A range of artists, writers, directors and curators present their opinions on the impending EU referendum
Last Thursday evening, I emailed a range of artists, writers, museum and biennial directors and curators with the open question:
On 23 June the UK will vote either to remain in or leave the European Union. What are your thoughts on this historic decision?
The sheer range of the responses that have poured in over the past 72 hours has been amazing: artworks, YouTube clips, essays, aphorisms and quotes. I've been sent images and declarations from artists including Damien Hirst, Helen Marten, Cornelia Parker and Heather Phillipson, and statements from Gallery, Museum and Biennial Directors, including Iwona Blazwick of the Whitechapel Gallery, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Julia Peyton-Jones from the Serpentine, Simon Wallis of the Hepworth Wakefield, Sally Tallant, director of the Liverpool Biennial, Caroline Douglas, Head of the Contemporary Art Society, and Joe Scotland and Emily Pethick from London's Studio Voltaire and The Showroom. Some of the country's most brilliant writers, including Geoff Dyer, Philip Hoare and Olivia Laing have also sent in their thoughts.
Overwhelmingly, the response has been an impassioned plea for the UK to vote to remain in the European Union on 23 June.
Why? Read on. You might also be interested in these websites, which also include responses to the referendum from the creative industries in the UK:
Damien Hirst is an artist who lives in the UK. He has created this image in support of Britain remaining in the EU.
Iwona Blazwick is the Director of the Whitechapel Gallery, London.
We fervently wish to remain as leaving the EU will adversely impact the free movement of artists – from orchestras and dance troupes to visual artists – the movement of works of art and cooperation between European institutions – all catastrophic for international exchange, plus super costly!
Hans Ulrich Obrist
Hans Ulrich Obrist is Co-Director of the Serpentine Gallery, London.
‘The world needs togetherness, not separation. Love, not suspicion. A common future, not isolation.’
In light of the forthcoming EU referendum, these words by the great Etel Adnan written for my Instagram underline the necessity of a shared commonality between nations. Britain’s potential exit from the European Union represents a mindscape that reverts to the past rather than looks to the future. This outlook is fuelled by forces of nationalism and a generalized lack of tolerance, which promotes isolation as opposed to connection. Individual solidarity and the concurrent secluding of one nation weakens rather than strengthens. To follow Adnan’s message, we achieve solidarity through togetherness, not through separation.
It appears that an alarming pattern is reoccurring throughout Europe, an historical precedent that we know only too well from the 1920s and ’30s. Last week the Labour MP, Jo Cox, was murdered in her West Yorkshire constituency by a man who gave his name as ‘death to traitors, freedom for Britain’. Just days before her death, Cox made an impassioned defence of immigration in a published article, where she stated that:
We cannot allow voters to fall for the spin that a vote to leave is the only way to deal with concerns about immigration. We can do far more to address both the level and impact of immigration while remaining in the EU.
Over the last couple of weeks I have re-read the diaries of Harry Graf Kessler. The cyclical turn of Europe’s social political history that we see coming back around once more makes these diaries of acute contemporary relevance. Titled Journey to the Abyss, Kessler’s diaries recount a Europe where the spirit of cosmopolitan togetherness and dialogue permeated the cultural milieu of the early 20th-century, a spirit that was eventually crushed by nationalism and the war. An exhibition currently on display at Max Liebermann Haus in Berlin highlights the contemporary relevance of Kessler and is what Eric Hobsbawm called an URGENT PROTEST AGAINST FORGETTING.
Mia Frostner & Rosalie Schweiker
Mia Frostner is a graphic designer who lives in London. Rosalie Schweiker is an artist who lives in London.
Cornelia Parker is an artist who lives in London. Her commission for the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, runs until 31 October. She has curated the exhibition ‘Found’ at London’s Foundling Museum; it runs until 4 September.
The chilling thought of Brexit keeps me awake at night. We are at a critical point in history when we have to be very vigilant about democracy and the multiple threats that are amassing against it.
