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A Work of Art, A Work of Heart

Shortly after returning from last Saturday’s ‘Funeral For Nature’ event in Bath, where I and four other local Planet Shaftesbury supporters had joined the 400 strong ‘Red Rebel’ element of the procession, I answered a call to say something about the experience for a ‘This is Alfred’ broadcast.  As ever, I’d rather have left it to one of the others who would doubtless have been more fluent than I, but it seemed I was the only one available to speak in time – so I ummed and erred my way through responding to a couple of questions from Keri Jones.


One of them concerned the validity of an action like the one in which we had participated, in comparison to, say, those who are finding ways to challenge the woeful inaction on the part of our & other governments through legal processes.  I answered as best I could, but have thought a lot about it since.  I want to say more about how, as I see it, all efforts to urge humanity to action that might yet save us from the worst effects of climate breakdown, biodiversity loss and pollution are parts of one and the same whole.


For any who remain unaware of its occurrence, I’ll briefly say a little more about the event itself – and leave you to google it if you want to know more.  There is plenty to be seen online.  The procession involved the ‘Reds’, in their largest gathering so far, and black clad ‘mourners’, funereal drummers and a sculptured bier for Mother Earth, carried by costumed & face painted pall- bearers.  It took place in silence, but for the steady beat of the drums, and, with slowness and dignity, moved through some of the main streets and iconic locations of Bath for two and a half hours.  In order to maintain its theatrical effectiveness, the organisers had devised various manoeuvres for participants to perform, simple enough that even novices like myself could play their part.  It must have taken many hours of careful planning, and – as far as I know – was performed flawlessly.


So to ask why this event was valid was, in a sense, to ask why art itself is valid.  Every effort we, who are sometimes reluctantly branded as ‘activists’, take to raise awareness of our planetary crisis, is complimentary to every other action taken by those who choose to work for the same cause.  So there are practical steps that can be taken, there are radical and challenging steps, and there are artistic steps.  The colour red was chosen by those who devised the Red Rebel costumes and performances because it is the colour of blood.  Lifeblood.  To see a column of silent, supplicant Reds extending arterially as far as the eye could see along a Bath shopping street, must surely have some emotional effect on all but the hardest of hearts.  Indeed, it was noticeable that most who observed this spectacle were themselves inclined to be silent.  Many might well have asked themselves: why are these people doing this?  The more conventional acts of protest, the civil disobedience etc. are important, worthwhile and have their place.  But often they are too easily dismissed.  Perhaps, to touch the hearts of more people, something more than protest is required.  In this case it was art.


And I think it worked.  Last year’s ‘The Big One’ event by XR was also a brilliant and well-planned event – but one that too much of the media chose to ignore.  It was ‘them again’, last year’s story.  This was something else.  It made the papers, it got TV coverage and as I mentioned it is possible to find a plethora of videos and photos on the internet.  Let us hope we can continue to use our imaginations and inventiveness until the tide itself is turned, and our so-called leaders start to listen and act appropriately. 


(Being part of the event, there was a lot that I didn’t see.  This 2-hour + video from XR is a bit of a rough cut at times, but certainly helped me to observe & feel just how powerful a piece of art it was:

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