Creative Rebellion: Arts and Culture Highlights from International Rebellion London

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Creative Rebellion: Arts and Culture Highlights from International Rebellion London

October’s International Rebellion in London saw an array of inspirational art, performances, workshops and even music concerts take place across Westminster.

Through art, Extinction Rebellion aims to create a more loving, compassionate and creative society in a non-violent and healthy environment. Our art educates, entertains, inspires and de-escalates and is freely available to everyone and everybody. 

Flags by Otavio Avancini, painted by Rebels – photo credit: Richard Kaby

This programme of public art activities has been made possible thanks to the generosity of hundreds of artists – from art students to some of the most established professionals in the UK – and an army of community facilitators and producers, who tirelessly worked on a daily basis to guarantee the smooth running of a couple of thousands of events, including, music, arts and performance.

We have gathered a selection of events that for one reason or another captured the imagination. 

1. Social Sculpture 

Photography Credit: Cat Vinton

A non-binary giant pink octopus, named Jeanne-Luc was roaming the streets of Whitehall. Even though the police were quick to pounce on good ol’ Jeanne it didn’t stop a recorded video going viral with 2.7million views following many OctoPuns on social media. It was designed and built by six core makers from the XR Tower Hamlets Art Group and assembled as well as wheeled down to Trafalgar Square on Wednesday 9th October to join the rest of the rebels.

To see Jeanne-Luc in action: https://twitter.com/Liam_O_Hare/status/1181855978406457345

2. Public Art – Otavio Avancini

Flags designed by Otavio Avancini. Photo credit: Paloma Ibarra

A series of stunning flags, were painted by a group of rebels in a workshop space led by Otavio Avancini. These are an example of the art created in de-centralised workshops run by rebels of all ages and backgrounds from around the UK. These groups have committed weeks of time, resources and love to bring their work to the Rebellion. As London Arts coordinator Kat Brendel says: “We create work to keep spirits up and to sound the alarm. To de-escalate and to break denial.”

3. Radical Street Performance

DANCXR performances. Photo credit: Robert Price

Guerrilla Theatre For October (GTFO!) and DANCXR are the two groups under the umbrella of Radical Street Performance. Guerrilla Theatre For October (GTFO) produced work based on appetite and consumption. They used physical and invisible theatre techniques to present grotesque images of our industrial over-consumption. DANCXR are a group of dance practitioners who use their bodies to create complex organic structures. Their practice demonstrates the principles of self-organisation and non-hierarchical living, and is done in the road as a living roadblock. Members of the public even tried to work out ‘who was the leader’ but there isn’t one! 

4. Regenerative Arts: XR Rebel Clowns & Shoal

Rebel clowns planting bulbs in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

XR Rebel Clowns are entertainers, educators and, above all, an important part of the Regenerative Culture movement. The main principle is to care and leave spaces in better conditions than when they arrived. For example, XR Rebel Clowns planted bulbs for the Lambeth Council at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens before moving on to a new space. Other activists placed 800 potted native trees outside the Houses of Parliament to invite members of the public and MPs to collect them and plant them in a suitable area. The main intention was to raise awareness about the need for more trees to fight the climate crisis. 

Shoal is a spontaneous piece performed by rebels. Participants move together as fish to highlight the intelligence of marine life – with no leader. New rebels comment that they get a real feeling of all being crew, moving and breathing together without speaking. Fish hats are worn and made of used tetra packs. Zoë Solomons, a member of the group, says: “The visual is pretty humorous so I think people let down their guard!”. It is because of this, that people started carrying XR flyers to help distribute while shoaling.

Youtube video of XR Shoal performing in Trafalgar Square on the 8th of October  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrXXjVe1J5A   

5. XR Art Blockers  

Credit: XR Art Blockers
Credit: XR Art Blockers
Credit: XR Art Blockers

XR Art Blockers are at the heart of Extinction Rebellion’s creative design. During the October Rebellion block printing stations were run by groups from across the UK at multiple sites. They transformed into mobile units once the police clearance kicked in, bringing beautiful patches and flags to protestors across London. Blocker Bridget Turgoose says: ‘We work tirelessly on the frontline of activism bringing colourful joy by printing rebellious garments whilst outreaching to the general public. Talking not only about the climate crisis science and solutions, but with our own personal journeys into Extinction Rebellion.”

