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CLIMATE CRISIS

Why are protesters glueing themselves to Italian artworks?

Environmental group Ultima Generazione has staged a series of controversial demonstrations over the past few weeks. But why are artworks involved?

Ultima Generazione activists demonstrating inside Rome's Vatican Museums
On Thursday, August 18th, two Ultima Generazione activists glued their hands to the statue of Laocoön and His Sons in Rome’s Vatican Museums. Photo by Alessandro Pugliese

On Thursday, two people made headlines after they glued their hands to a statue in Rome’s Vatican Museums – the statue of Laocoön and His Sons – and unfolded a banner reading ‘No Gas, No Coal’.

This was only the latest in a series of demonstrations staged by environmental group Ultima Generazione (Last Generation), who have regularly featured in the news for more than two months now – usually after glueing themselves to one of Italy’s famous artworks.

In July, activists from the same group stuck their hands to the glass protecting Botticelli’s Primavera at Florence’s Uffizi Gallery.

The group began protesting by staging sit-ins on Rome’s Highway A90 (commonly known as ‘Grande Raccordo Anulare’) in early June, but has since moved on to target public museums and galleries – though the significance here is less obvious.

On the back of the latest protest, many wondered what exactly the link was between the environmental cause and the famous artworks involved.

Ultima Generazione began in 2021 as a “campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience” aimed at uniting Italian campaigners concerned about climate change and the future of the planet.

The name Last Generation stems from its members’ belief that the current generation of world citizens is the last one with a real chance of changing the status quo before the ecological damage inflicted on our planet becomes irreparable. 

READ ALSO: Water levels on Italy’s Lake Garda drop to 15-year low as drought continues

According to the group’s website, they have two main demands. Firstly, they ask that the reopening of old coal power plants be paused immediately and that all scheduled fracking operations be cancelled. 

Secondly, they want an increase in the use of solar energy and wind power equivalent to at least 20 gigawatts. 

After the Uffizi protest, the group published a note explaining the reasons behind their association with the art world.

They said that “the country should see to the protection and wellbeing of the planet […] in the same way in which it defends its artistic patrimony”.

Aside from the above connection, Ultima Generazione activists have also been known to draw specific parallels between popular artworks and the current socio-political climate. 

READ ALSO: Will summer 2022 be Italy’s hottest ever?

For instance, the statue of Laocoön and His Sons was targeted earlier this week because, the group explained, much like Laocoön, scientists and activists looking to warn the public about the “consequences of today’s actions” are not being listened to or, even worse, “they are being silenced by politicians”. 

For the sake of context, according to Greek mythology, Laocoön was the Trojan priest who advised his fellow citizens not to let the wooden horse – a gift from the Greeks – into town. His advice was disregarded and Troy later fell at the hands of the Greek soldiers hidden in the horse.

It isn’t clear when or where the next Ultima Generazione demonstration will take place, though, back in July, the group said they would target museums in Florence, Venice, Milan and Rome.

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CLIMATE CRISIS

Italian climate activists throw flour over Andy Warhol car

Italian environmental group Ultima Generazione on Friday poured flour over a sports car painted by Andy Warhol on display in Milan, in the latest of a wave of protests demanding action on climate change.

Italian climate activists throw flour over Andy Warhol car

Protesters entered the Fabbrica del Vapore exhibition space in Milan at around 11am on Friday morning and threw eight kilos of flour over a BMW sports car painted by the late Andy Warhol back in 1979. 

Two members of the environmental group Ultima Generazione (‘Last Generation’) then proceeded to glue their hands to the car’s windows. 

At the time of writing it wasn’t clear whether the artwork, valued at 10 million euros, had suffered any significant damage.

“They told us beauty will save the world, but that’s bullshit,” Ultima Generazione sad in a statement released immediately afterwards.

“Only immediate and radical actions to tackle the effects of the current climate crisis will change the world as we know it.”

Activists from Italy’s Ultima Generazione after their latest protest in Milan on Friday, November 18th. Photo: Ultima Generazione.

In the same statement, the group referred to the Italian government’s handling of the environmental crisis as “criminal”, accusing people in power of “endangering people’s lives”.

Friday’s episode was only the latest in a series of demonstrations seeking to jolt public opinion over the consequences of climate change and the need to make the switch to renewable energy sources.

READ ALSO: Climate activists hurl pea soup at Van Gogh painting in Rome

Only two weeks ago, on November 4th, protesters from the same group hurled pea soup at a Van Gogh painting in Rome – an action which Italy’s new culture minister, Gennaro Sangiuliano, later condemned as “ignoble”. 

Ultima Generazione began in 2021 as a “campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience” aimed at uniting Italian activists concerned about climate change and the future of the planet.

The group has two main demands. Firstly, they ask that the reopening of old coal power plants be paused immediately and that all scheduled fracking operations be cancelled. 

Secondly, they want an increase in the use of solar energy and wind power equivalent to at least 20 gigawatts. 

Ultima Generazione is part of a EU-wide network of climate activists who have been recently targeting world-famous artworks, including Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” in The Hague, Netherlands and Gustav Klimt’s “Death and Life” in Vienna.

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