Places de l'Europe: research & proposals on European culture
Yves Mettler 14.03.05
Lausanne, Olympia - bar à café
Europaplatz: Quelles places pour l'Europe ?
End of March, soon noon. People are walking across the square, or sitting around having lunch or a break in the sun. Soon they’ll be back to work ... Over the square hangs a bridge under which is written in big blue letters: Place de l'Europe.
In 26 countries and soon to be more, a diffuse idea of Europe finds its way to its inhabitants, rising multiple struggles, some more explicit than others, which wait to be addressed since the idea of the free subject and the national citizen has been formulated.
How will this supranational entity entitle and empower its inhabitants ? How will its inhabitants be organized – differentiated and integrated? Where will this take place? What will it look like? The multiple layers of analysis (economical, spiritual, political, historical, geographical, cultural) overwhelm the possible debates which does not seem to be heading toward a consensus. The situation gets further confused by the urgency to show a strong and unified face to the “other” global players (nation states just as much as multinational corporations).
This obscure thing called Europe lacks a unified image, model or representation. The mythological female figure– kidnapped by a god to become a queen, and having two sons who became heroes – won't appeal to anyone. Even ghostlier is the “European state”, as Etienne Balibar says, “as a sum of state-like practices whose center of legitimacy, authority and publicity remains obscure even to those – theoretically – occupying it".
And for the world, Europe is the thing called “old continent” ...
The situation is unique. Many observers (Derrida opening a reflection in L’autre cap, or Sloterdijk making a reflection on the possibility by the recomposition of post-war Europe to break with the cycles of translatio imperii) tell it, and in the actual process of giving Europe a constitution, one should take the chance to propose an actualized representation of its existence and forms, fantasies and realities.
Graz, 2001: two years before being the annual European cultural capital. I was sitting, on the Europaplatz in front of the railway station. Facing this classical symbol of modernity, crossed by workers and backpackers, the square functioned as a parking lot for buses and cars. There is hardly any sign or device inviting one to stay, wait, or else. Come and go, drive-trough, pure transit. No agora or forum, not even flags – all of which is so „European“. The place of Europe seems to have gone beyond any classical terminology of collective space and nearly ended up as junk space, without anyone noticing. This scenario is not unique, but rather generic: a hard-to-define relation of transit from an inside to the outside of the city (see Vienna, Lausanne, Luzerne, Aachen, Mönchengladbach, Puijcerda, Paris etc ... )
Reaching that urban reality, the question becomes no longer abstract: How do the cities – from capitals to remote agglomerations – connect to this idea of Europe, politically and culturally ? How is this connection made visible and present in the city? What are the forces that motivate the naming and realization of those public squares in the cities all over Europe? The phenomenon is current and those public squares – appearing first in the 19th century capitals such as Paris and blossoming after World War 2 – find their way into more and more cities in recent years.
Investigating these forces and their effects might give a primary insight into an invisible and implicit Europe: How does a collective identity find its realization on the most local levels. What are the motivations that seek such an identity? What is the imagery that remains and emerges? What are the moments when „European-ness“ gets declared and by whom? Who decides on such moments?
To investigate and collect the informations about these places constitutes a corpus of visible realizations and written documents that testifies to the transfer from an abstract idea to a real situation. Secondly, this opens a concrete arena for research and the proposition of an alternative and reflexive modeling of a European culture. It implies a reflection on the reality of representation and of representative building which is so proper to western culture.
The first level of my project is the documentation of existing situations, specific localized stories and realizations. In the same way as Alan Sekula’s multiple localized stories created the „fish story,“ the collected and documented situations will work as corner points for a line that ties together an abstract idea of Europe (this might constitute a first presupposition of this project: There can’t be a representative situation, each one is different, extends and constitutes the whole conception – politically expressed, there can’t be one model for all. And what about Koolhas’s new flag or Scanner’s anthem sampling: are those works efficient or repeating an old story?). Working on the level of cities is a way to scale down to personal proportions something that looks too big. And also we know that urban culture has been historically the boiling pot that accelerated the construction of this hard-to-define european culture.
This corpus of images and texts will give concrete evidence on how Europe exists and how it affects geographically, culturally and politically distanced places; and, in return, how local and concrete activities can enrich what we mean by Europe.
The on-site research is completed by textual research, and by research into the works of various cultural actors in the extended field of art, cultural and political studies, history, and philosophy.
The second level of the project is the proposition (and realization) of new specific situations based on a reflexive construction of the previously constituted context(s). As specific as the corpus, those proposals want to extend the realm of perception of what can emerge from this not yet – and probably never – achieved idea. The realm of proposition ranges from art-in-public interventions supported by an institutional framework to net based generators and spontaneous propositions: what would be a genuinely European plaza for a nomadic population? The utopian character that is cached in the idea of Europe might find some testing ground in this project.