An Exorcism at Tate Modern

Reverend Billy at the Tate Modern

Reverend Billy at the Tate Modern, July 18, 2011. Screen shot from the You and I Films video - see below.

On July 5, 2011, I received word from Reverend Billy and & The Church of Earthalujah that he was taking his flock to London in order to “lay hands on the Tate Modern, and cast out the evil demon of BP’s oil sponsorship.” The good Reverend had been invited to the U.K. by activists groups Liberate Tate, UK Tar Sands Network, Rising Tide, Art Not Oil and Climate Rush, and he was scheduled to exorcise the Tate Modern on July 18th.

On July 16, BP announced yet another pipeline leak at its Lisburne oilfield on Alaska’s North Slope.

BP’s ruptured pipeline spilled some 4,200 gallons of crude oil, methanol, and water onto approximately 2,000 square feet of tundra. BP’s latest Alaskan oil spill only added a sense of urgency to Reverend Billy’s church service at the Tate. Of course, BP funds the Tate, but the oil giant also funds The British Museum, The National Portrait Gallery, and The Royal Opera House - not to mention the largest museum in my city, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Reverend Billy at the Tate Modern

Washed in the blood of the earth.

On Monday July 18, Reverend Billy and & The Earthalujah congregation began their 5:30 service at the Tate’s immense turbine hall.

As the faithful gathered in the museum vestibule, the good Reverend began to preach his fire and brimstone message, capturing the attention of hundreds of bewildered tourists and museum goers. As Reverend Billy’s Stop Shopping Gospel Choir sang songs of praise and parishioners cried out “Amen!” and “Earthalujah!”, Reverend Billy began to sermonize:

“Brothers and sisters, a dark beast lurks within the bosom of one of our most cherished arts institutions. While good-hearted, god-fearing, gallery goers glory in the miracle of art, the beast below is encircling the planet with its oily tentacles, destroying righteous communities, poisoning God’s beauteous creations, and bringing us all ever closer to the climate apocalypse!

Each and every one of us is a sinner! We let this happen to a great institution! British Petroleum, destroyer of the Gulf of Mexico, and Tar Sands over in Canada, and so much else around the world, cannot be sponsoring the Miró exhibit!

At this point the Reverend got down on his knees, lifted his hands to the heavens in supplication, and called out, “Wash Me!”, “Anoint me!”. Green robed members of his gospel choir stepped forward to pour what looked like oil over the Reverend’s head and body as he shouted out, “BP money is the Devil!” The theatrical anointing was followed by an even more histrionic exorcism. The Reverend and his congregation moved towards a BP logo emblazed on the museum’s wall, wailing, moaning, and speaking in tongues. The Reverend shouted out, “Each of us must make a decision - to exorcise British Petroleum from this place!”, then laid his hands upon the BP logo, finally pressing his entire oil soaked body onto the BP emblem, smearing oil over the wall and the insignia. Afterwards the entire congregation left the museum triumphantly singing “Earthalujah”.

A short rally was held outside the museum, where Reverend Billy made the following statement, “Art is a way for us to teach ourselves to see more, to see the visions held within things, to remember more, to imagine more, to become more sensitive to the world around us. Not the opposite. We have a responsibility here - this fossil fuel economy must end!”

2 Responses to “An Exorcism at Tate Modern”

  1. [...] gentle benediction, like the wind in a vast wild place; the fiery palm whispered… “The good Rev. Billy & the Triple Goddess Gospel Singers will appear with Sister Exene Cervenka at The Echo in the [...]

  2. [...] my July 2011 article, An Exorcism at Tate Modern, I detailed a performance the good Reverend had just conducted at the Tate Modern in London to [...]