Clive Russell, XR Arts Group co-founder adds: “Our design output is strictly non-commercial and dedicated to developing creativity. By allowing space for thought and reflection XR Art Group has re-invented the protest art space. Our ground-breaking Design Programme is now being used and developed worldwide – who knows what will happen next… “

6. Red Rebel Brigade

Red Rebel Brigade Courtesy of Guy Reece

Credit: Jaqueline Watson-Moule

Within many actions of this October’s protest, a sea of excitement is always bubbling amongst the crowd… Then emerge a group of druids dressed in blood red with their faces painted in white, advance to the space between the police and the protesters. They make no sounds, give no speech and open their hands towards the police who seem to not know whether to be amused or irritated. They are the Red Rebel Brigade. A group of performers founded by Doug Francisco as part of the Invisible Circus and now Extinction Rebellion. 

See the Red Rebel Brigade doing what they do best: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NLpRzOAUe8 

7. Extinction March: Skeletons Rebellion & XR Bones

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On Saturday the 12th of October rebels took to the streets of London for the Extinction March: There is Strength in Grief. The action opened with a grief ceremony followed by a huge march down Oxford Street to Russel Square attended by over 20,000 people. The Red Rebels and a jazz-funeral street band set the tone, leading the XR Skeletons Rebellion, a black and white painted globe carried in a Victorian hearse, XR Art Blockers’ beautiful flags of endangered life-forms and XR Bones, alongside other powerful street art.

XR Skeletons Rebellion represent endangered and extinct life forms created in the spirit of DIT (Do It Together). They are a stark reminder of our mortality and through humour and humility bring us closer to ourselves and the loss of life on Earth. They are made out of newspaper, piping and all types of found materials, shared skills, collaborative hands and patience. 

Credit: Anna Sherwin

XR Bones is a performance meets ritual piece about our disconnection as humans. With human bodies and the found skulls of animals, this performance piece invites a space for reconnection where we honour all life that has already become extinct. XR Bones bring the wilds of the moorland into the city and gives space to the other than human world to speak. 

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Grief is subversive. Grief is not a negotiation with death; it is a courageous love letter to life”

Video of October’s march: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GiLdmTAvEac 

8. Landing Crew XR

Landing Crew in front of magistrates court. Photo Credit: Lisa Roy

Landing Crew are a dance group who have based their performance on the movements of aircraft landing staff who bring an aircraft in from the runway to a standstill. It comes from an interest in the power of stillness, focus, slow movement and other forms of non-verbal communication, particularly in the context of high stakes, high energy, clamour and the space that this stillness and focus creates for performers and audiences to pause and take a breath with them. Through movement called semaphore they spell out words as a group i.e. EMERGENCY. With the help of Siobhan Davies who gave the Landing Crew her studios to rehearse.

Anne-Marie Culhane, an activist and artist, says: “Landing Crew came out of a performance we did at Climate Camp 2007 at Heathrow involving three performers where we wanted to find a creative way to be part of actions against the third runway. We have had very positive reactions. We have realised that Landing Crew can offer an imaginative and important support function.”

9. SOS From the Kids & Families

SOS from the kids. Photo Credit: Kat Vinton

‘SOS from the Kids’ is a call to act for the climate crisis now, written by 12 year old Simeon and his mum, and distributed as an easy to perform song. Sir David Attenborough wrote a letter to Simeon saying, “Thank you for all you are doing to help tackle the problem”. A lot of teachers working with young people have been in contact with them, asking if their group can learn and perform the song, which is why they have made resources free to download from their website. They are an independent group who have joined many of the Extinction Rebellion events. 

Youtube video of their demonstration in Trafalgar Square on Sunday the 13th of October https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXGd1Pxbxuc 

10. Culture Declares Emergency – Letters to the Earth

Culture Declares Emergency is a growing international community of individuals and organisations from the Arts and Culture sector concerned about the dire state of the planet. It launched in London on 3rd April 2019, with over 600 having declared a Climate and Ecological Emergency, and this number continues to grow. Declarers include some of the UK’s best known venues including The Royal Court, Tate, HOME Manchester, Battersea Arts Centre, The Old Vic and The Roundhouse, as well as artist Sir Antony Gormley, director Katie Mitchell, actor Tamaryn Payne from Hollyoaks, and Peter Kosminsky, director of Wolf Hall and Secret State. 

