Statement | It is precisely art that can let the climate crisis sink in

I wasn’t there, but I spend many evenings in concert halls, and it seems very annoying when an activist disrupts your concert. Last Wednesday, a representative of Extinction Rebellion in the Concertgebouw shouted right through Verdi’s Requiem: “Sorry, this is an emergency, we are in the middle of a climate crisis.” He began to recite a message, but as soon as the crowd realized what was happening, the man was crushed and knocked over by neighboring concertgoers to loud applause. work outside. Music lovers evict activist Concertgebouw after disrupting requiem, headlined A.D.

The reactions from the classical music sector were quite unanimous, just like after the previous glue campaigns in the museum world. The Concertgebouw issued a statement expressing its understanding of the aims, but strongly condemned the method and also invoked safety: panic could occur in the hall. “I also have climate concerns, but you don’t touch art with your fingers, regardless of whether it’s Verdi or Johannes Vermeer,” said presenter Hans Haffmans in the program the next day. Scene on NPO Radio 4.

Once you nod, like a right-thinking art lover. Art and climate are not opposed to each other – on the contrary. I support your message, Extinction Rebellion, but please burn Zuidas to ashes to quote Hang Youth. Don’t spoil our beauty temples. You cut your own fingers. Not only are you antagonizing potential allies like me; classical music is also an eminently ‘vulnerable art form’ as Merlijn Kerkhof rightly argued in de Volkskrant, easy prey for the short-term contempt of people who don’t like it anyway. You can count on your fingers how such a Twitter video is framed: ‘Nodding boomers are startled awake by climate concerns, suddenly burst with determination and floor the messenger’. Anyone yelling ‘elite’? We can do without this framework.

Art is not sedation

And yet something nags at my agreement. “But just like the orchestra on the Titanic continued to play – even when the ship was already sinking for a long time – we in the Netherlands continue with our lives as if nothing is wrong,” Extinction Rebellion wrote after the action. It is bland and unfair: art is not a recipe for sedation for a sick elite, it is the domain of imagination and transformative powers. Please note that Verdi once inspired Italian unification. The Belgian Revolution started with an opera. Even today, it is artists who hold up a mirror to us, confront us with our desires and hypocrisies, who offer us solace. And yet: don’t we live as if everything is going well?

The same Titanic metaphor, but with a completely different meaning, was used by the outspoken activist violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja when I recently NRC the interview. “We are on the brink of collapse and every second on stage counts,” she said: “We live in a world that is melting. We must continue to spread that message.” If we do not find a solution to the destruction of our environment, then at least let us perish with dignity, according to Kopatchinskaya: Play on to the bitter end, like the string on the Titanic.

Art gives hope, and hope is an incentive

Of course you have to keep playing. Art and climate are not opposed to each other; both are domains of intrinsic value that should be protected from the stupid grind of efficiency thinking, but have been abandoned by failing governance. Of course we must drink the promise of exaltation and redemption that art offers, whether temporary or utopian. In fact, therein lies our only hope.

But hope is not noncommittal: hope is an incentive. What you hope is that coming face to face with great art opens our eyes wider. That we become the best version of ourselves. If it is even possible to imagine another world, it is here. If anywhere we are receptive to the glowing core of chewed-up abstracts like beauty and truth, it is here.

Also read this statement: Museums should engage in climate activism themselves, they are ideally suited for this

What we wanted to ignore

Activists are doing a task of sorts, NRC columnist Floor Rusman wrote last week: thank God we don’t have to do it ourselves. Activists are people who repeat ad nauseam what we all know but wanted to ignore for a while while enjoying Requiem from Verdi. We’re quite willing to dwell on the disaster that will unfold around eight o’clock when the news starts, but it must remain pleasant.

Activism is not fun. Activism is the nagging alarm clock that ruins a pleasant dream. It’s the alarm clock without a snooze button chirping in your ear, right through Verdi: hey, here’s the Niger Delta, here’s Bangladesh, here’s Tuvalu, we’re still here! But not for long!

Let’s be honest. We – if you allow me to assume this similarity between us – we newspaper readers and concert goers, with our vegetarian Wednesday and A+++ fridge full of organic produce, hardly notice the climate disaster. We can afford to bang the annoying alarm clock on the floor and enjoy the room. But when the weather is calm, let’s take our art seriously. Let’s really listen to what she has to say. Let’s, next time we see Verdi’s Requiem listen, remember the thousands of deaths that happen every day, from Pakistan to the Sahel – they are the price of our prosperity. If the National Museum of the Maldives puts on a Vermeer exhibition, let’s Girl with the pearl send – let’s stick the painting on the wall and see what the tide does.

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