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Lucite Crocodiles and Alternative Protest: The Art of COP21

The tensions at this year's summit have yielded scenes of strange beauty.

The Paris climate summit isn't just wonky haggling—it's also a multimedia pageant. Artists from every continent are responding to the urgency of this year's talks with a curious variety of projects: a giant whale beside the Seine, say, or massive chunks of ice at la Place du Panthéon.

Meanwhile, with marches banned, protestors had to get creative. The results—from artists, activists, and people who wear both hats—have transformed Paris. Below, you'll find just a few of the pieces that caught our eye.


On Sunday, artist John Quigley and photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand staged a living art installation on la Place Joffre. Well over 100 activists gathered to create a giant, technicolor peace sign. The ground was their canvas; their bodies, the paint:

paris peace eiffel tower cop21

An aerial art installation organized by John Quigley and Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Sunday, December 6, 2015. (Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images)

At la Place du Panthéon, Olafur Eliasson, an Icelandic-Danish multimedia artist, created an installation of actual ice that had broken from the Greenland sheet:

greenland ice paris cop21

Chunks of ice, Place du Panthéon, December 6, 2015. (Photo: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images)

American artist Shepard Fairey suspended this (rather trippy) "Earth Crisis" globe from the Eiffel Tower:

shepard fairey cop21 paris eiffel

The Earth Crisis globe at the Eiffel Tower, November 20, 2015. (Photo: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images)

At the Bourget conference center, France's Minister of Ecology Ségolène Royal and street-artist Gad Weil oversaw a project they call "Une Arche de Noé pour le climat" ("Noah's Arc for the climate"), a collection of 140 giant animals in acrylic glass. Lucite depolymerizes with ease, and the installation is built to be disposable—a tribute to recycling, and a quiet reminder that climate change threatens many of these animals with extinction.

Elephants, tortoises, boars, crocodiles, pumas, whales, and camels line the avenues of the Blue Zone in Bourget, and even make their way inside the pavilion halls:

"Une Arche de Noé Pour le Climat," an installation of lucite animal figures created by Gad Weil and exhibited at the COP21 climate summit in Paris in December of 2015.

Une Arche de Noé Pour le Climat, by Gad Weil. (Photo: Ted Scheinman/Pacific Standard)

Patti Smith and her daughter Jesse Paris Smith joined Thom Yorke of Radiohead, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Canadian singer Rebecca Foon to perform at 350.0rg's "Pathway to Paris" concert last week:

patti smith cop21 paris

Patti Smith with her daughter, Jesse Paris Smith, December 3, 2015, in Paris. (Photo: Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images)

Indigenous activists from South America took to the Seine on Sunday, paddling colorful kayaks in solidarity with aboriginal peoples around the globe, whose lives and cultures are under imminent threat from extreme weather. The banner on the left reads "INDIGENOUS PEOPLES DEFENDING MOTHER EARTH":

kayaks seine indigenous protest cop21

Indigenous activists on the Seine, December 6, 2015. (Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images)

indigenous activists cop21 kayak

(Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images)

There's also a lot of art that takes place on screens, or on virtual-reality machines. The Natural Resources Defense Council's Tumblr page is currently devoted to "Storytelling for Global Action," with illustrations by Perrin Ireland and words by Brian Palmer. Ireland and Palmer have gathered voices from around the world: Take Mundiya Kepanga, of the Huli tribe in Papua New Guinea, who has become something of an informal climate ambassador—"an international celebrity ... a commentator, a curiosity, and sometimes a comedian," Palmer writes.

“I am here as a bridge between your world and mine,” Kepanga said in Paris. Here is his testimony:

The canopy clouds no longer come. (Illustration: Perrin Ireland/NRDC)

The canopy clouds no longer come. (Illustration: Perrin Ireland/NRDC)

Virtual reality has been a popular medium at COP21. You can find plenty of VR in the Blue Zone, whether you're cruising the Colorado River in the United States pavilion or hovering 40 feet above the Sahel at the Great Green Wall virtual technology booth (click the buttons on the top left to get a 360-degree view):

Below, at the Grand Palais off the Champs-Élysées, visitors at "Solutions COP21" don headsets and travel through various ecosystems around the globe:

virtual reality cop21

(Photo: Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images)

Just this morning, Greenpeace International brought Aurora the Polar Bear to visit with reporters in the Blue Zone. Aurora has many friends already, including Emma Thompson, who marched with Aurora outside the British headquarters of Shell this September. The bear's chin is adorned with prayers and "wishes" from around the world—one today reads, "I wish for the Arctic and all its beauty not to die."

Here's Aurora earlier this year in London. It takes over 30 people to operate him:

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Members of Greenpeace International with Aurora the polar bear in London, September 2015. (Photo: Niklas Halle'n/AFP/Getty Images)

And, in case you missed them, here are activists from Green Korea United:

Green Korea United COP21 climate

(Photo: Ted Scheinman/Pacific Standard)

...and Avaaz's installation of 20,000 shoes at la Place de la République last Sunday:

(Photo: Ted Scheinman/Pacific Standard)

(Photo: Ted Scheinman/Pacific Standard)

What did we leave out? Send your favorite pieces of COP21 art to Ted Scheinman via Twitter.


"Catastrophic Consequences of Climate Change" is Pacific Standard's year-long investigation into the devastating effects of climate change—and how scholars, legislators, and citizen-activists can help stave off its most dire consequences.