Art &
A series of four online discussions have been led during COP27 in Egypt (from Nov 6th to Nov 18th) by Arteztic and key artists and community players. Following up on the panel discussion “Creating and Collecting Art for the Planet” organised at Art Basel Paris+ on October 23rd (watch recording here), these discussions explored how creating and collecting eco-art can support positive futures.
Twitter Space, Nov. 8th 2022
In our first Twitter Spaces discussion on crypto art and activism, we spoke with artists working around the world on the role and responsibilities of artists in activism, how art can shape narratives around climate, and how effective the Just Stop Oil actions in art museums may or may not have been.

The discussion included artists Joanie Lemercier, Stu Sontier, Sutu, Black Racer, Diane Drubay, Evgenia Emets, and was moderated by Sebastian Heimann.
What’s the role of an artist in climate activism?
What's the role of the artist in a time like this? What responsibilities do they have? Must their work centre around inspiring action or raising awareness of issues like the climate?
Joanie Lemercier had been working with art and technology since he was a child making pictures on the family computer. His work with geometry, projections on buildings, and digital installations slowly gave way to natural landscapes. While looking for inspiration in the countryside he saw a vast coal mining operation up close, and the destruction he saw there moved him to become a climate activist.

In light of that, he wondered if he'd been in a "bubble" where artists were making beautiful work, but work that was just entertaining the public as the beauty of the world around them was rapidly disappearing. To have felt that he was "just doing art" for its own sake, without consideration for the world around him, feels like a privileged stance he now rejects.

And as he learned more about the urgency with which the world must respond if it's going to limit and adapt to climate change, he felt that more and more keenly. Where he once thought that green technologies might be the solution, he now thinks an immediate political mindset shift is the only way forward, and it's the kind of thinking his current work tries to promote.

How can artists tell the stories of the climate movement?
Stu Sontier and Sutu, two artists from New Zealand and Australia respectively, have been working at the intersection of art and activism for many years.

Sontier, an experimental photographer, has been an activist since the 90s on issues like the environment and overconsumption. He works with obsolete and expiring technology like old printers, which he initially found dumped by the side of a road, and uses those tools to make work about the conditions of obsolescence and technological waste that brought those same tools to him.
Sutu, a digital artist, has spent 10-15 years working with the BIG hART nonprofit on projects engaging with local communities to raise awareness on the issues they're facing, such as the Murujuga rock art site that was being encroached on by mining operations. Having done VR work for properties like Doctor Strange and Ready Player One, Sutu finds that the digital storytelling skills he's developed on mainstream projects can effectively get his ideas across to a wide audience. Working with the young people living near the site, they created a sci-fi story that was able to bring attention to a subject people might not pay attention to otherwise.

And a narrative around climate is increasingly important to Lemercier's work. His current work is documenting the work of activists blocking operations in the coal mine that change the course of his artistic career: documenting the police violence they face and using LiDAR to record the centuries-old forests due to be cut down for the mine. Artists can find interesting, beautiful, and effective ways to present those subjects to the public aside from straightforward documentary, but Lemercier does increasingly feel like a kind of journalist focussed on sharing the story of those actions.
How does art figure into other forms of activism?
For most of the group, art is just one of the actions anyone can take toward moving the needle on climate. We Are Museums's Diane Drubay makes art envisioning positive futures, but outside of that she's done work with Extinction Rebellion in Berlin and has advocated for change in her career working with Tezos, the first eco-friendly blockchain, and with Museums for Future before that. The point she raises is that there's a lot any one person could do to push for climate action: making climate-focused art, direct action, or just contributing financially to those who do. There's no one right way to do it.
Artist and poet Evgenia Emets's current work is less about narrative or awareness and is more about practical conservation work with an added aesthetic dimension. Her Eternal Forest project is encouraging communities to create nature sanctuaries and preserve them for 1000 years or more, a provocative number designed to stimulate imagination and long-term thinking.

Much like Stu Sontier and Sutu, she's trying to bring climate art outside of the gallery to get it into the hands of local communities, bringing them in as co-creators. Emets doesn't think that there's an opposition between creating "climate art" for the museum-going public and this kind of on-the-ground community work, saying she does "believe we can create really beautiful bridges between what we show on white walls, and bringing people into the woods and into the beautiful spaces in nature." But what she hopes with her own work is that her short-term engagement with communities can leave sustainable, long-term projects they carry forward on their own.

Eternal Forest Sanctuary art experience Bienal de Coruche, 2019 (Source)

Why did Just Stop Oil target the Van Gogh? How effective was it?
2022's biggest story in art and climate was without a doubt the Just Stop Oil protests in several museums, most famously throwing soup on the frame of Van Gogh's Sunflowers in London's National Gallery. As a group of artists, activists, and museum workers, did the panel think it was right? Effective?
Unlike most social media, Evgenia Emets refrained from speaking much about the protests before her conflicting feelings about the acts had settled. Perhaps they still haven't but ultimately she thinks that the situation is urgent enough that whatever grabs people's attention might be necessary. While her work as an artist and activist is about creating a mindset shift among small in-person groups of people, which can hopefully ripple out to their communities, a diversity of tactics might be necessary. To an extent, the ends justify the means.

Diane Drubay has been working in the museum sector for 15 years, and sees the impact groups like Just Stop Oil are having on museums. Many of the world's high-profile museums are sponsored in part by oil companies’ vast reserves of cash; it gives the museums the funding they need and it's a brand marketing play for the oil company.
Climate protesters from Just Stop Oil at the National Gallery in London on Friday. ‘This was the tomato toss heard around the world.’ Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
For years now groups have been campaigning against this, demanding that these museums stop laundering these companies' reputations and profiting from the damage fossil fuels are creating. In response to these campaigns, museums in London and Amsterdam are finally withdrawing. That alone is a victory for people in the arts sector who want to make a difference in the climate.

Joanie Lemercier was initially shocked when he saw the images, and like most of the public didn't really understand why they targeted this painting. It took him a few days to make up his mind, and only after doing some research. Firstly, it became clear that the protestors had visited the museum before and selected the painting because it was protected by the glass: they knew their protest wouldn't damage the iconic piece.

Why target art at all? Because even more so than the crypto art world, fine art is a vehicle for financial speculation and a plaything of many of these oil executives. The most expensive painting ever sold is Salvator Mundi, currently owned by Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and leader of oil titan Saudi Aramco, the world's single greatest emitter of Co2.

In contrast, Joanie singles out the Tezos ecosystem as a reasonably fair and healthy way of monetizing artwork, which artists have to think about to sustain their practice. Since on-chain artwork runs on the same financial and computational "rails" as all other on-chain currency and software, it's easy to think of ways art could be integrated into practical climate activism.

Movements like Regenerative Finance (ReFi) and DAOs focused on conservation can link secondary sales of work to local projects in perpetuity. And as we saw with the use of NFTs to financially support Ukraine, on-chain art opens up a new avenue for artists and curators to raise awareness of and financially support the causes that matter to them, in whatever way they can.
Create art to act for the Planet.