Earlier this year a visit to the Greenpeace headquarters in London took place. Delighted about the opportunity to experience the organisation and to hear some of their leaders and creatives speak about plans, strategies, interventions, and activism projects. My interest in Greenpeace started as a teen when a Professors encouraged us to inquire, participate and raise awareness for vital matters at the time, creating various striking art pieces to exhibit and raise awareness.
Throughout history, artistic practice has been a refined tool to magnify various social and political issues and to counteract abuse, violence, and oppression, often in an indirect yet highly effective way (Liberate Tate, 2011). Socially marginalised groups have suddenly been seen and heard, and traditional hierarchies and power structures discussed and challenged. Through artistic practice, social change has been induced while generating knowledge and raising awareness. Although one single person may give birth to an art piece, only when it enters the society it starts to verbalise to a broader audience bringing together the human need and political function (Widewalls, 2017).
Activism uses vigorous campaigning to bring about political and social innovation. In fact, issues in society are the foundation of activism as it addresses power structures rather than representing or describing them. One could say, activist artworks have responded to historical and current concerns, therefore being politically engaged, and having truth to its core. As the activist artist Tania Bruguera said, “I don’t want art that points to a thing. I want art that is the thing’, by this she means empowering individuals in the public arena with artists operating jointly with the community (Shell 2015). Activist artists are often involved in direct approaches. Western Europe has several organisations making use of their art to communicate their strategies. Examples of this praxis are: Sisters Uncut, Oxfam, Liberate Tate, Greenpeace etc.
Liberate Tate (2011), Single Form– Performance, Tate Britain. http://artthreat.net/2011/04/liberate-tate-urges-dialogue-over-publicprivate-arts-funding/ (Accessed: 11 May 2018)
Shell (2015), Shell just announced it’s giving up on drilling for oil in the Alaskan Arctic.Available at: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/category/about/successes/page/3/ (Accessed: 11 May 2018)
The founders of Greenpeace (Robert Hunter) believed a few individuals could make a difference. In 1971, after the intervention of a small Vancouver activist group that decided to oppose the US government and protest against a planned Nuclear test on a small island in the North Atlantic, Greenpeace began. Their vision was dynamic and straightforward: to create a sustained green world in a peaceful atmosphere. Their weaponry was an ancient fishing boat by the name of Phyllis Cormack and fierce determination. Although they physically never reached the island, substantial public interest erupted, and Greenpeace started (2010). From campaigning relentlessly against whaling (denouncing Russia, Norway, Iceland, and Australia) to opposing nuclear testing in France, Greenpeace created a significant impact all the way through the 70s, 80s and 90s. The Rainbow Warrior-ship (The Guardian, 2018) came on the scene, and the Antarctica World Park obtained protection for fifty years (whale sanctuary). Between 2000 and 2010, Greenpeace succeeded in protecting millions of hectares of the Amazon forest and forced companies to end using Palm oil from the rainforest.
Greenpeace, Ocean defenders 1 and 2, Campaign Switzerland. Agency Network: Lowe. Published/Aired: March 2007. Available at: https://www.adsoftheworld.com/media/print/greenpeace_ocean_defenders_1
The creative process for public facing activist situations entails often a successful translation of visual branding images and company’s logo (Shell, Coke, …). Wittily, the creatives use it in a counterproductive (reversed meaning) action. With intense media attention created, companies are being pressured to give a response, and with that, a change is possible to start.
One of many instances of artists collaborating with Greenpeace is “Ocean Defender” by Lowe AG (2007). A thought triggering campaign presented by two key photographs (photoshopped). The first image, titled ‘The Greatest Wonder of The Sea is That It’s Still Alive”, displays the deep ocean with a massive, thick stream of different kinds of rubbish from glass bottles, plastic packaging, tins, bags, etc. The shape of the junk formation is similar to that of a big fish swarm, which would protect itself by high numbers and closeness to one another and attempt to appear like a predatory specimen. The next image, “Just Continue to Breath Normally, after all – You Are Not a Fish”, satirically shows fish in the ocean aided by breathing air masks. Created exceptionally and very realistic, these images trigger much thought on how we have come to this point with our oceans and how to prevent it from getting worse. Another striking image regarding the ocean is a more recent still of the “Ocean of the Future” campaign (APR 2018) Video that shows stunned looking teenagers standing in a sea-side tunnel surrounded by a vast amount of rubbish instead of ocean animals. Created by Advertising and marketing agency Ogilvy, this image was not photoshopped like the previous ones, but it was explicitly prepared as part of the Video. A vast amount of plastics placed isolated, contained into the sea to illustrate the future of our oceans if we do nothing to stop the insane daily use of plastics. This campaign has touched me deeply and, like with many others, it makes us first want to forget the results of our daily thoughtless actions but then stop, think, and start to decide to change.
You might be surprised to discover that though luxury fashion may be exclusive and bespoke, hazardous chemicals are not. In “The King Is Naked” campaign, Greenpeace revealed numerous compounds (NPEs, phthalates, PFCs…) scientifically traced in eight different luxury fashion brands for children and adults. As Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, Versace, Hermes, Dior, Louis Vuitton etc. are involved, and under Greenpeace’s radar, they launched a campaign to make brands to stand for safe, ethical production. The look of the campaign creates a Prêt-à-Porter atmosphere with elegance and authentic style. Strangely, the child is split naked, except holding a board in front of him and a crown on his head. Although the scene is aesthetically pleasing, the emotion of the clothing hurting or burning the models due to poisonous substances seem to be absent from the sitters’ faces. So naturally, this image looks like yet another vogue photoshoot, but not in Vogue magazine, with a nude boy (J. Berger style?). What is the point of the campaign then, if it does not convey the message?
