This year during the COP21 United Nations climate change conference in Paris, art activists in the city decided to use street art and performances to protest climate change and corporate sponsorship of the conference. The reasoning for this is the fact the sponsors for the event are, in reality, adding to the problem of climate change with their gas-guzzling tendencies. They are putting on a front that they are supporting the fight to prevent global warming when they are really a huge part of the problem. Some of these corporations include AirFrance, Mobil, and Volkswagen. These are all companies that generate high fossil fuel emissions and pollute the air. The protesters, therefore, see these companies as hypocrites and are making an effort to share that view with the world through their art.
On the first day of the COP21 United Nations climate change conference, there were 600 art pieces around the city in protest. One example of this protest art was created by Brandalism and served as a Volkswagen anti-advertisement saying, “ We’re sorry we got caught.” This fake advertisement illustrates the hypocrisy that this company has when it sponsors the conference and references Volkswagen’s recent emissions scandal. Another example is an image of Alice in Wonderland sucking in toxic gas to shed light on the issue and how detrimental climate change is. These protesters are ultimately trying to change the world of advertising and its part in promoting unsustainable products. They are taking each environmentally unfriendly corporation that “supports” the conference and showing the public the reality of how they are adding to the global warming issue. Joe Elan from Brandalism said in a press release: “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.” This is what is so powerful about using art to make a statement. By altering these advertisements, artists are changing them into something completely different than what they originally stood for. Instead of advertising the unsustainable consumer product, the art pieces advertise how they are actually hurting the environment and teach people something that they may not have been aware of before. Although these art demonstrations are unauthorized and “deviant,” they have good intentions and are serving a meaningful purpose. This deviance makes an even stronger impact on the viewers as it makes people stop and think about what they are looking at. The art is technically not supposed to be there or even permitted to be there and people are aware of that when they see the art. The fact that there are so many of these pieces around the city really shows people how serious of a matter it is and the lengths that people will go to express their views on the situation.
The frustrations with the COP21 conference were not only demonstrated through fake advertisements and images hanging around the city, but people protested in other creative ways too. With the recent terrorist attacks, people were not allowed to do protest marches during the conference. Instead, art activists decided to line of thousands of shoes to symbolize their presence and demonstrate how many people would have been marching. However, many people ended up violating the ban on the protests and engaging in a battle against the police. This, once peaceful protest, ended in violence. Like I mentioned before, art can speak louder than physical action sometimes. In this case, I think that the art demonstration of the shoes was much more effective than people marching and clashing with the authorities. In the end, the police have the upper hand and can fend off protesters through force. When the protesters tried to attack the authorities, they were confronted with things like shields and tear gas. The shoes and art pieces, on the other hand, were visible to everyone and spoke volumes just by their imagery and wording. There was no need for a physical fight because the art was able to speak for itself and really have an impact on people.
The hypocrisy involved in the corporations that sponsor the COP21 conference has become apparent though the demonstrations of art activists in Paris. They took something that they disagreed with and turned it into art to shed light on the issue and express their feelings. Street artists are known for their powerful work that often reveal a problem in a new way and make people look at it from a different perspective. With the climate change protests in Paris, both of the art demonstrations and the physical protests were technically “deviant,” however, some types of deviance prove to be more beneficial than others. While the protesters who clashed with the police were immediately taken down, the street art remained and created a much greater impact.