Putin is agitating in Syria and even at the European Cup in an attempt to disable the European Union. He has accelerated the refugee crisis for his own ends. He would love to see Europe collapse as would Trump. If we Brexit the EU could unravel fast, causing untold financial woes and huge political upheaval and chaos. The right-wingers will move in aggressively with their agenda and the horrors of 1930s could well be on the cards.
The worst politicians in our government are lining up to Brexit: Michael Gove (who wrecked our education system), Ian Duncan Smith (who bought in bedroom tax), Nigel Farage (who is encouraging xenophobia), Boris Johnson (who is just furthering his career). If we vote to exit we will be handing them huge mandate and powers to spend funds the way they see fit. And it won’t be spent wisely.
For Remain there are all the other saner voices, including Obama, Blair, Cameron and Brown.
If we leave we will see the break up of the United Kingdom. Scotland will have a new referendum and will leave. We will be Little England with no powers; no say in Europe, our special relationship with the US will evaporate. Just when globalisation is on the march, we will retreat into obscurity.
Lastly on immigration, if we leave the EU the French quite rightly will no longer keep back the tides of refugees at Calais.
Since I started writing this, I have heard of the shooting of the MP Jo Cox who was supporting the Remain campaign. Brexit will reduce our democracy to its lowest common denominator.
David Batchelor is an artist who lives in London. http://www.davidbatchelor.co.uk/
Caroline Douglas is Director of the Contemporary Arts Society and lives in London.
The Contemporary Art Society was founded by people who were among the first in this country to understand the importance of the avant-garde in Europe – Roger Fry was the curator of Post-Impressionist exhibitions in London in the first years of the 20th-century that changed the British scene forever. Today, a third of the staff of the Society were born in mainland Europe and last year 46% of the works we purchased for our Museum Members were made by non-British born artists. Every year we take groups of museum curators and our patrons to Europe and foster closer relations and collaborative working. As an organization we have been fundamentally connected to Europe for more than 100 years and today that dialogue remains as important and mutually beneficial as it always was.
Simon Wallis is the Director of the Hepworth Wakefield, West Yorkshire.
A painfully revealing light has been shone onto a very wide spectrum of our thoughts and feelings during the course of this referendum campaign. We should welcome the opportunity to reflect deeply on what we have experienced and learned during this political process. We have to face up fully to what has divided opinions and work creatively to find a middle way that can allow us all to thrive together in this country. Violence and isolation are failures of imagination. We therefore need to actively develop our inspiring capacity for empathy and creativity to address the very many untenable situations this referendum has revealed. We can unite by nurturing the opportunities for better lives that are so evident for a stable nation characterized by diversity, connectivity and irony. Let's start with a fairer redistribution of Britain's huge wealth and more vital localism: too much power resides in London. This often deeply alienates communities that are outside the capital. But Britain has to contribute to tackling global issues by continuing as a member of the EU to make it ever more fruitfully effective as an essential collaborative project for peace and prosperity.
DJ Simpson is a London-based artist. His work is currently showing in ‘Mechanical Abstract’ at Turps Banana, 12a -13a Taplow, Thurlow Street, London, SE17 2UQ.
Helen Marten is an artist who lives in London. She will have a solo exhibition later this year at the Serpentine Gallery, London. Her work is also included in many group shows this year, in Europe, the UK and the US.
It fills me with dread and horror to think of a Britain severed from the EU. We tumble from one continual social crisis to the next in a fog of capitalist nihilism, so to think that a Britain operating within its own private bureaucracies is to isolate from the political traumas surrounding us at a global scale is a grossly naive and selfish misconception. The search for so-called sovereignty is an absolute delusion: a country blinkered by its manufactured Euroscepticism is a country swallowing the shit of its own misinformation. Of course the deliberately cultivated vagueness of Brexit promotion exists because there are no real answers or solutions for a proposal to leave - the collateral damage in all walks of life – finance, security, agriculture aside – is frighteningly monstrous. If I could physically pluck this island from its surrounding waters and fling all naysayers into a temporary vote-blocking freeze, I would do so, and thus urge anybody not considering it already to vote to remain a part of the EU.
