Insects and the City

BP Oil Painting: The Tate
by Amanda Giddon -- November 26th, 2012

The environmentally savvy soul simplifies a lot of decisions for his or herself. Narrowing the supermarket to the reduced selection of vegan cuisine may abridge grocery shopping. Avoiding the leather section or fur outerwear racks may streamline holiday spending. He or she may not have to lose sleep over how many miles to the gallon of the 2013 Hummer.

However, some decisions are made more complex by our alliance with the environment. For instance, what does an art-loving environmentalist do when a renowned London art museum and the environment are in contention? Regrettably, I am more of a Carrie Bradshaw character than a wiki answers or Jeeves type (remember ask Jeeves?!) – I have nothing to offer you but my own confusion and fragmented commentary on the matter.

My trip to London was consistently unconventional. Beginning with thanksgiving at a British pub, and concluding with an alternative street art tour (pictures below!), it felt in-theme to visit the eccentric Tate modern museum of art.  The Tate houses a cerebral collection of video installations and an extensive collection of abstract galleries, home to works of all dimensions. I was enthralled by its content.


In my post-museum mania I did some research on the captivating institution, only to come across some unsettling news.  The Tate, along with several others of the UK’s biggest cultural institutions, has renewed its British Petroleum sponsorship, solidifying the partnership until 2017.  Environmental activists have been anything but supportive about the collaboration with the oil giant, and have been indiscrete about their judgments. Protestors doused the Tate’s pavement with oil and feathers at the institution’s summer party in 2010, and released helium balloons, anchored by dead fish and oil-drenched birds, in the same year. The Tate has received many other “signs” of dissatisfaction.

A weightier approach to protest was seen this past summer, when dozens of protesters placed a 54-foot wind turbine blade in the ground floor of the museum. The protestors requested that the turbine blade, weighing in at one and a half tons, be submitted into the Tate Modern’s permanent collection. The blade was removed the day of its deposition, and never again saw the interior or the Tate.

Now I have found myself between a dead fish and a turbine blade. Do I attend the Tate and in turn support its partnership with the oil company responsible for immeasurable environmental injury, or do I opt for alternative entertainment and oppose funding of a remarkable artistic institution that operates on donations and corporate sponsorship alone? Art enthusiast and environmental advocate, I find myself in a British crossroads. (Which I have found tremendously difficult to navigate due to a road map that bares no resemblance to a grid.) As “oil painting” takes on an entirely new persona, I am left black-handed after my unapprised visit to the museum. Out damn’d spot! (The Tate is conveniently located next to William Shakespeare’s Globe Theater…)

As a student, and perhaps as a human, my queue of questions far exceeds that of my answers. So, I ask you, am I at fault for visiting the Tate? Am I abandoning ship on environmental awareness if I say I enjoyed it? I am yet to Ask Jeeves, but perhaps he will provide me with some answers.

Until then, below is some art that has become the environment. Alternative and astounding – London’s hidden treasures (unless you know where to look for it.)




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