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Holmes & Watson pursue BP in British Museum

Sherlock Holmes and the case of the oily museum - Kristian Buus

On Sunday 8th February at 3pm, twenty people entered the British Museum and launched into a guerrilla theatre performance in the Great Court, in front of surprised Museum-goers and staff. The pop-up play – featuring Sherlock Holmes, Dr Watson and a unit of bumbling police officers – challenged the Museum’s controversial funding relationship with BP. The oil company is officially the world’s biggest corporate criminal, having received the largest criminal fine in history ($4.5 billion) in November 2012 for its role in the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

 

 

The performance, by activist theatre troupe “BP or not BP?”, involved Holmes and Watson interviewing an evasive “Neil MacGregor” character (the British Museum Director). The detective accused MacGregor of covering up BP’s criminal activities with a cosy sponsorship deal. Meanwhile, a human “oil spill” spread down the steps and surrounded MacGregor’s feet. The hapless cops failed to apprehend the villainous BP, who escaped into the Museum. A large crowd watched the performance, and the troupe then left the Great Court and repeated the play on the steps outside. In addition to the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, the performance also highlighted BP’s highly risky intention to drill in the Arctic, and the fact that the company’s current business plan will lead to disastrous runaway climate change. The performance was filmed, and will be used as an online recruiting tool for a large public “flashmob” protest in the Museum on March 29th, with the public invited to come and help catch the criminal.

Pressure is mounting on museums and galleries with links to oil companies. Last month, the Tate was forced by the Information Tribunal to reveal details of the funding it receives from BP. Over 17 years, Tate received an annual average of £224,000 – less than 1% of its income – from the oil company, whose branding features heavily across the galleries, particularly in Tate Britain. Tate has been criticised for not just selling itself to an unethical sponsor but selling itself extremely cheaply – the annual cost of buying the Tate’s support is roughly the same as a 30-second TV advert during the X-Factor final.

The British Museum is believed to receive a similarly small sum (less than 1% of its income) from BP, although the precise figures have not yet been made public. The oil company receives a large amount of high-profile branding in return, as well as the use of the largely publicly-funded Museum for its corporate events.

Having pleaded guilty to criminal charges in 2012, BP is now in court facing billions more in fines under the US Clean Water Act – with other claims still to come. In 2014, a senior judge in the case ruled that BP bore the majority of the responsibility for Deepwater Horizon, thanks to the company’s “grossly negligent” behaviour.

Cherri Foytlin, Gulf Coast resident and mother of six, said:

“Scientists recently discovered a 10 million gallon mat of BP’s oil on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico – a mat the size of Rhode Island. They called it a ‘conduit of contamination into the food web.’ That is the same food web that all humankind depends on to sustain life. BP is a criminal against all humankind, and so is any entity that harbours such a criminal. It is time for humanity to stand together and push out all who seek to destroy us. The British Museum must decide exactly whose side it is on – BP’s or the world’s?”

Chris Garrard, who played the Museum Director in today’s performance, said “This year, the Museum’s trustees will debate whether to renew their five-year deal with this corporate criminal. All over the world, institutions are breaking their financial ties with fossil fuel companies, because this rogue industry is pushing us towards irreversible climate disaster. The British Museum needs todrop BP, or it will find itself on the wrong side of history.”

This was the eighth performance protest that “BP or not BP?” have held inside the British Museum to challenge BP sponsorship. Previous performances have included a Shakespearean flashmob to coincide with the 2012 BP-sponsored Shakespeare exhibition, a series of Viking invasions in protest at last summer’s BP-branded Vikings Exhibition, and a recreation of Deepwater Horizon featuring an 8-metre “oil spill”.

Sign the petition calling for major cultural institutions to drop BP.

BP or not BP? is part of the Art Not Oil Coalition.

The Script

4 ‘Police Officers’ appear wearing old-fashioned uniforms and whistles, one with a flashing blue/red light on head , all making LOUD ‘nee-naw’ siren sound. Police create the performance space in a slapstick style, asking the public if they’ve seen a criminal hiding in the museum, blowing whistles, peering suspiciously at exhibits, bumping into each other, getting tangled in crime scene tape, etc.

Holmes and Watson enter.

Watson: So, this is it, Holmes – the British Museum! Our country’s greatest cultural institution, home of marbles, mummies and Ming!

Holmes: Come, Watson, to work. A dastardly oily villain is hiding within these walls.

The police officers freeze, say “dun dun dunnnnnn!” and look around in an exaggerated way.

Holmes: We must track this criminal down. You officer, any clues?

Cop 1: Downstairs, I saw a name guv’nor – “The BP Lecture Theatre”.

Holmes: Intriguing. And you, officer?

Cop 2: On a poster, I saw this logo, all green and yellow it was.

Holmes: How singular. But Watson, look! There upon the wall!

Watson: By Jove, Holmes – it says…BP!

The police say “dun dun dunnnnnn!” again. A banner is revealed, saying “BP: officially the world’s biggest corporate criminal”

MacGregor, the Museum Director, enters. He’s wearing a large “Museum Director” name tag.

MacG: What the devil are you doing?

Holmes: Ah, Mr MacGregor – the Museum Director, I believe. We suspect that BP, [aside, to audience] the world’s biggest corporate criminal, guilty of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, [to MacGregor again] is hiding from justice in yourMuseum.

Watson: BP?! They practically destroyed the Gulf of Mexico!

A living oil spill begins to creep down stairs behind MacGregor

MacG: Ah, Mexico! We have some wonderful Aztec mosaics in Room 27…

Watson: No, no man! BP! They’re trying to drill in the Arctic!

MacG: Oh yes, we have a fascinating collection of Arctic Indigenous artefacts in Room 26…

Meanwhile, the oil spill is gradually spilling its way down the stairs, behind MacGregor, who keeps trying to draw the detectives away from the spill or conceal it behind him. The spill consists of four black-clad characters with BP caps and other logos, spreading out black fabric behind/around them, gradually coming together in a seething mass and creeping towards MacGregor, round his legs, over his shoulder etc.

Watson: Listen to me, sir! This devilish company is causing calamitous climate change!

MacG: Aha. Well, our “Living and Dying” exhibition features objects from islands that are already vanishing into the sea…

Holmes: Wait, Watson – look at this!

Holmes dives over to the spill, a writhing mass of bodies. He dips his finger in the spill and tastes a sample.

Holmes: If I’m not mistaken, this oil has come straight from the scene of BP’s greatest crime – Deepwater Horizon!

Another “Dun dun duuunnnnn!”

Holmes: The game’s up, MacGregor. The British Museum is harbouring the world’s biggest corporate criminal.

MacG: Harbouring a criminal? No, no, no. Our exhibitions are only possible thanks to external support, so we are hugely grateful to BP for their longstanding commitment to the Museum. Now come this way, I’ll show you my marbles…

Holmes: Enough of this rigmarole. Officers, arrest that villain!

The police grab MacGregor.

Holmes: No, not him. Arrest BP!

The cops start to chase the spill but quickly tire out, bending over, gasping and wheezing. BP gets away into the museum.

Cop 3: Sorry sir, BP got away into the museum!

Watson: I say, the police aren’t really up to this, are they? We need help!

Final “Dun dun duuunnnnn!” and freeze

Performers exit the building singing a rewritten version of “Smooth Criminal”:

It started with an oil spill, off the Gulf Coast, from a rig of BP

Museum why you hiding, why you hiding, why you hiding BP?