Geoff Dyer is writer who lives in London. His latest book White Sands will be published by Canongate at the end of the month.
Leaving would be simultaneously the action of a toddler chucking his toys out of the pram and the death rattle of a nation in terminal decline
Julia Peyton-Jones is Co-Director of the Serpentine Galleries, London.
In, In, In … My blood runs cold at the thought we could be out.
Sally Tallant is Director of the Liverpool Biennial.
What most defines and marks much of the art that is being created today is its international outlook. In the UK, we benefit from being able to invite artists from other EU countries, as well as from further afield, to come to our cities and create work for our public spaces, our museums, and our galleries. Likewise, in order to sustain a career in an increasingly global world, British artists have to be able to work, exhibit and sell their art internationally. Could we still do all of this if Britain votes to leave the EU? Probably, but it will be a hell of a lot harder and more expensive. Being a part of a wider international community can only be of benefit for us as a society, and will continue to allow us to create a rich cultural heritage to pass on to future generations. I will vote to REMAIN IN the EU on 23 June.
(And here is some classic disco from Thelma Houston on the matter!)
Francis McKee is Director of CCA: Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow.
I want free movement of people and ideas. I don’t see immigration as a threat. The economic case for being in the EU is very convincing and there is no real case for the leave scenario. Leaving seems based on fear of living, hatred of the other and a general desire to continue dreaming of the empire. It’s disappointing to hear some say there’s a progressive argument for leaving. There really isn’t: we should work across Europe to effect change on massive scale. Look to events such as the current nuit debout movement in France to see the potential if we worked together.
Phoebe Blatton is a writer based in Berlin, Germany, and London, UK. She publishes The Coelacanth Journal, currently at Issue No.10: Stage Fright.
Just over a year ago, a friend gave me this badge, from the Lesbian Herstory Archives, as an amusing relic that resonated with our new lives as precarious queers living in Europe because we could no longer afford London rents. Post-Orlando, and on the cusp of a possible Leave result on June 23rd, I pinned it to my jacket the other day with a new surge of feeling. An immeasurable threat faces the identities stated on this badge should the right gain greater ground and validation with this referendum. Whichever way the vote goes, the assault from the right will continue, and ‘European dykes’ are but a fraction of the voices that must unite with others and respond.
Nick Aikens is a curator at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, a partner of the Europan museum confederation L’Internationale.
I write these words on my phone, having just crossed passport control at the Brussels Eurostar terminal. I realize after Thursday how different this journey might feel. My heart sinks when I think what a vote to leave the EU would mean. I feel personally implicated – as an Englishman working in the Netherlands as part of a European museum confederation, with a French partner and two children, living in Belgium. I feel invested, professionally and emotionally, in Europe. I am apprehensive what a vote to leave would mean for Britain. The out campaign's return to Empire logic, where it thinks Britain is better than others, better alone, is anachronistic and frightening – for the type of politics it will embolden in the UK, and the politics it will give oxygen to across the continent.
More than this, however, my heart sinks when I think about Britain giving up on the European project. Despite its glaring shortcomings and deficiencies, it is a project so ambitious in its political, social and cultural aims: to join peoples across borders, to let them move freely, binding them by a common set of laws and rights. And far from being time to end this project, I think we can only now start to understand its potential, the collective and plural identities it fosters and what that means in the 21st century, when we have to work so hard to keep the darker side of nationalisms at bay. To quote from the ‘Charter for Europe’, 1.2, written in 2014 by a group of activists and cultural practitioners as the outcome of New Abduction of Europe at the Reina Sofia Museum, part of the L’Internationale confederation's programme: ‘In fact, the European “we”, we are talking about here, is unfinished, it is in the making, it is a performative process of coming together.’ I will vote with head and heart to remain part of this unfinished process.
Sam Thorne is Director of Nottingham Contemporary; he lives in Nottingham and is a frieze contributing editor.
