Is this what you *really* want?
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Is this what you really want?
This movement was brought to you by...
Do something about Europe and hurry up
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Introduction: Wild expectations This short booklet is a reflection on a six-monthlong cultural project funded by the Dutch government1, coinciding with the Netherlands presidency of the EU Council in the first half of 2016. The theme of the project was Europe2. Our group3 were gathered together to respond to European issues and explore the future of everyday life4 in Europe5. We were somehow used as the face of future Europe: the New Europeans.
What is Europe? Battles over its meaning begin with its very name. Throughout the project, we’ve used “Europe” as a placeholder for the EU, the old continent, non-EU states, the colonizing force, etc etc.
The creative precariat.
Testing how it feels to be European, or what you can do as an European.
Excerpts from the main brief: “What is Europe to the young Europeans today? How would they like to co-exist? What values do they share? What conflicts do they experience? What European future do they envision?” “New Europeans is a test zone for everyday life in Europe.” “The group will consist of young creators and thinkers from all over Europe, working on an individual role or project while collaboratively shaping the whole. [...] The participants will occupy a research and development village directly adjacent to the location for the EU Presidency meetings: Amsterdam’s historical naval yard. The 75 metre-long test zone will consist of a workshop, an editorial room,
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It wasn’t much more defined than that. With an open brief at the beginning, expectations6 were wild... Maybe we could begin to re-engage the public7 in the increasingly distant political process. Maybe we could start some kind of movement8. Or maybe, with such a varied team, we could simply produce a lot of content9. What was lacking from the beginning was the time to think about the problem of “Europe.” But we’ve certainly thought about it since then.
a canteen, a watch tower and platforms for ritual (gathering, exhibition, demonstration, etc.). The test zone will move along the wall every month, leaving traces of previous work behind. The public programme created by the group will increase in activity during the six months.” Whose expectations? In all truth, we had some grand ideas too. It was exciting.
Would we involve the public as citizens, customers, consumers, users, or (wannabe-)activists? In addition to us having to re-engage people with Europe we had to decide on what position we wanted to take.
Or maybe just group actions, possibly focused on specific political or social issues of our choice. But how can one choose? Some of us resorted to polling passers-by and even organised elections to reach a consensus from the majority of their audience, only to find out that the the participants had voted to introduce a common enemy against which Europe could ultimately unite.
We were going to do some wicked stuff.
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Is this what you really want? The struggles with the wild expectations of the project seemed at times to reflect a deeper issue in European political culture10. Europe is a construct. As such it is fashioned to represent everyone inside its arbitrary borders by appealing to a neutral symbolism. It ends up representing no one. The political establishment is suffering a crisis of legitimacy11 because of widespread public disengagement. As a result, political mainstream is caught between a rock and a hard place12… On the one hand, it is scared of its lack of legitimacy. On the other hand, it stumbles while trying to engage with the people who give it that legitimacy. With us working in such close proximity to the EU building, the plan was for the project to bridge the
Is Europe failing us?
Legitimacy is currently granted by results. Europe exists as long as it is efficient, brings wealth, security, grants the smooth mobility of goods and financial flows – output. Legitimacy doesn’t come from a democratic process, from solidarity, collaboration – input. Output over input. Are we able to challenge that?
12 Consider for a moment the ArenaCake project. The hemicycle invites dialogue and consensus. It is the manifestation of mainstream politics par excellence. A proposal for a new chamber should consider its inversion, like a wedding cake, the form of which, if placed flat on the ground, would invite the opposite: divergence and individual reflection.
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gap between politicians and the public13. But the politicians were nowhere to be seen,14 at the Marineterrein, they mostly arrived by water15. And so we often felt like innocuous image-creation16, acting as a kind of disguised propaganda, shrouded in the veil of cultural expressions.
We were neither of the two, since we were not “the politicians” we could be called upon to be critical of the political process, but we were not “the people”, so if these criticisms got too heavy, we could always be dismissed as artists who don’t reflect the real opinions of the people. Throwing a bit of art into the mix is the Dutch solution for any thorny issue. Here, freedom of expression has become synonymous with artistic license. We as artists acted as a buffer, strategically placed in between the EU officials and the citizens. By embodying the role of proxy for freedom of speech and freedom of political thought, we - as artists - took away the incentive for protest from the people. 13
On the eve of a European Council session, a ritual sacrifice took place at the entrance to the conferencecentre, where a fifty foot statue of the Goddess Europa had recently been erected. Guided by a satanic priest, contact was made with the spirit of the late populist politician Pim Fortuyn. Those present were each allowed to curse one of the politicians that were due to attend the summit.
