July 18, 2011
Reverend Billy exorcizes BP at Tate Modern
By PETER MARSHALL
For some years BP gained some green credential by saying it would not join in the rush to extract oil from tar sands, recognising that this was a highly polluting process, producing several times the pollution of normal oil extraction, as well as causing vast environmental damage as ancient forests are ripped up and indigenous people are displaced from their ancestral lands.
Then came a dramatic change for the worse, and BP decided it could no longer give up the huge profits it saw from exploiting the Alberta tar sands in Canada. All those green promises were torn up and BP joined the other oil companies in the race for black gold, however dirty it was, and however much its activities threatened the future of the planet.
BP despite all evidence to the contrary continues to advertise itself as a company concerned for the environment, promoting a positive green image through sponsorship, particularly in the arts where it supports major UK institutions including Tate Modern and the National Portrait Gallery.
The Reverend Billy and & The Church of Earthalujah on a European tour from their New York base came to present one of their unique performances at the Tate Modern Turbine Hall, aiming to exorcize the evil spirit of BP, promoted by campaign groups Liberate Tate, UK Tar Sands Network, London Rising Tide, Art Not Oil and Climate Rush.
As the Rev Billy's statement said:
"Brothers and sisters, a dark beast lurks within the bosom of one of our most cherished arts institutions. While good-hearted, god-fearing, gallery goers glory in the miracle of art, the beast below is encircling the planet with its oily tentacles, destroying righteous communities, poisoning God’s beauteous creations, and bringing us all ever closer to the climate apocalypse.
And the name of that beast is BP. For 20 long years, BP has embedded its foulness deep within the Tate, using the fair face of the arts to mask the stench of its true nature."
On the dot of 5.30pm, the Rev Billy and his congregation donned their robes in the middle of the Turbine Hall and the service began. After an introduction by the Reverend, the congregation began to dance around him and anointed him with 'oil', a dirty black mixture which made quite a mess of his trademark white suit.
The Rev Billy then led the congregation towards the sponsorship board, casting out the evil spirits of BP in a highly dramatic performance, which drew in many of the visitors to the gallery (and even some of the Tate employees and security appeared to be enjoying the spectacle.)
Having smeared the oil over the BP logo, the preacher led his congregation singing and chanting out of the gallery and to a short rally on the grass in front of the building.
It was indeed a remarkable performance by the Reverend Billy Talen, an impassioned orator in the evangelical tradition, and Elvis impersonator who uses his powers to express "a passionate humanism that speaks to growing public anxiety in the face of ever-deadlier climate catastrophes and impotent leadership from politicians, NGOs and corporate CEOs." It would be hard to attend and not be converted.