Anna Williams, a 102-year-old woman from Swansea, personally delivering her Yes vote to the EU referendum returning officer in 1975:
Katrina Brown is Director of The Common Guild, Glasgow.
Better prospects, whether for art, for my daughter, or for world issues like climate change, rest in working together rather than pulling apart. Historic decisions seem to focus too much on a notional past. Choose the future.
Olivia Laing is a writer who lives in Cambridge. Her new book, The Lonely City, is published by Canongate.
I’m in Paris right now, curled on the sofa in the apartment above Shakespeare & Co. Remain, of course. At this frightening moment in time, we need to open borders, not close them. We need to be cosmopolitan, to stop acting as if other people’s difference threatens our identity. We need to share. I’m so horrified by the talk of us and them, the rise of racism, the growing acceptability of hate speech. I don’t want to live on an ugly, homogenized island, little bloody Britain. I want us to take part in something larger, to be multilingual, to exchange. I’m in, and I’m in for life.
Kathrin Böhm is a London-based artist who works on collaborative and collective productions of public spaces. She is the co-initiator of www.EU-UK.info together with Rosalie Schweiker and An Endless Supply.
Alice Rawsthorn writes about design in the International New York Times and is the author of Hello World: Where Design Meets Life (2013). She lives in London.
I definitely don’t want the UK to leave the EU, but nor do I want us to simply remain. If, as I fervently hope, the UK is still a member of the EU after Thursday’s referendum, I would like it to mark the start of a process in which we radically redefine our role within Europe to become a fully committed, collegial and dynamic member state.
One benefit of what has otherwise been one of the bitterest, most brutal and polarizing political debates I can recall in the UK, is that we have all had the chance to read, talk and think about the pros and cons of EU membership, as well as what it could – and should – offer us in future, and vice versa.
A majority vote to remain would not only be a rousing endorsement of popular support for the EU, but end years of ambivalence about our relationship to it. If the UK then engaged fully with the union, working collaboratively with fellow member states and honouring our responsibilities to address global challenges, like the refugee crisis, hopefully even the grumpiest Brexiters would realize that we will all benefit from living in a kinder, fairer, more prosperous, inclusive and productive society, richer in every way.
Enrico David is a London-based Italian artist. He currently has a public sculpture included in ‘Sculpture in the City’ in London.
This quote from an article by Fintan O’Toole in The Guardian sums up this tragic, horrid, farcical moment: ‘Being ready for self-government demands a much better sense of the self you want to govern.’
Rebecca Heald is a Curator and Tutor in Curatorial Practice, Royal College of Art, London.
That the EU Referendum is such a monstrously complex issue is perhaps part of the reason that campaigning on it has reached such fantastical levels: almost all assertions and statistics on the subject can be shown to be flawed and misleading. And, as we have seen, especially over the last week, it has enabled new lows in mainstream UK politics. The vote has become about an austerity-born schism in British society and nobody knows what will happen. But in the event of ‘Leave’, even a tiny glimpse of all the things that will need to be sorted out is terrifying.
Alarmingly, I find myself in the company of Richard Dawkins: ‘It is an outrage that people as ignorant as me are being asked to vote. This is a complicated matter of economics, politics, history, and we live in a representative democracy not a plebiscite democracy. You could make a case for having plebiscites on certain issues – I could imagine somebody arguing for one on fox hunting, for example – but not on something as involved as the European Union. This should be a matter for parliament.’ I agree.
Historically the unions in the UK used to fulfil a valuable role in providing political education for the masses. With the disempowerment and dismantling of the unions, this educative role has all but disappeared leaving a serious gap – where do people get their political education these days? At secondary school in rural Somerset we had a single class on politics which consisted of the teacher drawing a bird on the blackboard, ‘explaining’: ‘Left wing, right wing – and, remember, extremes meet!’ Notwithstanding, as a result of my own concentrated efforts, I consider myself politically alert and informed. From age ten, I ordered party manifestos and attended hustings with my dad; at university, though studying European literature, I went to all the politically orientated talks and debates I could, and binged on the New Statesman and (the then new) Red Pepper; later in life, wanting to feel more politically conversant and confident, I undertook an MSc in Social and Political Theory; and I’ve spent chunks of time in Westminster attending seminars and chairing discussions. So, ask me about the intricacies of the choices offered in the EU Referendum! And I am at a loss.