Probably to avoid the young, unpredictable artists by The Wall.
We were responsible for the message we created, but the message did not matter; it was the medium that was important - a group of creatives installing site-specific works on the topic of Europe. The issues addressed in the works were of no or very little consequence.
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Either that or we’re just being paranoid. Even so, perhaps we should reconsider17 this whole mode of political engagement. Politics instead ought to be a project of investing the public with confidence and the capacity to act.
This movement was brought to you by… During the project the word “movement” came up a few times. We were, it was hoped, going to start a movement.18 With just six months to start this movement, this was not a realistic expectation. After all, we had only just learnt each other’s names.
The current political mainstream is doomed to fail. This was definitively confirmed by I–Ching expert Gerben Hellinga, during an interview marathon with Rem Koolhaas on June 2, around midnight. He also asked the ancient divination text whether art could save us. The answer was “No”. 17
Our opening moment, where we met the Foreign Minister and Mayor of Amsterdam, certainly had the look of a movement’s founding. Some of our friends questioned whether we had joined a cult; they had a point, we were all wearing white scarves, the politicians too, the group straddling them and looking solemnly into the distance with smoke billowing from behind. 18
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But generally speaking the manufacturing of a movement19 is problematic20. Would you fake a movement, or even stage a flash mob, for the EU21? The movement they22 wanted to see is quick and spontaneous. It’s easily captured in social media, measured in likes and retweets. It’s intangible and inconsequential. It’s a social phenomenon completely mediated by manipulable images. It is, in short, all part of the spectacle23.
The desire for movements is a fundamentally conservative desire. It is so bound up with the twentieth century as to feel like the re-enactment of a fifty-year old’s former glories. In their youth, that fifty-year old had a conservative establishment to move against. Now they are the establishment. 19
To say the least.
I would do things for Europe that I wouldn’t for the EU. 21
Another residue of our paranoid thinking.
The golden fleece returned to Greek shores last summer, except rather than royal power it came to represent precarious refuge. When it comes to making a new flag Europe could do worse, it has mythical roots, it glistens in the sun and the material is so weak that a stiff wind can tear big chunks off it. 23
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A Paper Monument
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dot it up
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Conversational flags #2
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Die Welt screening
In Limbo Embassy
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Hut of European Identity
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*Is this what you really want?*
Asielzoekers zijn okay
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The projects are presented in a non-chronological order.
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Creating genuine change in European society will be a long process.24 It involves commitment over a long period of time. It involves face to face human interaction25. And it involves the kind of activity that cannot be measured26 or quantified.
Genuine societal change was not achieved through the movements of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, it was achieved by the teachers, journalists, computer programmers, social workers, industrial workers, artists and many others, people who took the ideas they had learned from these movements for societal transformation and decided to work within but against the institutions which preserved the status quo. But it is not something that is ultimately achieved, rather it is a constant struggle. Part of the problem with society today is that we have stopped struggling and become too attached to a spectacle of change.
A conversation begins between an adult and a child. The adult offers the child something, it’s not free, but the terms aren’t mentioned. The adult slowly offers more things to the child, but they get a bit less interesting each time and so the child backs away. The adult forces the child to take more. The child tells the adult to fuck off. But the adult says there’s no alternative. 25
A small section of grass outside the wall of the conference centre had become overgrown in the months leading up to the summit. Here the caretaker was prevented from his usual grass cutting routine by Hortus Europa, a curated garden where each plant told a story related to Europe. Left alone, the grass had gained some texture, it was less green, less manicured, but more alive. 26
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Do something about Europe and hurry up We are used to the insatiable desire to produce information, or to use a modern term, “content”. In this project we have been encouraged to be very visible, and to produce a steady and consistent stream of information27. To create the illusion of a Europe busy at work, testing future scenarios. But was it a test site, a smokescreen or a buffer zone? This information was disposable28, only relevant at the moment in which it was new. What would we leave behind? Stories. By comparison, stories preserve their strength and are capable of releasing it even after a long time. Stories allow for an audience to relate their lives to bigger narratives by leaving gaps which they can fill with memories from their own experience. Without stories we cannot understand our own conditions of existence and our relationship with larger societal structures. The problem is that stories take time to develop.
Command social media and go viral... if you can.
We were asked to serve fast food, but we delivered food for thought. 28
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The arguments for and against the European Union are dominated by economic information29. But priding information over stories is one of the things that makes it so unrelatable. We may very well be drifting to an ever more divided union because we have difficulty relating our lives to Europe. This was, in our view, the basic aim we were presented with at the beginning of the project: to make Europe relatable30. But how could the project make Europe relatable straight away31? The short answer is we couldn’t. We had to get to grips with the project, work out our space and work out what was possible. We had to collect our own stories.