Next, a 2.5-tonne protest “Plasticide” sculpture placed in front of Coca Cola’s head-quarter in central London (CNN, 2017) was another interesting campaign. Featuring seagulls vomiting plastic amongst a young family attempting to have a pleasant day at the sea, poses a strong image to see. The campaign was intended to confront Coca Cola’s delayed response regarding plastic pollution and demanded higher levels of recycling of it. Regardless if the situation was justified or a publicity stunt, the item itself is rather well done. The precision of shape and form of the humans is impeccable and very real. In fact, it indeed portrays a day at the sea. The concrete material gives it a real current atmosphere and, at the same time, a lifeless appearance. The figures appear to be dead and seemingly formed into a cold, ghostly presence that the world is invited to witness and experience. It is uncomfortable to look at as it indicates humans being blind to reality. The underwater sculptor Jason de Caires Taylor who designed this 2.5 tons “Plasticide” sculpture stated: “It is rather heavy, but ten times that weight of plastic is flowing into the oceans every single minute.”
At times, working for Greenpeace can place activists close to breaking the law or even initiate a criminal record. However, as TW. Adorno (Widewalls, 2016) stated ‘all art is an uncommitted crime’ because by its very nature it questions every current situation. So, in a way, artists are always activists. Greenpeace’s approach has frequently been accused of verging on “self-appointed moral environmentalist police” when using vocabulary to make sure situations look double if not triple worse than they are (Shell,1995). Sunday Times writer Harry Mount (2014) stated, though, that Greenpeace believes ‘crime isn’t a crime’ when they execute it, as it is for a “good cause” and to defend the environment. The protests of Greenpeace activists might give an impression of ‘egomania’ when they argue that their moral rights are above any other legal rights which deems arrogant and intolerant. Though much can be said about their communication methodology bordering on extremism, Greenpeace continues to strike a chord in today’s society by making issues public. They have become more eloquent if not even diplomatic as of late and are serious pioneers, always on the zeitgeist, particular in subjects that most people would rather ignore, in exchange for a blissful unaware lifestyle (Dalziell, 2018).
Therefore, artists are crucial in this crusade because they are the ones who bring a touch of higher humanity to these campaigns and catalysing real change. I share with the artists above mentioned the belief that it is time for us, as a species, to wake up and open our eyes to the knowledge of how much damage to nature we cause and continue to generate. If we want to leave to our offspring a beautiful, healthy, and long-lasting planet Earth we must confront our choices.
On a personal basis, I don’t want to protect the environment, instead I want to create a world where the environment doesn’t need protecting from us.
Who are we really, and where do we want to be in ten years’ time.
Adorno, TW (2018) Philosopher, Sociologist. Available at: Theodor_W._Adorno(Accessed: 10 May 2018)
Bello (2014) The King is Naked.Available at: http://www.bellomag.com/greenpeace-the-king-is-naked-campaign-demands-toxic-free-fashion/(Accessed: 11 May 2018).
Brown, T. (2017) Nice Try Coke, Greenpeace blog, 9 Nov. Available at: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/nice-try-coke-youre-new-european-bottle-strategy-isnt-good-enough/(Accessed: 03 March 2018).
Casson, L. (2017) Putting the case against Coca-Cola, Greenpeace blog, 8 Sep. Available at: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/coca-colalovestory/(Accessed: 03 March 2018).
Crooks, J. (2015) Climate Change (website). Available at: https://thebeardyguy.wordpress.com/tag/fossil-fuel/(Accessed: 01 March 2018).
CNN (2017) newspaper article. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2017/04/10/europe/coca-cola-greenpeace-protest/index.html(Accessed: 11 May 2018)
Dalziell, J. (2018) Ten years on. Accountable now, 01 March. Available at: https://accountablenow.org/ten-years-on-accountability-in-action-greenpeaces-story/(Accessed: 12 May 2018)
Greenpeace (2017) Coca-Cola’s Love Story (blog). Available at: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/coca-colalovestory/(Accessed: 03 March 2018).
Greenpeace (2017) Ocean defenders.Available at: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/press-releases/ocean-future-filled-fish-not-plastic-ogilvy-greenpeace-campaign-tells-supermarkets/(Accessed: 11 May 2018)
Greenpeace (2010) Our history. Available at: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/about/impact/history/(Accessed: 01 March 2018).
Greenpeace (2011) Our vision. Available at: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/about/our-vision/(Accessed: 01 March 2018).
Liberate Tate (2011), Single Form [Performance] Tate Britain.
(Accessed: 11 May 2018)
Lowe AG (2007) Ocean defenders, Available at: https://www.adsoftheworld.com/media/print/greenpeace_ocean_defenders_1
Mount, H. (December 14 2014)Greenpeace, the truncheon happy moral police, are out of control. The SundayTimes Available at: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/greenpeace-the-truncheon-happy-moral-police-are-out-of-control-nhnxnnm32k9 (Accessed: 06 May 2018, 17:00BST)
Now Accountable (2018) Ten years on.Available at: https://accountablenow.org/ten-years-on-accountability-in-action-greenpeaces-story/ (Accessed: 11 May 2018).
Ogilvy agency (APR 2018) Ocean of the Future’ campaign [Video]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKzqLdkuj6I (Accessed: 10 May 2018)
Taylor, M. (2018) ‘Ocean sanctuary’, The Guardian, 22 Feb. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/22/ocean-sanctuary-your-antarctic-questions-answered-aboard-greenpeace-expedition (Accessed: 03 March 2018).
Widewalls (2016) Protest Art. Available at http://www.widewalls.ch/protest-art/ (Accessed: 10 May 2018)