A couple of weeks ago, headlines boomed with the rather surprising topic of soup. To be precise, tomato soup.
Just Stop Oil activists threw this food on Van Gogh’s famous ‘Sunflowers’ oil painting in London’s National Gallery, in a wondrous display of purposeful, metaphorical action. The activists then glued themselves to the wall in a defiant act against the oil industry. The Just Stop Oil organisation —pretty self-explanatorily— aims to stop the UK government from starting new oil or gas licenses. It demands that fossil fuel production is halted, making the point that the UK already has enough oil and gas reserves to destroy the climate irreversibly.
The protestors shouted their philosophical argument:
“What is worth more, art or life? Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of a planet and people?”
Another protestor said, “When billions of people are in pain and suffering, what use then is art?”
It leads to debate on whether there is something wrong with a society that reacted more to soupy vandalism than to large scale environmental landscape or climate vandalism and destruction.
Art is debatably a political medium, intended to make people think about the world they live in. Take Banksy’s ‘Subject to Availability’, for example, which depicts Mount Rainier’s glaciers melting, following record-high temperatures in northwest America. This similarly showed vandalism of original artwork to portray an environmental point – the outcome of this one, contrastingly to being arrested, was a sweet 4.5 million pounds. Some argue Van Gogh would in fact have respected his unique soupy painting as he appreciated that art encompasses the strife of normal life.
However, there is much debate as to whether the protestors deflected their point, as much public opinion was unfavourable, seeing them merely as vandals. Division is significant; even through viewing other news articles, bias is immediately obvious through tone and focus; the BBC focuses more on the damaged frame, arrest of these passionate criminals, and evacuation of schoolchildren of the gallery room, whilst The Week highlights the moral interpretation behind the actions. The soup incident appeared as either an annoying or random display, but Just Stop Oil have certainly achieved their goal of spreading awareness of their goals, because here you are reading an article about it…
The aim was not to harm the painting— it was protected by glass, allegedly known by the protestors, and only part of the frame was damaged by the soup. Perhaps this event could benefit the National Gallery— no doubt it may see a rise in interest after being featured so heavily in the news; it was also spotlighted in July when student protestors from Just Stop Oil adapted John Constable’s painting ‘The Hay Wain’. Previously a calming rural scene, they glued up a new version depicting an ‘apocalyptic’ future, the possible road down which the world is headed. Again, the frame was slightly damaged but this led to a beautiful metaphor from one of the protestors that English students would be proud of. They said:
“There is glue on the frame of this painting but there is blood on the hands of our government.”
These artistic incidents were not one-off events. Instead, the Just Stop Oil activists have gained momentum – paint thrown at car showrooms, chocolate cake at Madame Tussard’s King Charles, mashed potato over a Monet painting. Some critics think it sounds childish, a climate strike turned food fight, but the activists seem to have perfected the art (pun intended) of causing a scene without causing much harm. In the words of Bob Geldof, “They’re not killing anyone. Climate change will.”
This is a generation of angrier, more passionate kids, young adults, and students. So far in St Andrews, no soup has been thrown in any museums, but this doesn’t mean activism is any less prevalent or metaphorical; from 2019, St Andrews has held the Line in the Sand, a pledge to climate support in which over 1000 people created a line stretching along West sands, the biggest ever St Andrews climate strikes.
No doubt there will continue to be more protests by Just Stop Oil to gain media attention for the climate crisis cause. Regardless of the outcome, there is no doubt that the real winners here are Heinz; that was some soup-er product placement.