Europe: Of Whose Culture Do We Speak?


March 21, 2012 21:02 EDT

The Europe (to the power of) n project is an international collaborative art project founded to explore the possibilities of a European identity without transforming it into a substantial and exclusive one.

It would be difficult to describe the European Union as a loving relationship; rather, it seems more like a partnership of convenience. The reason for this is partly linked with the founding of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957. At its start the EU still had a rather pragmatic view of its identity. Its idea of community was mostly developed towards a strong economic focus. Although the EU´s guidelines have since been continuously modified, a certain basic pragmatism has remained.

Here lies one of the most fundamental problems with which a community has to struggle when the pillars of its construction strongly value this sense of pragmatism. An EU with a purely pragmatic orientation does not offer enough emotional identification for its members. In this respect the EU is quite different from the concept of a nation-state, where a common language, foundation, symbols and narratives have been provided that form the basis of an “imagined community” (Benedict Anderson). This system of cultural representation allowed for cultural identification, one which transcended class barriers, background or origins, and created and consolidated hegemony – irrespective of how heterogeneous the nation-state really was. Through this, differences and gaps were bridged successfully.

In a world where de-territorialised individuals meet with global capital, images and goods, it is no longer possible to convincingly represent national identities in a uniform way. The mass media constantly influences our conception of identity beyond national borders. A multitude of movements and identification possibilities place individuals and communities in new relationships of space and time.

If one does not want to revive the concept of the nation-state and implement it in Europe; if one does not want to ignore the fact that society is becoming increasingly fragmented and multi-voiced; if we have to accept that parts of the world have become increasingly connected on global scale and yet are separated through social fragmentation, then we must ask ourselves the following:

What defines a community today? Is there such thing as the cohesive national identity provided in the 21st century?

In connection to these questions, culture is usually seen as a fundamental factor that supplied common values and worldviews. Europe´s lack of a common identity means that in the crisis the search for common values has become more important, given Europe’s financial and almost existential crisis, as well as its future perspectives. Culture is brought forth as “the last resource,” as a social adhesive for a community whose nature is multi-voicedand fragmented. But of whose culture do we speak?

For the project “Europe (to the power of) n” ten curators from Brussels, Istanbul, London, Łódź, Minsk, Novi Sad, Høvikodden/Oslo, San Sebastián and Taipei were first each invited to make three proposals on how to approach the subject of Europe from the perspective of the arts. Thirty scenarios, representing thirty different ways of thinking about Europe, form the point of departure of a large-scale project about Europe. The development of three consecutive scenarios per curator allows various thoughts on Europe to be expanded upon, corrected and reformulated in several stages.

This series of art projects will open debates about the various possibilities of art: its critical and utopian potential, its own practical limitations with regard to changingpolitics or the economy, and its resistance to compensate for certain types of social dysfunctions. But does this mean that art is dysfunctional itself? Can it have any real impact on politics and economy? Can it challenge given cultural values? Can it stimulate the production of new ones?

The people involved in this project are interested in other social areas aside from art and aesthetics. Their background is philosophy, architecture, visual arts, and art history. The curators and artists are interested in politics, economics, genetics, and education. Moreover, they are particularly interested in developing new models of collaboration.

So what is a scenario? According to its general definition, a scenario is the portrayal of a possible future event or situation, including the paths of development leading up to it. In fields varying from politics, economics, and sociology, to climate and energy research, enacting scenarios helps researchers discover potential future developments. The scenario technique is thus often used as a tool for decision-making.

According to Hannah Kosow and Robert Gaßner, the scenario stands “for the idea of a possible future and as such it always implicitly points towards the possibility of further alternative futures.” It is this aspect of developing scenarios, the one that leads us to imagine alternatives beyond the status quo, that is especially interesting for many artists. However, highly technical instruments and procedures, including trend, participant and cross-impact analysis, modeling, delphi methods, road-mapping techniques, and criteria such as consistence, explication of premises and statements of range are not in their focus. In the scenarios of the artists and curators we are continually confronted with hypothetical constructions of possible futures, whether these are utopian or dystopian.

The scenarios will serve as the prologue of “Europe (to the power of) n,” which will be realized between July 2012 and April 2013. The complexity of this project was evident even at the planning stage. Institutions of various sizes and types are involved, ranging from curatorial departments and art spaces attached to universities and museums, to contemporary art centers and journals, along with a large number of independent curators, artists and designers. These scenarios will form the basis for running tests about how to approach a highly complex theme such as Europe, through art, and how a collaboration project with this objective could be initiated.

Europe (to the power of) n

Hogeschool Sint-Lukas, Brüssel; Salt, Istanbul; Muzeum Sztuki, Lodz; Royal College of Art, London; European Humanities University, Vilnius; Galerie Y, Minsk; Muzej Savremene Umetnosti Vojvodine, Novi Sad; Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Høvikodden; Vitamin Creative Space, Beijing; Art World Shanghai

06.07.2012 – 28.04.2013

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