Guerilla artists gather in Paris to tackle climate change

Leonardo di Caprio and Hilary Swank may be toasting the opening of Art Basel Miami this week but an art event of an entirely different nature in Paris is capturing the world’s attention.

Far from the glamorous VIP parties and multimillion dollar price tags of Miami Art Week, guerilla art projects and initiatives led by major contemporary artists have taken over the French capital in time for the United Nation’s 21st World Climate Change Conference (COP21), which began on Monday (30 November). Frustrated by inaction on climate change, artists have mobilised to send a clear message to the 150 world leaders in attendance that they must take decisive action or risk devastating consequences for the planet.

One of the most ambitious projects is an environmental street art protest staged by UK street-art collective Brandalism. Several Brandalism pieces were featured at Banksy’s Dismaland exhibition held in Weston-super-Mare in Somerset over the past summer. For COP21, eighty artists from nineteen countries including Neta Harari, Jimmy Cauty, Banksy-collaborator Paul Insect, Escif and Kennard Phillips have reclaimed over 600 advertising spaces to display satirical posters exposing the hypocrisy of climate change initiatives.

The posters accuse the conference’s sponsors of paying lip-service to the need for global action on climate change. As Joe Elan of Brandalism stated in a press release, even as they pour money into the COP21 event, they continue to emit greenhouse gases:

“By sponsoring the climate talks, major polluters such as Air France and GDF-Suez-Energie can promote themselves as part of the solution – when actually they are part of the problem.”

Elan explained that the street art protest sought to take back the spaces occupied by corporate advertisers “to challenge the role advertising plays in promoting unsustainable consumerism.”

One Brandalism poster displays an Airfrance flight attendant with her finger held to her lips as though to keep a secret:

‘Tackling Climate Change? Of course not, we’re an airline. We’re sponsoring the UN climate conference so we look like we’re part of the solution and to make sure our profits aren’t affected… Just keep it to yourself’

The conference itself has been criticised for its detrimental impact on the environment. Total emissions from the event are expected to reach 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide. In the journey to Paris alone, travellers attending the talks are thought to have used around 27 million gallons of fuel.

Posters directly targeting the conference read:

‘Profit first, environment second’ and ‘New & improved green wash – for cleaning up dirty profits’

The environment-conscious art wave engulfing Paris is not limited to guerilla artists alone. In an initiative led by artists4parisclimate, major contemporary artists from around the world have created projects to be displayed in public spaces.

One installation by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson called “Ice Watch Paris” will see 80 tonnes of ice from a fjord outside Nuuk, Greenland placed in a clock formation in the Place du Panthéon. In a symbolic representation of the catastrophic effects of climate change, the ice will be allowed to melt over several days.

Harnessing the power of digital media, artist Naziha Mestoui has illuminated the Eiffel Tower with trees in a project called “1 Heart 1 Tree”. Members of the public can add a virtual tree to the installation via an app on their mobile phones or through the project’s website for 10 euros, which supports the planting of a real tree.

Another installation called “Silent March” has seen around 20,000 shoes placed on the Place de la République by a group called Avaaz. The shoes represent the thousands of people who would marched in support of climate change action but for the ban on public demonstrations in the wake of the Paris terror attacks. Shoes belonging to Marion Cotillard and Pope Francis are among the most famous footwear on display.

The COP21 conference has been held annually since 1992. Participants gather to devise the most effective solutions to tackle climate change. Among the world leaders delivering speeches on Monday were US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

You can view images of the COP21 Brandalism posters here.

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