Not if but when: Culture Beyond Oil Unbound 2011Eds. Jo Clarke, Mel Evans, Hayley Newman, Kevin Smith, Glen Tarman

This publication, available in a hard copy limited edition run of 1000, has bold aims. Part documentation of actions and artworks by artists and activists concerned with oil company sponsorship of our art institutions, part information pack on the reasons why these artists are concerned, and part artwork in itself (artist Ruppe Koselleck has made each copy unique by daubing it with oil from the BP Gulf of Mexico spill).

With a little under 100 pages, the book provides a broad range of approaches to the topic. There is an insightful analysis of why exactly it is that BP and Shell need art sponsorship (a fact easily forgotten in the discussion that focuses on why art institutions need the oil money), a history of the campaign, an article explaining exactly why Shell and BP are such problematic companies (aside from covering the global dilemma around peak oil and pollution, their abuses of human rights in oil-rich countries are well documented), and a series of very clearly argued responses to a broad range of the arguments put forward in favour of the sponsorship. And this is less than half of the areas covered.

The texts are thoughtful and, even to those not previously disinterested in the discussion, impressively educational.

By presenting the documentation of so many artworks, installations and interventions in one place, a real sense of the strength of the movement is presented, and a rallying call to action inspirationally given.

Perhaps the contributions from the wider selection of artists and arts administrators that come at the end of the book could have used further editing; some of the texts unfortunately read as less detailed rehashes of arguments presented elsewhere more eloquently, though even this section serves a valuable role in revealing how many there are who oppose the abuse of power.

Culture Beyond Oil is a slickly presented, media savvy argument, much needed in the battle against the massive PR machines of the oil behemoths. I urge you to seek out a copy and share it with your friends. In the battle against the spin that these corporations and their friends push out on a daily basis, this and all the work of the three co-publishers is an essential counter.

As the Mexican painter Diego Rivera said (and is quoted as saying in the publication), ‘If it isn’t propaganda, it isn’t art.’

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Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior is the editor of Total Theatre Magazine, and is also a performer, writer, dramaturg and choreographer working in theatre, dance, live art and street arts. Under her alter-ego Dorothy’s Shoes she creates performance work that both honours and usurps the traditions of popular dance and theatre, and plays with the relationship between performer and audience. Much of her work is sited in public spaces or in venues other than regular theatres. She is also co-director of street theatre/dance company The Ragroof Players.

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