Few would have guessed the impact of that one spontaneous decision. The artist John Quigley had been working with Greenpeace and TckTckTck in the final days of the U.N. climate summit to choreograph an action that they hoped would send a message to world leaders and the public about the vital importance of the decisions being made in Cancun.
The action proposed by Tck and Greenpeace involved the world’s largest inflatable life preserver (15 meters across to be precise) with dozens of formally attired people dressed as U.N. negotiators drowning at sea. Members of the YOUNGO’s (youth NGO delegates) reached out helping hands to rescue the flailing negotiators and bring them safely to shore. You can watch it here:
It was not an obvious choice. At the time fate really did hang in the balance, and there was very little to be hopeful about. The one area where progress was anticipated — the establishment of a fund for climate adaptation for the most vulnerable countries — had been stymied by the U.S. delegation and some insiders were saying the entire U.N. process was in jeopardy of collapse.
But part of Quigley’s haiku approach to these aerial works of art accounts for multiple readings of the text. If the talks had completely failed, the text could be read as an in-your-face criticism of Obama administration rhetoric (as in … THIS is the hope you promised?) Or if the talks were successful it could push the agenda forward by suggesting that we not get carried away with any false sense of hope moving forward.
As it turned out, the choice of text could not have been more perfect. At 6 p.m., only a few hours after the mass action on the beach, a dramatic turnaround occurred inside the U.N. assembly hall — a new text was put forth that significantly moved the climate talks forward and would that night be nearly unanimously adopted by 190 countries, one of the largest multilateral decisions in history. Suddenly Quigley’s image of “HOPE?” became the perfect visual representation of the moment.
By 6:30 p.m., the image was at the top of both the BBC website and the Globe & Mail. Within a few more hours, it was on nearly every other major online news site, even FOX. Here’s a slideshow of the day’s headlines:
For NGOs that are always struggling to get their message heard by broader audiences, John Quigley has pioneered an artistic medium that manages to lift itself above the white noise of online activism — delineating messages that are, quite literally, larger than life.