After a long break due to the pandemic, ‘actorvists’ BP or not BP? returned to the British Museum which has just reopened to the public with a new BP-sponsored exhibition Nero: the man behind the myth.
Although of course the violin hadn’t been invented then, and Nero wasn’t actually in Rome during the great fire of AD64, the famous ‘Nero fiddled while Rome burned’ line was just too enticing a theme for the protest.
So despite security checks, more than 20 activists smuggled three violins, a portable sound system, and a whole array of costumes into the Great Court of the museum.
Over a recorded soundtrack of crackling fire and the haunting voice of Julie Macken, an Australian volunteer rural firefighter, the three violinists (representing Nero) played, while a large “Choir of Fire” performed a lament in flame-coloured togas, before unveiling a large banner with the words “BP fiddles as the world burns”. They performed once on the grand marble steps at the front of the museum, and again in front of the exhibition entrance.
Police attended – this is becoming a worrying trend at protests recently, where police routinely turn up at completely peaceful protests, perhaps in preparation for the proposed Police Bill currently progressing through parliament – but there were no arrests, and museum staff didn’t intervene.
All rehearsals took place with full Covid awareness and compliance, everyone involved in the protest had taken a Lateral Flow Test that morning, and the performers were organised into buddy groups.
Most cultural institutions in the UK have stopped taking fossil-fuel sponsorship, with only the Science Museum and the British Museum still holding out. Interestingly, although BP is named as sponsor of the exhibition, the museum has dropped the green and yellow logo, making the acknowledgement much more subdued. Perhaps they are becoming quite rightly shy or embarrassed at their continued arrangement with the company.
Julie Macken is an Australian activist who worked as a rural volunteer firefighter during the apocalyptic bushfires there last year. Her voice can be heard on the soundtrack describing the fires she fought – watch out for Real Media’s upcoming interview with her.
Despite the fires, BP is involved in the Burrup Hub, a massive Liquid Natural Gas extraction project in Western Australia, which analysts believe will emit some 16 metric tonnes of CO2 per annum, around half of the state’s carbon budget for the entire energy and industry sector, and thus totally incompatible with any Paris target.