Climate change artist-activists sidestep protest ban during COP21 summit

The Brandalism group placed artwork in advertising spaces owned by outdoor advertising firm JC Decaux, an official sponsor to the COP21 climate talks. This image criticizes what they see as British Prime Minister David Cameron's hypocrisy. (Brandalism)

They aren’t waiting for permission to speak their minds.

Activists have circumvented the French government’s controversial ban on public protests — enacted in the wake of the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks that killed 130 people — by mounting art installations, hoping to capture the world’s attention as heads of state gather in Paris for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. In projects ranging from sculpture to guerrilla art, light shows and film, artists have sought to remind the negotiators what they are fighting against — the most devastating consequences of climate change — and for: the ecosystem of the planet and the homes of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

‘Where the Tides Ebb and Flow’

Argentine artist Pedro Marzorati wants to raise awareness of worldwide sea level rise with his project “Where the Tides Ebb and Flow.” It shows 30 sculptures of blue men submerged in the lake at Montsouris Park.

“My message is to make people think about this big and contemporary problem in a poetic way,” Marzorati said to Yahoo News. “I hope [this reaches the politicians], but I await much more the reaction from the public of Paris. It’s a good moment. The consciousness is here.”

The project, first unveiled in Holland in 2008, was installed in Paris over three days in October by Marzorati and his team.

“Where the Tides Ebb and Flow by Pedro Marzorati was installed in Montsouris Park's lake in Paris. (Pedro Marzorati)


The Brandalism project, a U.K.-based antiadvertising campaign, announced that it has plastered Paris with more than 600 unauthorized artworks by more than 80 artists from 19 countries, meant to illustrate the connection among advertising, consumerism, fossil-fuel dependency and climate change.

Although the two-week conference is just getting underway, Brandalism is already criticizing what it considers the “corporate takeover” of the negotiations.

Brandalism takes issue with the corporate sponsors of the climate talks, such as Volkswagen. (Barnbrook, Brandalism)

One fake Volkswagen advertisement reads, “We’re sorry we got caught.” A similar Exxon-Mobil poster says, “We knew about the impact of fossil fuels but publicly denied it.”

“By sponsoring the climate talks, major polluters such as Air France and GDF-Suez-Engie [a French electric utility company] can promote themselves as part of the solution when actually they are part of the problem,” Joe Elan from Brandalism said in a statement.

“We are taking their spaces back because we want to challenge the role advertising plays in promoting unsustainable consumerism. Because the advertising industry force-feeds our desires for products created from fossil fuels, they are intimately connected to causing climate change.”

‘Particle Falls’

American environmental artist Andrea Polli created a “reactive light projection” called “Particle Falls” that is displayed on the façade of the Mona Bismarck American Center in Paris.

“‘Particle Falls’ is a project that makes what is invisible around us visible. A sensor called a nephelometer measures light scattering with a tiny laser to ‘count’ the number of tiny particles in the air in real time,” Polli said in an email to Yahoo News.

The installation, which changes before your eyes, will show viewers the current levels of air pollution as a digitally generated light show until it is removed on Dec. 13.

The Mona Bismarck American Center is presenting Particle Falls by American artist Andrea Polli from November 6 to December 13. (Andrea Polli/Jared Rendon-Trompak)

“When you see ‘Particle Falls’ change, you are seeing the current air quality around the sensor,” Polli continued. “‘Particle Falls’ is the result of a long investigation into ways to communicate climate and weather data to the public, specifically real-time data.”

By focusing on particles in the air — rather than carbon dioxide, which is invisible — the artist is broadening her interest to environmental pollution generally. Particulate pollution is a threat to human health but is not a focus of the climate talks.

‘The Standing March’

The images of more than 500 people are projected on the facade of the French National Assembly building during the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris The Standing March is the collaborative work by the French artist known as JR and US filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. (Eric Feferberg/AFP)

French artist JR and American filmmaker Darren Aronofsky put together an ingenious protest that didn’t require the physical presence of actual protesters. “The Standing March” video shows more than 500 people from various backgrounds, representing all of humanity, to remind diplomats that “the world is watching.”

Agitating for what they hope will be a meaningful agreement, the artists projected the video against the Assemblée Nationale (the lower house of French Parliament) on Sunday and Monday. They will bring it to different locations, to be disclosed on their social media accounts, throughout the nation’s capital until December 7.

Empty shoes

Similarly, on Sunday activists laid out thousands of shoes at the Place de la Republique in Paris to symbolize the climate change marchers who had expected to gather before the French government temporarily outlawed public demonstrations.

A sea of footwear, from high heels to outdoor boots, could be seen at the popular gathering place. Pope Francis contributed his simple black shoes and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was represented by his running sneakers. Both leaders have been outspoken about the responsibility of the international community to confront the threat of anthropogenic climate change.

Hundreds of pairs of shoes are displayed at the place de la Republique, in Paris, as part of a symbolic and peaceful rally called by the NGO Avaaz Paris sets off for climate, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015. More than 140 world leaders are gathering around Paris for high-stakes climate talks that start Monday, and activists are holding marches and protests around the world to urge them to reach a strong agreement to slow global warming. (Laurent Cipriani/AP Photo)

‘1 Heart 1 Tree’

Avant-garde artist Naziha Mestaoui organized a unique collaborative project called “1 Heart 1 Tree” that is transforming world monuments into virtual forests with light. And you can participate in this collective project.

After downloading the smartphone app, a participant places a finger on the sensor to record the rhythm of his or her heartbeat, which guides how each unique tree “grows” on the Eiffel Tower.

“And here is the true beauty of it. Each virtual tree is going to grow in real life, planted in a reforestation program, so the virtual becomes real,” Mestaoui said in a video. “The plan is to plant millions of trees."

The Eiffel Tower project lit up for the project on Nov. 29 and will last throughout the COP21 talks.

The Eiffel Tower is lit with green lights as part of the events in the French capital to mark the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21), in Paris, France, December 2, 2015. (Eric Gaillard/Reuters)

Meanwhile, inside the conference…

The delegates inside the climate summit have been speaking in terms that reflect both the urgency and the inclusiveness expressed in the art projects.

At the opening of the talks on Monday, Ban called upon the more than 150 world leaders gathered to “choose the path of compromise and consensus and, if necessary, flexibility.”

Bold climate action is in the national interest of every single country represented at the conference, he emphasized.

“Let us build a durable climate regimen with clear rules of the road that all countries can agree to follow,” Ban said. “Paris must mark a decisive turning point. We need the world to know that we are headed to a lower emissions, climate-resilient future and there is no going back.”

Rarely have so many people around the world placed their trust in so few, as Britain’s Prince Charles reminded the conference in his keynote speech. He urged fellow state representatives to think of their grandchildren and the youngest generation as they make decisions.

“By damaging the climate, we have become the architects of our own destruction,” Charles said. “While the planet can survive the scorching of the earth and the rising of the waters, the human race cannot.”

As he prepared to leave Paris on Tuesday, President Obama struck a more workmanlike note, urging the negotiators to come up with a legally binding mechanism to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. “We have accomplished a lot here,” he said optimistically, “and I have high hopes that over the next two weeks we’ll accomplish even more.”

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