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Reverend Billy dramatizes the Tate Modern’s oily mess

Original article at wagingnonviolence.org/feature/reverend-billy-dramatizes-the-tate-moderns-oily-mess/

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  • Nathan Schneider
  • July 25, 2011
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The Tate Modern in London—the most-visited art gallery in the world—got a new addition to its collection last week. The performance artist and preacher Reverend Billy, together with his choir and a crowd of supporters, put on an exorcism against all the money that BP funnels into the museum to whitewash its public image. The company is responsible for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 and the Tar Sands extraction effort in Canada. Billy, covered in oily goo, rubbed the stuff on the wall where the museum lists its supporters.

The pre-action publicity flyers read:

Brothers and sisters, a dark beast lurks within the bosom of one of our most cherished arts institutions. While good-hearted, god-fearing, gallery goers glory in the miracle of art, the beast below is encircling the planet with its oily tentacles, destroying righteous communities, poisoning God’s beauteous creations, and bringing us all ever closer to the climate apocalypse.

This is not the first oil spill on the floor of the Tate Modern’s enormous Turbine Hall. Two years ago, as we reported here, activists splurted tubes of oily liquid in a radial pattern. And, last year, at the Tate Britain museum, more “oil” was poured over a performer’s naked body. The group Liberate Tate—one of the several groups that together invited Reverend Billy—was behind both actions. (They actually got their start at a workshop on art and activism sponsored by Tate.) Like Billy’s action, both of the earlier ones were beautifully recorded by You and I Films, an London-based activist production company.

One thing that’s striking to notice, especially when this is compared with a great many Reverend Billy actions in the United States, is that there are no police charging in to break things up and arrest Billy in the middle of it. He does his act and walks right out. I asked him about this, and he replied:

Whereas after our protest at Lincoln Center—against accepting $100 mil from the Koch Brothers and naming the New York State Theatre building after David Koch—got me shoved into a black car by plain clothes cops in front of my wife Savi and 15 month old baby Lena for a night in jail on bizarre trespassing charges, the Tate Modern’s approach was to let the church roar. The Tate doesn’t know how to respond to the rising movement against corporate sponsorship. It has arranged arrests in the past. We snuck in with our robes in backpacks and I had my “gospel whites” under civilian clothing. We advertised our action publicly—witness the number of participants. Amen!

Back in New York, the Rev will be re-opening the weekly Earthalujah Show at Theatre 80 on Sunday evenings at 5:30 pm, starting September 18th.

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  • Topics:
  • Art
  • Environment
  • Europe
  • Fossil fuels
  • Performance
  • Religion
  • Street theater

Nathan Schneider is an editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, both published in 2013 by University of California Press, are Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse and God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet. He has written about religion, reason and violence for publications including The Nation, The New York Times, Harper's, Commonweal, Religion Dispatches, AlterNet and others. He is also an editor at Killing the Buddha. Visit his website at TheRowBoat.com.


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