Licence to Spill – FULL REPORT


It was us and it was art!

Last night (28 June), as the Tate celebrated 20 years of BP ‘support’ for British Art with a Summer Party, Liberate Tate disrupted the proceedings inside and out by pouring hundreds of litres of ‘oil’(molasses) and scattering thousands of feathers as the UK’s celebrity glitterati watched on in fascination.

Sipping Pimms and gobbling canapés many of the guests expressed confusion at whether these striking actions were ‘art’ or not. Despite inaccurate reporting in various media outlets, Liberate Tate would like to claim full responsibility for these acts of creative disobedience as art – art that refuses to pretend to do politics but is politics, art that makes transforming the world a beautiful adventure.

The Tate Summer Party had been planned to be in the museum gardens and involve speeches from BP executives. However, due to the rumours of disruption, Tate was forced to hold the entire event inside the museum and no speeches were made.

As the evening sun baked down on the stone courtyard of Tate Britain and members of the cultural and corporate elite made their way into the party, 13 figures dressed in black, their faces veiled, appeared from around the corner. In a mournful procession the art-activists approached the entrance carrying large barrels branded with the BP logo. Dozens of photographers and TV cameras swarmed and a moment of tense silence enveloped the area. Something was going to happen.

Then in a perfectly choreographed moment, the front phalanx poured hundreds of litres of the black liquid all over the entrance, whilst others threw feathers into the air which gently drifted down into the huge sticky black pools. The sombre figures walked calmly away, disappearing into the city, as the security redirected the guests to another entrance as the cleanup operation began.

Meanwhile, despite the heavy security at the door, two Liberate Tate art-activists managed to infiltrate the party wearing large floral bouffant dresses underneath which were concealed large sacks filled with the oily molasses. Calling themselves Toni Hayward and Bobbi Dudley, they began their performance in the crowded central gallery. At first drips began to fall from their handbags. “Oh, I seem to have a leak” whispered one of them to the lined up waiters dressed in brilliant white, who kindly provided napkins to stem the spill.

Soon the sacks under their dresses burst releasing tens of litres of ‘oil’ across the shiny parquet floor. As a crowd formed around them, the two donned BP branded ponchos and scrambled on all fours trying to clean up the mess using their high heel shoes to pour the slick back into their handbags, but to no avail. “Compared to the size of the gallery this is a tiny spill, a drop in the ocean,” they apologised to the viewers, “we’ll definitely have it cleaned up by, say, August”.

The polite crowd that had formed continued to watch appreciatively for another 20 minutes, amidst a sea of camera-phones. Many began debating among themselves whether this was art or not (“I think it is. I like it”), whether Tate had organised it, and what their personal aesthetic reactions to it were (“If I had seen this outside, I think I would have felt as I do seeing it… inside”). More than one invited artist openly described this to their fellow drinkers as the most sophisticated work in the room.


Liberate Tate, is a network dedicated to taking creative disobedience against the Tate until it drops its oil company funding. The 28 June art activist performances follow on from last month’s disruption of Tate Modern’s 10th Birthday celebrations by hanging dead fish and birds from dozens of giant black helium balloons.

The network was founded during a workshop in January 2010 on art and activism, commissioned by Tate. When Tate curators tried to censor the workshop from making interventions against Tate sponsors, the incensed participants decided to continue their work together beyond the workshop and set up Liberate Tate.



Platform – Licence to Spill is a short briefing from PLATFORM that looks at how oil companies use association with arts institutions to create their ‘social licence to operate’ in other parts of the world

