“The Hay Wain” is one of the most famous and beloved artworks in the United Kingdom. The painting was completed in 1821, and for 200 years it has survived the vicissitudes of an eventful history without being molested.
That all changed on Monday, when two obnoxious climate activists papered over the masterpiece with an altered version of the painting and then glued themselves to the picture’s frame. The activists belong to the British environmentalist group Just Stop Oil, which has been making a lot of news recently.
Just Stop Oil was founded earlier this year and has made a name for itself with some high-profile stunts. For instance, in March, a Premier League soccer game came to a halt when a protestor from the group tied himself to a goal post. Last week, other members of the group glued themselves to the frames of paintings in various British cities, including London, Manchester, and Glasgow. Even Vincent van Gogh’s “Peach Trees in Blossom” received the unwelcome attention of Just Stop Oil protestors.
And on Sunday, members of the group stormed the Silverstone track to disrupt the British Grand Prix. Seven people were arrested in that particular incident.
The stunt involving John Constable’s painting “The Hay Wain” seems particularly egregious, however, since the painting is one of the artist’s best-known paintings, and is among the most popular at the National Gallery. It depicts a bucolic scene near the Stour River, upon the borders of the English counties of Suffolk and Essex.
The protestors, however, papered it over with a new version of the painting, depicting a paved road instead of the river, along with factory smokestacks in the background and passenger jets flying in the sky. It’s obviously intended to be a statement about the damage caused by the ravages of industry and modern technology.
Just Stop Oil released a statement explaining the symbolism and meaning of the altered version of Constable’s masterpiece: “The river has been replaced by a road, airplanes fill the sky, pollution belches from cities on the horizon, trees are scorched by wildfires, an old car is dumped in front of the Mill and the famous Hay Wain cart carries an old washing machine.”
The protestors were identified as psychology student Hannah Hunt, 23, and aspiring musician Eben Lazarus, 22. London’s Metropolitan Police confirmed that the pair had been arrested, but were later released on bail.
Listen to why Eben took this action today.
Just Stop Oil has been targeting art, as well as sport as it is part of our collective culture.
We love our history and culture too much to just allow it all to be destroyed.
— JustStopOil (@JustStop_Oil) July 4, 2022
The protest was apparently part of a campaign by Just Stop Oil to pressure the UK government into halting any licenses for oil and gas extraction.
“I’m here because our government plans to license 40 new UK oil and gas projects in the next few years,” Hunt said. “This makes them complicit in pushing the world towards an unlivable climate and in the death of billions of people in the coming decades. We can forget our ‘green and pleasant land’ as further oil extraction will lead to widespread crop failures which means we will be fighting for food. Ultimately, new fossil fuels are a death project by our government.
“So yes, there is glue on the frame of this famous painting, but there is blood on the hands of our government. The disruption will end as soon as the UK government makes a meaningful statement that it will end new oil and gas licenses.”
Lazarus, her accomplice, agreed: “‘I want to work in the arts, not disrupt them, but the situation we’re in, means we must do everything we peacefully can to prevent the total collapse of our ordered society.”
If our ‘”ordered society” really is on the brink of total collapse, it’s unclear how gluing one’s hand to a picture frame will prevent it, but the two protestors seemed convinced their stunt was a meaningful one.
“We have covered the Hay Wain with a reimagined version that illustrates the expected impact of our addiction to fossil fuels on our countryside,” Lazarus said. “The painting is an important part of our heritage, but it is not more important than the 3.5 billion men, women and children already in danger because of the climate crisis.”
“I want to work in the arts, not disrupt them,” he can be heard saying in a video of the protest. “But the situation we’re in means we have to do everything non-violently possible to prevent the civilizational collapse that we are hurtling towards.”
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