We spoke to street art group Brandalism's chief organizer about why art is the best weapon against climate change.
Following the influx of policy-makers to the 2015 Paris Climate Talks, dozens of artists have flooded the city with fake ads designed to draw attention to corporate political influence. The group called Brandalism installed 600 posters all over the city, in the style of Volkswagen, Air France, and Exxon Mobil.
These anti-corporate messages in sheeps clothing were posted illegally in bus stop ad spaces across the city, linking the brands they imitate to the very problem the Paris Climate Talks are supposed to solve. "Brandalism aims to creatively expose this corporate greenwashing," reads a statement on the official site.
For aptly-named artist and Brandalism organizer Bill Posters, the chief target of their Paris campaign is Solutions COP21, a parallel expo that describes itself as "a unique agenda to showcase climate solutions in preparation for COP21." Posters begs to differ. "Solutions COP21 is a big corporate-sponsored expo coinciding with the Paris climate talks. A chance for big business to promote its pie-in-the-sky market-based techno-fixes to climate change," he tells The Creators Project.
"Solutions COP21 is all about ensuring damaging business models can continue, keeping up corporate profits whilst wrecking the climate, local environments, and communities’ livelihoods." Meanwhile, COP21 itself is sponsored by Air France, which is part of an industry that is a leading greenhouse gas emmissions contributor.
Brandalism continues to use the technique that's been winning them headlines since they punk'd the 2012 London Olympics. An international group of 82 artists that includes Anthony Lister, Banksy collaborator Paul Insect, and Dismaland collaborators Neta Harari, Jimmy Cauty, Escif, and Kennard Phillips.
We spoke to Posters—who helps organize Brandalism takeovers and mans their email account—about corporations, greenwashing, and why this type of irreverent satire is a good tool for actually fighting climate change.
The Creators Project: Where did the idea for Brandalism originally come from? Bill Posters: The Brandalism project came from the need to do something creative that challenges consumerism. We wanted to find a way to get behind the image of brands, the way they present themselves and try and expose some truths around the subject of advertising and public relations. We also wanted to use creative civil disobedience to highlight the advertising’s effects on our understandings of what has meaning in life and how consumerism affects our behaviors and relationships to the environment.
How did you organize the hundreds of artists who participated in Brandalism this year?
You know what, we have an amazing network of international artists that contribute to the project using social and digital networks. There is a ton of logistics involved but this is a really good way of collaborating and making sure artists from across the world can engage in creative activism and put their aesthetic skills to a social cause. This year we have open-sourced the design process as much as possible so members of the public, French artists could also contribute and this was one of the best parts of the project.
You use the word "greenwashing" a couple of times in your statement. Can you explain exactly what that means?
Greenwashing is where large corporations and organizations appear in their publicity and communications to be doing all they can to care for the environment. Some companies do a lot to protect the environment but huge multinational corporations extract resources and damage the environment far more than they "protect" it.
Solutions COP21 promises to “showcase all the solutions and initiatives deployed in the energy, mobility, and construction sectors." But the reality is one of corporate goliaths—and their profit-motivated false solutions—riding on the coat tails of the real solutions being exhibited by the little guys. Here’s how:
Big companies pay big money to get privileged access to climate policy-makers. Solutions COP21 partners are promised the opportunity to host “stakeholders during privileged meetings: formal (business meetings) and informal (hospitality areas, gala dinner, etc.)” including “committed institutional players” i.e. the national delegations of policy-makers negotiating the climate deal.
Air France is sponsoring the UN climate talks. It’s a really really bad joke that has disastrous consequences. That is why Revolt Design's artwork is so good. They are simply 'part of the problem.'
What makes Brandalism an effective tool for fighting climate change?
The best thing about Brandalism is that ANYONE can do it so easily, with a smartphone you can communicate how you feel about brands and their business activities to the whole world, potentially. We are in an age of digital and social networks and we try and open source as much of our project as possible to make it easier for people to challenge brands and consumerism, online and in the streets.
Is Brandalism breaking the law?
Yes, we are breaking the law, but laws need to be broken when governments don’t control corporations. You can look back on the history of social justice campaigns—from the right for women to vote, to the Civil Rights Movement and more recently to the Occupy Movement, all these hugely important campaigns broke the law in so many ways because the freedoms and rights they were fighting for were not given. Breaking the law for social issues is traditional, there is nothing radical about it. Governments or corporations take our rights away by design, look back in history and you can see a long line of examples. So we must take control of our rights into our own hands and collectively do something about it.
I think that the wider public really support what we do and don’t worry about the law breaking side of it. Especially when the public is pissed off with constantly being bombarded with thousands of brand impressions and adverts a day everywhere! Nobody asked the public if they wanted to see adverts in public space or all over every form of communication that we use in life, we can’t avoid them and that is why the industry is worth hundreds of billions a year. So to take them back creatively and use their spaces to share creative messages which actually have a meaning is something that we get a lot of love for.
Have you gotten any response from the authorities or the companies you're Brandalizing?
Yes. In 2012, we took over loads of billboards across the UK just before the Olympics kicked off and the ad industry came out guns blazing. Trying to reassure their corporate clients that this will be dealt with efficiently and their adverts replaced. Since our last project in 2014, we have found a little law article that was commissioned by the ad industry to advise corporations on how to deal with a "brandalism attack." Their whole strategy now is to not be drawn out into public debate because they know they will lose, they don’t have a leg to stand on. The most memorable response we have got was here in Paris. We had a female team of people that were stopped by JC Decaux [the company that owns the advertisement cases throughout the city] in the streets of Paris and questioned. A quick bit of blagging later and the team was given some advice about how to clip the posters in properly and then they buggered off.
What's next for you, and for the Brandalists you're working with? Can’t say, needs to be hush hush and all that.