Kay Michael, theatre-maker and co-founder of Culture Declares Emergency hosted various readings of Letters To The Earth throughout Rebellion. This is a campaign that began in February this year, inviting the public to write a letter in response to the climate and ecological emergency and to share them in community, in protest and online. Actor Sir Mark Rylance read his letter ‘A Great Non-Conformity’, along with writer Joanna Pocock with ‘Nichollsia Borealis’ and XR spokesman Dr Rupert Read delivered his ‘A Daring Invitation’ at various occupied sites. 

11. Writers Rebel Inaugural Marathon

Credit: Kelly Hill

Forty of the UK’s top writers were without a stage or a sound system two hours before the Writers Rebels first marathon reading in a rainy Trafalgar Square on Friday 11th October. WR organizer and Extinction Rebellion activist, Jessica Townsend said: ‘The police had taken down the stage and the sound system was in a van being pursued by the police. It was pretty hairy. ‘ Yet in the end, the event was magical.

Part of this was due to the compares: actor Simon McBurney for the first half and AL Kennedy the second. The rest was down to the writers: novelists, poets and literary prose writers performed work about the climate crisis including Ali Smith, Irenosen Okojie, Naomi Alderman, Chloe Aridjis, Helen Simpson, Susie Orbach, Simon Schama, Paul Farley, Daljit Nagra and  Robert McFarlane while police sirens blared.

One famous prize-winning author watched from a provisional tower of boxes XR but didn’t himself read.

Afterwards AL Kennedy tweeted she was planting a grove of 40 trees in memory of the event. The marathon also received twitter support from Zadie Smith, Alison Palmer, Margaret Atwood, Irving Welsh and Amitav Ghosh. Jonathan Franzen sent words of support but doesn’t tweet. Excitingly there is already talk of a parallel New York event.


12. Live Music & the XR Drummers

Samba XR. Photo credit: Michelle Healy

The XR Drummers have grown to a national movement. As Kimwei McCarthy, one of many Band Leaders/Maestros, says: “People came from all over the country to drum with us, with up to 100 members playing at once, or multiple bands moving London. The reaction of the public has been incredible! With applauses, being thanked, cheering, dancing and singing with us. What originated in Bristol last year has become a powerful force for Climate Justice.” Other band leaders or Maestros as they are called, are Ben Camp (Salisbury), Jake Slocombe (Bristol), Alfie Ferguson (London), Jamie Cooper (London) and Bethan Jones (Bristol).

Mysterious pianos also appeared at camps on a daily basis alongside global musicians, song carriers and DJ’s.’

13. Mural – Paint the Streets campaign 

Photo credit: Jane Mutiny

Jane Mutiny, a visual artist, has painted a mural as part of Extinction Rebellion Public Art programme and invited by Village Underground in Holywell Lane, Hackney. As she says: “On the left side of the symbol are animals which are very near to extinction, the animals in the symbol are already extinct, and the right shows animals and plants thought to be gone, but are actually still out there in the wild.” This middle section shows the passenger pigeon, an American species which famously went extinct due to extensive hunting in the late 1800s. Word had it that it was once so populous, flocks would fly over for hours at a time. On the right is the Round Island Burrowing Boa, from Mauritius, last seen in 1975. At the bottom is the Pyrenean Ibex, a goat from the mountains of Europe, which went extinct in 2000. Next is Spix’s Macaw, native to Brazil, this was last seen in the wild in 2000. There are a few in captivity, but the gene pool is not wide enough to repopulate the species in the wild. They are known as being ‘functionally extinct’.

It is important to clarify that all Extinction Rebellion street interventions are made using easy to clean painting materials like chalk, so the environment remains clean and intact afterwards. With the exception of murals, which are created with an invitation from the owners of the property. 

Notes to editors

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About Extinction Rebellion:

Time has almost entirely run out to address the ecological crisis which is upon us, including the 6th mass species extinction, global pollution, and abrupt, runaway climate change. Societal collapse and mass death are seen as inevitable by scientists and other credible voices, with human extinction also a possibility, if rapid action is not taken.

Extinction Rebellion believes it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their Government.

Extinction Rebellion’s key demands are:

  1. Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
  2. Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
  3. Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

What emergency? | Extinction Rebellion in Numbers |This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook.

About Rising Up!

Extinction Rebellion emerged from the Rising Up! network, which promotes a fundamental change of our political and economic system to one which maximises well-being and minimises harm. Change needs to be nurtured in a culture of reverence, gratitude and inclusion while the tools of civil disobedience and direct action are used to express our collective power.

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