As the art world waited for the Turner Prize to be announced, outside Turner Contemporary a completely different show was playing out. Climate campaigners from XR Thanet, a local Extinction Rebellion group, kicked off the night with an entirely different proceeding.

As the gallery closed to the public for the day, it closed itself off to the small protest on its doors. It started as just a single but strong XR flag being swung against an illumination against the building’s kaleidoscope of colours. The flags battle with the wind reflected XR Thanet’s desperate call for action.

The protest developed into the staging for their Civil Disco-bediance, highlighting the threat of rising sea levels - the Turner was chosen to stress that the art venue is below sea level.

It was not long before campaigners, young and old, began to crowd the outside of the gallery. Each and every one of them wrapped in Christmas lights, twinkling in the perpetual darkness of the night sky.

Within minutes the group collected themselves and started moving in unison for their choreographed dance. Yet, the stage was still not complete, as they awaited the arrival of their last performer. A prancing giant pink octopus appeared from behind the Turner gallery building. Tentacles were manipulated by nine marionettists, moving to the beat of the songs.

“We chose ‘Disco Inferno’ because, of course, ‘burn baby burn’ and most of the world is burning at the moment. The other one ‘Stayin’ Alive’ is what Extinction Rebellion is all about – we are rebelling against extinction. We need to keep ourselves alive”, said one of the action organisers, Darryn De Le Soul.

The Turner building was suddenly consumed with red. A brief eerie blood red illumination enveloped the octopus and the campaigners. Men, women and children were dark silhouettes with their right hands pointing to the sky, signalling their message; the world and all its species are dying.

XR Thanet Campaigners dancing to 'Stayin Alive' 

XR Thanet got the idea for their nonviolent civil disobedience from Australia, Melbourne.

“We chose Disco-bediance because it’s a fun thing to do. What we didn’t want to do in any way was to detract from the actual prize.”

At around 7pm, they formed a procession and headed out into the night toward Dreamland.

“Extinction Rebellion. Extinction Rebellion. What do we want?”

Their traffic light destination would be the staging for one final act. As the ‘green man’ signalled it was safe to walk across the road, The Beatles’ iconic Abbey Road album photo flashed in my head as they walked across the pedestrian crossing. A laugh slipped out, to see a giant octopus and people wrapped in lights.

On either side of the lights there was a procession of cars. Cars were bumper to bumper; headlights beaming and became spotlights on the campaigners. They stopped as they filled the width of the crossing and started to dance. As the light turned green for vehicles, the atmosphere became disturbed. Agitated drivers began to blast their horns, moaning with impatience.

“Get out the road!”

Following a gentle nudging along by some Police liaison officers they cleared the road surrounding Dreamland.

Horns were beeping. Motorists were cheering and clapping.

From this point their audience, drivers and passerbys, applauded the stars of the show.

Tiago Gambogi, a choreographer and XR campaigner, widely known as the clown who was arrested at a protest in London commented on how there had been a receptive crowd of people and that they had been greatly received.

Tiago Gambogi outside Turner Contemporary 

He has a very eccentric personality and stole the stage by dangling from lampposts and lifting his legs up high onto the hand railings.

When I spoke to him, he laughed as he recalled how one person who passed him was famous artist, Tracey Emin, who he had hugged.

“Tracey you need to join us. You are the art goddess and she said ‘You are doing a great job. But, you have more visibility than us’.”

The night ended with the campaigners forming to create their own art piece: lifeless bodies lain strewn across the ground.


Extinction Rebellion demonstrators steal Turner Prize stage