Gretchen Coombs


From 2011’s Occupy movements to the Umbrella Movement Hong Kong to the recent Climate March in September 2019, typified by Extinction Rebellion’s performative acts of resistance, there’s been an exponential increase in protests around the world. People move together en masse to challenge economic inequality and political ineptitude; they demand racial justice and action against climate change and Indigenous land rights. Ideally, protests and forms of direct action generate new ideas where the use of bodies in space become conduits to spark debate, bring awareness, with the hope to change the discourse about urgent issues. The visual power of many bodies speaking both to each other and to a larger public offers a space everyone can safely participate in the social imaginary. This paper considers Extinction Rebellion's graphic and performative aesthetics.



How to Cite
Coombs, G. (2020) “It’s (Red) Hot Outside! The Aesthetics of Climate Change Activists Extinction Rebellion”, The Journal of Public Space, 5(4), pp. 123–136. doi: 10.32891/jps.v5i4.1407.
Art and Activism
Author Biography

Gretchen Coombs, RMIT university

Gretchen Coombs is a Post Doctoral Fellow in the Design and Creative Practice Enabling Capability Platform at RMIT. She researches socially engaged art and design practices in the US, the UK and Australia, with a particular focus on how they are practiced in urban contexts.
Gretchen has a PhD in social and cultural anthropology and a MA in visual criticism: her writing uses a combination of ethnographic methods and visual analysis. Her co-edited book for Routledge, Undesign: Critical Practices at the Intersection of Art and Design is due out later this year. She is currently completing her monograph, The Lure of the Social: Encounters with Contemporary Artists (Intellect 2018), which is an experimental ethnography of artists working at the intersection of art, aesthetics, and politics.


Appadurai, A. (2013) The Future as Cultural Fact: Essays on the Global Condition. London: Verso Books.

Aulich, J. (2020) “Conclusion: Reflections on Protest and Political Transformation since 1789” in McGarry, A., I. Erhart, H. Eslen-Ziya, O.Jenzen, U. Korkut (eds), The Aesthetics of Global Protest: Visual Culture and Communication. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Barad, K. (2007) Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Barad, K. (2010) “Quantum Entanglements and Hauntological Relations of Inheritance: Dis/continuities, SpaceTime Enfoldings, and Justice-to-Come,” Derrida Today, 3(2): pp. 240-268.

Butler, J. (2015) Notes toward a Performative Theory of Assembly. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Coombs, G. (2014) “Activism, art and social practice: a case study using Jacques Ranciere’s framework for analysis.” Proceedings to the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand’s Annual Conference.

Coombs, G. and O’Connor, J. (2011) “Come together: Forging publics in Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art,” Art & The Public Sphere, 1(2). pp 139-157.

Dean, J. (2016) Crowds and Party. New York and London: Verso.

Demos, T.J. (2020) “Extinction Rebellions.” Afterimage, Vol. 47, Number 2, pp. 14-20.

Douglas, M. (2011). “Situating social contingency: mobility and socially engaged pubic art.” In Urban Interior: informational explorations, interventions and occupations. Ed. Rochus Urban Hinkel. Germany: Spurbuchverlag. pp. 45-2007.

Duncombe, S. (2018) “An Age of Protest, Protest For the Age.” In Rogger, Basil, Voegeli, Jonas, Widmer, Ruedi, Museum Für Gestaltung Zürich, Editor, Host Institution, and Zürcher Hochschule Der Künste. 2018. Protest : The Aesthetics of Resistance. Zurich: Lars Müller Publishers.

Extinction Rebellion. N.d. Demands. https://extinctionrebellion.uk/the-truth/demands/. Accessed 13 July 2020.

Heardman, P. (2019) “The meaning behind Extinction Rebellion’s red-robed protesters.” Dazed. https://www.dazeddigital.com/politics/article/44238/1/meaning-behind-extinction-rebellions-red-robed-protesters-london-climate-change. Accessed 2 July 2020.

Kraidy, M. M. (2016) The Naked Blogger of Cairo: Creative Insurgency in the Arab World . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kraidy, M. M. (2017) “Biopolitical and Phenomenological Underpinnings of Embodied Contestation: Further Reflections on Creative Insurgence.” In Global Cultures of Contestation : Mobility, Sustainability, Aesthetics and Connectivity, edited by Esther Peeren, et al., London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Machin, D. and Polzer, L. (2015) Visual Journalism. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Markussen, T. (2011) “The Disruptive Aesthetics of Design Activism: Enacting Design between Art and Politics.” Nordic Design Research Conference: Helsinki. http://www.nordes.org/opj/index.php/n13/article/viewFile/102/86. Accessed 16 July 2020.

McGarry, A. (2019) Crack Magazine, 107.

McGarry, A., I. Erhart, H. Eslen-Ziya, O.Jenzen, U. Korkut (eds.) (2020) “Introduction.” In The Aesthetics of Global Protest: Visual Culture and Communication. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Mirzoeff, N. (2015) How to See the World. London: Pelican Books.

Morgan, G. (2019) “How Extinction Rebellion's graphics became the symbol of environmental uprising.” New Stateman. Accessed 15 July 2020. https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/environment/2019/09/how-extinction-rebellions-graphics-became-symbol-environmental-uprising

Morris, K. (2019) “The Defiant Art and Design of Extinction Rebellion.” Frieze. https://frieze.com/article/defiant-art-and-design-extinction-rebellion. Accessed 3 July 2020.

Olcese, C. and Savage, M. (2015) “Notes towards a ‘social aesthetic’: Guest Editors’ introduction to the special section”. The British Journal of Sociology, Vol: 66 Issue 4.

Peeren, E.,Celikates, R.,de Kloet, J.,Poell, Th. (eds.) (2017) Global Cultures of Contestation: Mobility, Sustainability, Aesthetics and Connectivity. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rancière, J. (2006) The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible, London: Continuum.
Rancière, J. (2007) “Art of the Possible,” Artforum 45: pp. 256-268.

Rogger, B., Voegeli, J., Widmer, R., Museum Für Gestaltung Zürich and Zürcher Hochschule Der Künste (2018) Protest: The Aesthetics of Resistance. Zurich: Lars Müller Publishers.

Shiels, J. (2019) “Extinction rebellion: How to Craft a Protest Brand.” https://theconversation.com/extinction-rebellion-how-to-craft-a-protest-brand-123084. Accessed 10 July 2020.

Taussig, M. (2012) “I'm so Angry I Made a Sign” Critical Inquiry. Vol. 39, No. 1, pp. 56-88.