It’s apt that the UK referendum on membership of the EU fell on 24 June, at the close of our project. Two of our group had the opportunity to vote in this election. Their abiding sense was that the argument was framed exclusively in economic terms, there was little animated discussion about the future Europe in which the British people might want to live.
Or at least approachable.
Is Europe even a “thing”? The Hut of European Identity, one of our projects, hosted a collection of material traces representing the identity of such a ghostly polity. It stayed empty for one month, then the first objects started to arrive, shipped from the Jungle of Calais, Place de la République, the Mosella, and Ventotene. Still, these materials represented threats, seductions, struggles, forces that push and pull rather than a fixed meaning. We wondered: then was it more or less coherent in its former bareness?
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Film stills from the Is this what you really want? video
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Epilogue One of the recurring questions during our six months as New Europeans was “what do we want to leave behind?”. It was an important question, made even more relevant by the fact that our work site was situated at the Marineterrein, next to the historical wall which used to confine the old naval yard, sealed away from the public for the last 350 years. Though in close proximity to the city’s heart, the area has been hidden in plain sight — concealed from official maps for security reasons and absent from Amsterdammers’ lived maps. It has been rendered virtually invisible. Our presence at The Wall was meant to activate this strategic location by programming cultural activities and producing site-specific works, engaging with the neighborhood and ushering in new audiences. Yet our stay was temporary, and this sense of transience was further enhanced by the fact we worked in a flexible, mobile setting: a village of containers surrounded by a wooden structure serving as an exhibition wall — a second wall. What landmarks would the New Europeans create? How to go about creating reference points in a non-space? What traces could we leave? We first had to start small. A chair, a swing, so passers-by could stop and spend five minutes at The Wall. We changed the flags (three times) to catch their attention. We installed Dina Danish’s Seven Blank Wall Solutions, a conceptual, site-specific work appropriating the dull brick wall. We chose a plot and planted a garden. We opened a public forum — in the form of ArenaCake — inviting discussion or solitary reflection. We collected pieces of evidence relating to Europe’s identity conflict in a hut, as to live among them. An altar was built, and from it a goddess emerged to whom we murmured wishes and made sacrifices. Our stay at the Marineterrein coincided with the EU Council meetings behind The Wall. They too had six months to produce important work. They too were in a makeshift setting. They too had to talk it out. Not unlike Europe, our project was temporary, fragile and relational. 29
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We were twelve exemplary precarious workers – artists, designers, architects, writers, producers – assembled as a temporary community, in a temporary place. The space we tried to build was an aesthetic one, a political one, a debated one. There, we had to continuously negotiate our role, our presence. Our encounter opened a discursive space for ourselves, first of all. And, possibly, for others. This is what Europe is for us: an assembly, a space, a continuous negotiation, where – we hope – no consensus will ever be considered possible, or enough. Our final work, a dual publication in the form of a video and booklet, fully embraces this stance and tells a non-linear story about our time at the Marineterrein. Both video and booklet are guided by the same main narration, but their formats address different aspects of our project. Thought out as a contemplative visual essay, the video features projections of our image archive overimposed on the containers we worked in and their immediate surroundings. The complex layering and associative logic allow for reflection and, perhaps more importantly, for thoughtful recollection. Intangible legacies live on in memory. The present booklet replicates the loose, evocative logic of the video in written form. The same narration gives way to a plurality of voices, perspectives and points of view. No definitive statements, no resolutions, this is a story that leaves gaps for the imagination and requires you to be invested in it. As does Europe.
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Colophon: New Europeans and The Wall are part of Europe by People, the official cultural programme associated with the Netherlands presidency of the EU Council in January June 2016. The views and opinions expressed in this publication are strictly those of the authors, New Europeans. New Europeans: Charlien Adriaenssens, Stefan Auberg, Anna Berkhof, Andreea Breazu, Charlie Clemoes, Tessa de Vries, WaĂ¨l el Allouche, Elisa Grasso, Domenique Himmelsbach de Vries, Freja Kir, Devika Partiman and Paolo Patelli. Team leaders: Mark Minkjan, Radna Rumping and Eva van Vuuren Intern: Liza Saris Curator of The Wall: Pjotr de Jong Design: New Europeans Typeface: GT Haptic Rotalic Akkurat Mono Printed by: ÂŽ robstolk, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Edition: 500 This publication is two-part: booklet and video. Made by New Europeans in June 2016. All rights reserved. neweuropeans.org
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