The crisis of planetary climate change is often discussed as an irreconcilable conflict between ‘extractivist’ capitalism and Earth systems that support life. According to many environmental activists this is effectively a “war against nature.” As a corollary Climate Games launched a platform for creative disobedience bringing together activists, artists and others under the slogan “We are nature defending itself.” Climate Games was developed over a series of hackathons in Europe, scaling up an initiative of the Dutch collective GroenFront! (Earth First!). Informed by game theory, the Games encouraged teams of activists and artists to engage in actions, interventions and other forms of non-violent creative disobedience to disrupt, out and sabotage fossil fuel polluters or those profiting from such industries.
Mapping the Mesh
Via the Climate Games online platform, teams were able to register, share information and resources. Gameplay was not exclusive to Paris and rather occurred in an interconnected online/offline gamespace known as the Mesh, with its “austerity-dictating politicians, fossil fuel corporations, industry lobbyists, peddlers of false solutions and greenwashers” (Climate Games 2015). Gamers were encouraged to mark manifestations of the Mesh on an interactive map of the global gaming field, building a collective database of corporate headquarters, lobby groups, embassies, offices and other potential targets for actions and interventions. Players were also encouraged to monitor the movements of Team Blue, upholders of order across the Mesh who were out to spoil the Games.
Over 220 teams had registered by the time the Games were scheduled to begin, marking targets in Europe, the United States, South America, India and Australia. After carrying out their actions, teams were required to upload documentation and nominate themselves (and their peers) for awards such as The Hive Mind Award, The Electronic Disobedience Medal and The Future Now Prize. Winners were announced during an award ceremony held on the outskirts of Paris and streamed online on 13 December at the conclusion of the Games and COP21, presenting a platform for ‘artivists’ to connect, peer-review and innovate.
Undoubtedly, the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday 13 November by ISIS cells shifted the tenor of the COP21 negotiations and other related activities. The state-of-emergency announced in its wake banned gatherings of more than two people in a public space with a political message, effectively outlawing many civic gatherings and marches being planned around the climate summit. Not to be deterred, gamers were committed to pressing ahead in Paris—the quintessential Situationist city—insisting that the real emergency is the climate and that anthropogenic climate change is also violence.
Brandalists vs JCDecaux
While Team Blue were accused of cheating by declaring a state-of-emergency, UK-based Brandalism pre-empted the ‘official’ start of Climate Games by mounting a “subvertising” campaign on the weekend before the summit. Brandalism took to the streets of Paris targeting bus shelters and billboards managed by JCDecaux, one of the world’s largest outdoor advertising firms and an official sponsor of COP21. Acting to reclaim public space from corporations promoting unsustainable consumerism, Brandalism replaced advertisements with posters designed by 82 artists sourced via an open-call, many of them spoofs of COP21 sponsors such as Air France, Dow Chemicals and Mobil deemed to be fossil fuel polluters.
Donning hi-vis vests screen-printed with JCDecaux’s logo and equipped with customised allen keys, a team of 70 Brandalists breached the multinational’s secured hoardings and were in some instances aided by their employees. They struck 600 JCDecaux sites around Paris, including those outside the heavily-policed conference centre in Le Bourget. Winner of The Big Splash Cup, Brandalism’s action garnered an enormous amount of media attention and support. By the end of the first week of COP21 all the posters had been removed without comment from police or JCDecaux.
EZLN wins the I Pissed Myself Cup
Borrowing the EZLN acronym of Mexico’s Zapatista uprising, Ensemble Zoologique de Libération de la Nature were Climate Games darlings, receiving the I Pissed Myself Cup after videos of their absurdist interventions went viral. The collective, “a convergence of animals, vegetables and natural elements,” mounted a suite of disruptions code-named Operation Vivaldi. Dressed, among other things, as a rabbit, a snail, a sheep, a jellyfish, a carrot, a banana, a mushroom, various berries and a bee, the ensemble initially struck in Belgium where they stormed the showroom of a Volkswagen dealership and a branch of the BNP Paribas Bank, a known supporter of big coal. The group announced their arrival in Paris by flashmobbing the International Chamber of Commerce, which they claim belongs to a coterie of ‘climate criminals’ lobbying governments to put free trade before ecological concerns. In their videos EZLN frolic, poster and ‘pollute’ these climate-controlled corporate interiors with astounding amounts of ‘green waste,’ scattering leaves, banana skins and wool, accompanied by recordings of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The collective concluded each action by announcing the Climate Games slogan with a signature move. The choreography struck me as being similar to a technique described at an activist training session should one ever need to break through a police line.
A sociable choreography of disobedience
The second week of COP21 was notable for the influx of activists from around the world, arriving in anticipation of the December 12, D12 day of action. Daily activist training and ‘speed-dating’ sessions organised by Coalition Climat 21 helped strangers ‘buddy-up’ and ultimately took thousands of potential demonstrators through exercises concerned with spatial awareness and quick consensus decision-making, advised them on what to do if sprayed with tear gas and about what to say—or rather not say—if arrested. Despite the real consequences of defying the state-of-emergency laws, it was difficult not to become swept up in this sociable choreography of disobedience.
Art ‘oil’ spill
Big Oil Out of Culture was an intervention with which I had some minor involvement, described by its organisers as a “coming-out party” for an international coalition including Art Not Oil (UK), BP or not BP? (UK), G.U.L.F. (US), Liberate Tate (UK), Not An Alternative (US), Occupy Museums (US), Platform London (UK), Science Unstained (UK), Shell Out Sounds (UK), UK Tar Sands Network (UKTSN), Stopp Oljesponssing av Norsk Kulturliv (Norway), The Natural History Museum (US) and other groups acting to ‘liberate’ museums and cultural institutions from corporate bondage.
