Was ‘Just Stop Oil’s ‘Sunflowers’ stunt an act of cultural vandalism, or creative genius?

Was ‘Just Stop Oil’s ‘Sunflowers’ stunt an act of cultural vandalism, or creative genius?

The Background

It’s getting a bit hot out there. 

Even the sceptics among us may have noticed that, this summer, Britain and much of the rest of the world smashed through their temperature records as manmade climate change brought deadly heatwaves to the northern hemisphere.

The solution to this is ending our reliance upon fossil fuels, quickly. But while this is broadly understood, action on curtailing oil and gas exploration is still painfully slow.

The Big Idea

Just Stop Oil’s take on this problem is that it doesn’t matter whether people like you or not, as long as they notice you.

Like Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain before them, their activists have taken the view that eye-catching shock tactics are an effective way of taking the fight to the vested-interests-that-be. And in an age where short video clips can spread far faster than a well-meaning policy paper, they may well be right.

What They Did

Two young activists took a can of Heinz Tomato Soup to one of the world’s most famous oil paintings: Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘The Sunflowers’. 

They then glued themselves to the wall beneath, asking “What is worth more? Art or life?” in videos which were swiftly circulated around the globe.

The Review

The protestors involved have said that they were well aware that the artwork involved would sustain no damage as a result of their actions. As this is true of most famous paintings, I’m inclined to believe them, which means this has to go down as a ruthlessly effective piece of campaigning—meticulously-planned, captured and distributed for maximum impact in just a matter of hours. 

This wasn’t about garnering goodwill, but about capturing eyeballs.

Do I like it? No. Do I admire it? Yes. And is it necessary? Absolutely.

Cultural vandalism or creative genius? Maybe it’s both.

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