Extinction Rebellion’s Creative Resistance: Performance and Presence

The sheer enormity of the XR movement lends itself perfectly to a diverse range of artistic outputs – since XR first formed there have been wave upon wave of creative engagement. Indeed, whether you show solidarity to the group’s passionate efforts to save the planet or simply dismiss them as a bunch of anarchistic traffic blockers, you have to acknowledge their incredible presence whether it be in London or any of the other communities and locations they’re active. From the solemn otherworldly ‘Red Rebel Brigade’ to the ‘XR Bones’ march, performative work has formed an important part within the public eye.

Figure 7: REECE, GUY, 2019. Red Rebel Brigade.[photo] From: JULIA, 2019. Creative Rebellion: Arts and Culture Highlights from International Rebellion London. Extinction Rebellion. [online] [viewed: 03/03/2020] Available from: https://rebellion.earth/2019/10/21/creative-rebellion-arts-and-culture-highlights-from-international-rebellion-london/

There is an undoubtedly positive universal power that comes through performance art – one which binds culture and political dissent seamlessly. One example of this which has come to embody XR’s message over the past year is Doug Francisco’s ‘Red Rebel Brigade’ – the parade of ghostly white figures, gliding through the streets of London during the October protest, brought a wave of temporary peace as they swept through in their loose blood-red cloaks. Francisco – the creative director of the Bristol-based ‘Invisible Circus’ – started out with only twenty red rebels in spring but soon enough the brigade grew as protesters joined with their own outfits, troupes enlisting from everywhere around London with their painted white pasty faces and outlined red lips. Francisco’s brigade of 76 Red Rebels joined the 20,000 people-strong Extinction Rebellion grief march, their ‘red cloak symbolises the blood of all species…animals, and humans as well,'(20). However, the most powerful part of the performance was by far their presence on Waterloo Bridge. Francisco describes the situation:

“We happened to turn up at Waterloo Bridge when the police were surrounding it and arresting people, we were facing lines and lines of police. It was super awkward for the police but it kind of humanised them as well. The energy of the situation changed. It became less about confrontation and more poignant and emotive for the police and the protesters. There is quite a high, intense to that sort of situation, and once you de-escalate it, it makes it seem even more ridiculous – arresting people who are trying to save the planet.”

These mythical creatures stood, stone faced, staring into the eyes of the police force. This was a physical confrontation with very abstract issues – climate change and mass extinction. Although it’s clear that the police didn’t believe this was an appropriate way of getting the discussion started, it certainly highlighted the severity of the situation.

Continuing on that vein, we also look at the Radical Street Performance groups. The member groups Guerrilla Theatre For October(GTFO!) and DANCXR are both part of this branch of XR movement were seen in various locations that same day. For DANCXR their expression took form in a choreographed group dance that illustrated complex organic structures through the bodies of the dancers and the importance of cooperation within natural systems through physical interaction. Their performance reflected XR’s overall structure with no hierarchy and a very self-determined approach celebrating diversity and individuality within a group. GTFO produced work presenting monstrous visions of the capitalistic greed rooted in over-consumption and polluting industry(10). Each performance acted as a living roadblock as well, further contributing to the disruption intended by the wider protest.

Figure 10: PRICE, ROBERT, 2019. DANCXR Performance.[photo] From: JULIA, 2019. Creative Rebellion: Arts and Culture Highlights from International Rebellion London. Extinction Rebellion. [online] [viewed: 03/03/2020] Available from: https://rebellion.earth/2019/10/21/creative-rebellion-arts-and-culture-highlights-from-international-rebellion-london/https://rebellion.earth/2019/10/21/creative-rebellion-arts-and-culture-highlights-from-international-rebellion-london/

What I think is most radical about XR is their subversion of existing economic and even geographical constructs. Their complete invasion of the UK capital rendered it impossible for a lot of people to commute to work in their cars and even led to the shut-down of various commercial centres in the city. Their interference with these areas not only meant they couldn’t be ignored but also had topographical relevance: each location was occupied due to its significance to the movement, for example, Shell headquarters, which is one of the most powerful endorsers of fossil fuels in the UK. Indeed both DANXR and GTFO also utilised physical presence as a way of halting day-to-day life in London to draw attention to their agreeably urgent cause.

I hope you enjoyed engaging with my creative shenanigans! If you so happened to find this topic interesting or have any questions/suggestions, I love a good chin-wag so please do get in touch. Thank you for reading!


ANNA, 2019. The Artists of Extinction Rebellion: ‘Our bold imagery is helping
to change the conversations around climate change.’. The Independent. [online] [viewed: 03/03/2020] Available
from: https://inews.co.uk/culture/arts/extinction-rebellion-artist-protest-banner-art-red-rebel-flag-logo-1321233

(21) WMO, 2019.
WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2019. UN and Climate
Action. United Nations. [online]
[viewed: 03/03/2020] Available from: https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/reports.shtml

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