80 artists from 19 countries have created posters for the project. The campaign was launched to coincide with the UN’s Cop21 Climate Conference, which takes place in the city this week.
Brandalism says all of the brands targeted are sponsors of the event. Ad space is owned by another sponsor, JC Decaux. In a statement on its website, the group says it wanted to highlight the “hypocrisy” of the global summit, where 147 world leaders are currently negotiating a deal aimed at reducing global carbon emissions.
“The United Nations 21st ‘Conference of Parties’ meeting … is supposed to agree a global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Yet in 20 years of UN climate change talks, global emissions have risen by 63%. Increasingly, these talks are dominated by corporate interests. This year’s talks in Paris are being held at an airport and sponsored by an airline. Other major polluters include energy companies, car manufacturers and banks. Brandalism aims to creatively expose this corporate greenwashing,” it says.
The ads are startlingly convincing – one for Air France, which reads ‘Tackling climate change? Of course not, we’re an airline’ and another for Volkswagen which states: ‘We’re only sorry we got caught’ (a reference to its recent carbon emissions scandal) both feature a similar look and feel to the companies’ official advertising, as do spoof ads for Total and Mobil.
Other artwork addresses the problem of climate change and pollution more generally through photography and illustration. Posters are unauthorised and unsigned, though some have been attributed to artists on social media (Jonathan Barnbrook has created several and Jon Burgerman’s name has also been mentioned on Twitter). “This is not a project of self-promotion, and none of the artists’ names or websites appear on the works: we believe there are already enough private interests taking ownership of our streets,” the group says.
The takeover is the third large-scale project organised by Brandalism, which was set up in 2012. In May 2014, teams took over 360 ad spaces in 10 UK cities, replacing posters with artwork tackling consumerism. The latest project is more focused, however, targeting a single issue and event.
It’s also the second guerrilla campaign we’ve seen this year targeting a global conference – in September, a group known as the Special Patrol Group, made up of some of the same artists involved in the Paris takeover, hijacked poster sites and London Underground urging people to boycott the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) event, a conference showcasing weapons and military equipment at London’s ExCel centre. TfL promptly issued a statement describing the project as “an act of vandalism” and announced that any posters found would be removed.
The posters in Paris are unlikely to remain in place for long but by they have already been seen by thousands of passers-by, and viewed by thousands more online. The group has posted hundreds of images using the hashtags #Cop21Paris and #Brandalism.
In the absence of demonstrations (a planned climate change march was prohibited following terror attacks in the city earlier this month, though thousands placed pairs of shoes outside the Place de la République last weekend in a silent protest, with messages urging leaders to abandon using fossil fuels and take more action to protect the planet), Brandalism’s posters act as a form of visual protest around the city. Through its use of social media, the group has ensured its work reaches a much bigger audience than traditional fly posting – and sponsors will no doubt be concerned about both the quality and quantity of spoof ads popping up in Paris.