Bridget McKenzie
Colin Tweedy says ‘Who’s to judge what’s good and bad money?’ to which I would say a) the taxpayer has a right to express views on what is good and bad partnership funding for public bodies and b) such judgement is what a cultural organisation’s ethics committee exists for. He says ‘If a company is legally allowed to operate in the UK, they should be allowed to sponsor arts.’ The problem is a major omission in our international legal system, which allows companies to destroy the environment in the interests of profit. If ecocide was made an international crime then much of what BP and Shell do would be illegal. The protesters are not saying ‘sponsorship is evil’ as Grayson Perry and others suggest. They’re saying that the climate crisis is desperate, made worse by the behaviour of companies like Shell and BP. Christopher Frayling says ‘now [in a time of recession] is not the time to get squeamish’ about where money comes from. He seems to think that the crisis for arts funding is far worse than the crisis to the biosphere. That crisis doesn’t make me squeamish, it makes me downright sick. Now is the time we need to reinvent what culture and education are for, to cope with what is to come. What if the cultural sector played an active role in reinventing business, for good? For more about how BP sponsorship is an issue about marine pollution, ecocide and climate change see , or you only have to look at the Environment section.

I think its time that Tate lived up to the image it has created for its self as a institution that set the trends and changes the world.

Crude awakening: BP and the Tate
The Tate is under fire for taking BP sponsorship money. Does corporate cash damage the arts — or is it a necessary compromise? We asked leading cultural figures their view

Spilling oil over the Tate: the activists’ story
‘Is it art?’, a bystander asked of the demonstration against a ceremony at the Tate celebrating BP’s support for British art. A good question – if it ain’t, it’s certainly effective

License to Spill –
Positive TV, witnesses an extraordinary protest to “Liberate the Tate” from its toxic partnership with Oil giant BP.This is not a film for the Socially Squeamish! But it certainly is ART! If you like your gallery openings quiet and boring, then this film’s not for you!

Protesters foul Tate Britain over BP art sponsorship –
Demonstrators have thrown an oil-like substance and feathers on the entrance to Tate Britain in London in protest at its acceptance of BP sponsorship.

New Left Project & Random Blowe
On Monday evening, as celebrations for 20 years of BP ‘support’ for British Art got underway with a Summer Party at Tate Britain, Liberate Tate disrupted the proceedings inside and out by pouring hundreds of litres of ‘oil’(molasses) and scattering thousands of feathers in an ‘art performance’.

Will BP lead Tate into artistic hell?
Art risks selling its soul if it looks to corporate sponsorship as the only way out of the funding hole
If, as Jonathan Jones says, art takes money “from Satan himself” to keep itself going, then art will sell its soul, surrender all moral integrity. Half a millennium ago, the legend of Faust reminded people that this road only leads to one place: hell. If our present culture collaborates in celebrating the burning of fossil fuels, it may lead us to a place with very similar temperatures.




  1. Alex says:

    At least this is one oil spill clean up BP won’t have to pay for. Charges being pressed? Perhaps you can do a performance art presentation of being behind bars? Bit of suffering for your art perhaps?

  2. Haruspex says:

    This was wonderful! Although I feel the demonstration by the two women inside The Tate had the standout performance. They were able to lash onto so many metaphors, wonderful improv and a clear message. The outdoors performance seemed more to anger than to inspire.

  3. meepmeep says:

    It’s great that you filmed responses from so many people, however it would also have been good to interview the guys in blue t-shirts cleaning things up. I would have been very interested to hear their take on your postulation that “this is about creativity, not destruction.”

  4. 00010B says:

    Having the dubious honour of having an entire account erased by the Guardian (Newspaper) Online after highlighting the connection between the oil, aero, and arms industry, and questioning the association of arts funded association with the oil industry, I applaud your contribution to art and condemn the commentators and institutions that are actively participating in the last supper of our species.

    I am an artist and I know without any doubt that performance was of great Cultural significance.

  5. Paxus Calta says:

    What the video shows nicely is that the owning class thinks these types of actions are impolite and unacceptable, yet the spill in the gulf is simply unfortunate and regrettable. Bravo for the activists who point out these higher crimes. And hurray for London where the police presence is not yet oppressive, i dont think this action would have been possible in the US. And i hope we try it.

    Of course BP is the perfect target for a consumer based boycott. You can simply drive to the next nearby petrol station and not support them, which if even done by 1% of their customers would have a crippling effect.


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