we do want to create an activist cell as a family unit," said Gary Anderson.
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