Two climate activists sticking their hands to a Van Gogh drawing

It concerns two climate activists Louis McKinney (21) and Emily Brocklebank (24). This work happened yesterday at the Courtauld Gallery in London. The activists attached their hands to the frame of Van Gogh’s “Blossoming Peach Trees”. “I loved this painting as a kid,” McKechnie explains on Just Stop Oil. “I still love him, but I love my friends and family, and nature more. I value my generation’s future survival more than my public reputation.”

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McKechney has been in the news before when he tied his hands to the goalpost during Everton’s match against Newcastle United. He had already said in an interview with HLN at the time that he would do such a procedure again.

I have complied. According to McKechney, the British government should stop funding the oil fields. “We have to listen to the scientists. I’m not ready to get myself killed by the fossil fuel companies.” Activist Brocklebank also believes there is an urgent need for action. “Billionaires are getting richer, nurses queue at food banks, tens of millions of people around the world go hungry, and half the world’s population is at extreme risk from heat waves, floods, fires and famine.”

Resist or complicit

Both activists believe that cultural institutions can no longer watch our society slowly crumble. “Arts institutions should be closed,” says McKechnie. Managers of technical institutions should demand the government to immediately halt all new oil and gas projects. We are resisting or accomplices. Brocklebank thinks artists are abandoning climate activists. “They focus on the wrong things. We need everyone.”

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The day before, five Just Stop Oil climate activists were arrested in a museum, this time in Glasgow. At the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, they sprayed paint on gallery walls and floors and glued themselves to a painting.

‘aims justify means’

Sticking your hands in a Van Gogh painting is not an everyday demonstration. Is this allowed? Is it really logical? We asked Associate Professor Bernd Rorda of the University of Groningen. He specializes in demonstration law.

“The right to demonstrate is usually interpreted very broadly,” he says. “But the fact that something is subject to the law does not mean that you can break the law: even as a protester you are not allowed to commit criminal offenses or unlawfully harm others.”

If we look at the Netherlands, judges will make a trade-off between the right to demonstrate and the rule that you must comply with the law, says Rorda. “For example, if a working group advocates for a larger and important topic, this can play a role in determining whether something is sanctioned.”

“a step further”

Rorda thinks business in England goes too far. “I don’t know exactly what criminal law in England looks like, but I think activists are crossing criminal boundaries with this. I think they are doing it consciously. The ends justify the means, they might think. If it doesn’t ‘let’s work with normal protest, we’ll go one step further’.”

But the question is whether this is the way. “There is a risk that if the inconvenience and damage are very serious, attention will focus primarily on that and not so much on the content of the protest. Activists can take that risk.”

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