Its organisers had already discussed an emerging global movement targeting cultural institutions with divestment strategies during the Peoples’ Climate Summit, a popular and accessible alternative to the UN negotiations, and at the independent artspace Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers. In Paris, the team set its sights on the prestigious Louvre museum, urging the cultural institution “to stop sponsoring climate chaos” by dropping its oil giant sponsors, Total and Eni.
On the day of the event, a glorious blue morning, heavily-armed police secured the barricades on the forecourt of the Louvre, turning away anyone who looked like they might be participating in the well-publicised intervention. By midday, a significant crowd of supporters intermingled with tourists, but it was only after a group of Climate Guardian Angels approached the barriers and distracted authorities that a number of performers were able to assemble in front of the museum’s iconic glass pyramid entrance. Opening black umbrellas painted with letters that spelled out FOSSIL FREE CULTURE, the performers moved to choreography devised by composer Chris Garrard, shuffling and singing a sombre melody: “Total and Eni, au revoir, allez allez allez / Oil money out of the Louvre, move, move, move.” A red line that could not be crossed was laid on the ground in front of the group, a meme-like symbol taken up in Paris representing the minimal necessities for a just and liveable planet. During the Louvre intervention, #redlines signalled solidarity with endangered indigenous communities whose concerns were at the time being erased from consecutive drafts of the Paris Agreement.
|Fossil Free Culture (2015)|
photo Sumugan Sivanesan
Once the performance was underway, the heavily armed ‘armadillo’ police were hesitant to intervene; the routine played out several times and was joined by the Guardian Angels who had travelled from Melbourne.
|Climate Guardian Angels (Paris, 2015)|
photo Sumugan Sivanesan
Before being eventually escorted out, the organisers held a short assembly powered by ‘a people’s microphone’ [the Occupy Wall St technique of a message being repeated through a crowd] to announce that, unbeknown to many who had participated, inside the Louvre a smaller affiliated group had poured an ‘oil spill’ on the museum’s marble floor. Singing the same melody as those at the entrance, these performers marked the museum’s lobby with oily footprints. The insiders, including author and Liberate Tate co-founder Mel Evans, were arrested and taken to a police station on the outskirts of Paris. They were released several hours later without charge after it became apparent that the spill was actually of molasses.
The community project Tools for Action has earned a reputation for its inflatable objects which in recent years have been used in demonstrations around the world. The group’s infamous inflatable barricades, inspired by the design innovation of the 1871 Paris Commune, are considered something of an icon, featuring in the exhibition Disobedient Objects (2014) produced by the Victoria and Albert Museum London and showing at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum until February 14
Fitted together and fastened with velcro, the inflatables become a ‘walking wall,’ providing cover for demonstrators and useful in a blockade. Tools for Action ran a series of skills share studios in Le Jardin d’Alice, a hangar-like maker space and artists’ hub in the suburb of Montreuil. Here teams produced a number of barricade kits, all marked with #redlines, that were packed into bags and shipped around the world for simultaneous actions on December 12.
A spectacle of mourning
Initially planned as a day of large-scale civil disobedience, D12 let activists have the ‘last word’ after the announcement of the Paris Agreement. Demonstrators both inside and outside Le Bourget were intending to blockade the conference, forming red lines that negotiators would have to physically break through in order to leave. Given the state-of-emergency this plan was discarded over the course of Climate Games and re-invented as a large-scale spectacle of mourning, extending the grief afforded to the victims of the Paris terror attacks to the frontline communities struggling against climate injustice and to all victims of climate violence. Relocated to central Paris, its co-ordinates were kept secret until the afternoon before, as it would occur in defiance of legal restrictions.
On the morning of December 12, over 10,000 people assembled along a two kilometre stretch of the Avenue de la Grande Armée in front of the Arc de Triomphe and pointing towards Paris’ CBD at La Défense. The ceremony commenced at noon with two minutes of silence. A flurry of airhorns signalled the next phase of the manifestation, as a samba band began to play and performers rippled through the crowd. I was part of ‘Sound Swarm’, a kind of slow moving soundscape of animal calls, field recordings and atmospherics narrowcast through a phalanx of hacked radios and loud speakers and co-ordinated by the musician Filastine. A 105-metre banner unfurled down the street, a long #redline that read, “We won’t stop here. It’s up to us to keep fossil fuels in the ground.” Journalists and filmmakers recorded vox pops and filed reports along the sidelines.
|‘D12 Paris, #redlines’|
The inflatable barricades, in ‘walking wall’ formation pushed towards the police lines that contained the demonstration. More #redlines continued to unfurl along the ground on which mourners laid red flowers and when we left, over two hours later, a snaking #redline made its way through the streets towards the Eiffel Tower. Before the crowd dispersed a volley of inflatable barricades sailed over our heads, from the rear to the front of the demonstration and back again, tossed around in spontaneous waves—a playful reminder of the Situationist International’s “beach beneath the streets.”
Sumugan Sivanesan is an artist and writer working between Sydney, Bangkok and Berlin. He is currently researching urban eco-politics in the Anthropocene as a DAAD fellow at the University of Potsdam, Department of Cultural Studies.
Sumugan Sivanesan is an artist and writer working between Sydney, Bangkok and Berlin. He is currently researching urban eco-politics in the Anthropocene as a DAAD Fellow at the University of Potsdam, Department of Cultural Studies.
© Sumugan Sivanesan; for permission to reproduce apply to email@example.com