Into The Archives: Vivienne Westwood's Climate Activism

We take a look back at the pioneer’s ongoing relationship with Serpentine and the evolution of her activism, from the Manifesto Marathon in 2008 to the revival of her SWITCH campaign this week for Back to Earth, Serpentine’s multi-year environmental project.

Ever since her early days as a punk provocateur, Westwood has always demonstrated a tendency towards rebellion and ambivalence towards power. Throughout her career, the fashion designer has sold t-shirts to protest fascism, impersonated Margaret Thatcher on the cover of Tatler and delivered a box of asbestos to 10 Downing Street to protest fracking. Westwood has been “hijacking” her fashion for decades, using her garments and global brand as a political force to call-out unjust power structures, corruption and planetary neglect.

We absolutely must save the rainforests. Have we really got time to be art lovers?– Vivienne Westwood, 2008


At Serpentine’s Manifesto Marathon in 2008, Westwood presented her 22-page manifesto Active Resistance to Propaganda. Read by a multitude of characters, the manifesto is a meditation on the relationship between art and climate change and a critique of consumption and capitalism. “Dear friends. We all love art, and some of you claim to be artists…’ But, she wouldn’t have written the manifesto today,” she says. “I wrote it a couple of years ago. A few months ago it hit me. We absolutely must save the rainforests. Have we really got time to be art lovers?”

“What’s good for the planet is good for the economy” – Vivienne Westwood, 2019


When Westwood visited us at Serpentine in late 2019 to discuss becoming a part of Back to Earth, our multi-year environmental project, she spoke about her ambitions to campaign against climate activism across many industries, not just fashion. “We have to change the economy,” she said, “we must rely on cooperation and collaboration to maximize our impact and we must act now! What’s good for the planet is good for the economy!” Westwood’s call to action, resonates across the whole Back to Earth project. When asked about a campaign that she would like to develop with Serpentine, Westwood expressed the desire to raise money for the climate charity Cool Earth – a seed that has materialised into a collaboration to renew Westwood’s SWITCH campaign with WePresent.


“We’ve got 5 years to fix it.” – Vivienne Westwood, 2020

Vivienne Westwood’s SWITCH campaign for Back to Earth is a call to switch to green energy. Why is this urgent? The energy sector currently accounts for 73% of global greenhouse gas emissions generated by burning fossil fuels. Consumers have agency; by contacting your supplier to switch to a renewable tariff, the demand for renewables goes up, leading to greater investment from state bodies and corporations.

As Hans Ulrich Obrist, Serpentine’s Artist Director, has said: “Improving one’s individual actions cannot hurt the collective effort to mitigate climate crisis, but it is only through systemic organisational change that sufficient progress can be made towards sustainable practices. Art institutions can be a tool for bridging geographies, ideas and ways of life”.

Westwood is aware of both the micro shifts that need to happen, and the wider messages. How do we look towards a future that includes more renewable sources of energy? Today is the first step: ask your supplier to SWITCH. See what happens next.

Head to WePresent to explore SWITCH.


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