But what I can say, however, is that even a cursory thinking through of the implications of ‘Leave’ is dizzying. In terms of the arts: for a sector already suffering huge cuts, what will happen without EU funding? How will it impact on current ease of travel, of both people and objects? What will happen to artists from Europe living in the UK? What will happen to the increasing number of artists from the UK living in Europe? What about the strong networks of collaboration between museums and galleries? And that's even before getting into questions of trade and tax.
Paul Graham is a British artist photographer, currently living in New York.
Dexter Dalwood is an artist who lives in London. His work is included in ‘Mon art à moi’ from 3 July – 28 August at Kunsthaus CentrePasquArt, Switzerland.
If this, the uncalled for referendum, was about determining the value of membership of the European Union for a nation, the Greeks might have a point. But there can be no such simple question or answer. In Britain we must square up to an uncomfortable truth - that many of us hold the bizarre conviction that the drawbridge of Britain can be pulled up to protect us from the hordes. Or, to put it another way, from those who simply wish to come to Britain to live and work and make a life here.
The idea that isolationism might be something to be proud of appalls me. I am a member of the European community. It is not a community to be considered as ‘other’ or to be suspicious of. I don't want to live in a country that embraces a skewed set of 19th century values. I don’t want to bring my children up in a climate of jingoism. Ultranationalism is what my father's generation fought against. They fought for a peace in Europe which has conquered hatred and distrust. I am proud to be voting Remain on Thursday.
Mark Sladen is a curator who lives in London.
I was at college with Boris Johnson and a number of his cronies in the late 1980s. My friends and I witnessed these men playing at power – with their debating societies, dining clubs and coloured waistcoats. We thought that they were like dinosaurs, with no connection to contemporary Britain as we experienced it, and assumed that they were destined to shuffle off into irrelevance. How little we appreciated the resilience of the British Establishment! And now Johnson and a group of his chums have helped to drag Britain into an ugly debate about our membership of the European Union. A campaign in which they whip up populist sentiment in order to satisfy their own desire for power, heedless of how they debase the national conversation and help to legitimise the xenophobia that lurks in this country. The EU is an imperfect institution, and a work in progress, but it offers the citizens of its member countries some protection against the anti-liberal forces that are growing in the world at large - and of which Johnson and his pals are cynical and opportunistic expressions. Whatever you think of the European dream and its current reality, look at the leaders of the Brexit campaign and ask yourself: do you want your future to be governed by yet another wave of these ghastly, ghost-like men?
Frank Hannon is an artist who lives in London.
Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin
Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin are artists who live in London. They have been commissioned to make a public sculpture for Art on the Underground and their work will be included in shows at Baltimore Museum of Art, USA, C/O, Berlin, Germany, ICP Museum, New York, USA, Les Rencontres d’Arles, Arles, France and the British Art Show 8, Norwich University of the Arts and Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery.
Our grandparents fled the holocaust in Eastern Europe, our parents were born in South Africa, we started our careers in Italy and have lived and worked for 20 years together in London. We are a product of immigration. That is why we are in love with the idea of being part of Europe. We created a T-shirt that young people - who are the demographic least likely to vote but most likely to vote Remain might want to wear.
Michelle Ussher is an Australian artist based in London. Her work was included in The Green Ray earlier this year at Wilkinson Gallery, London. A current Acme Fire Station resident in London she will undertake a residency at Phasmid, Berlin in September.
Sarah Wood is an artist who lives in Cambridge. This is an excerpt of the script of her new film Boat People, which was shown as part of the recent Whitstable Biennial.
Far away from the coast of the Mediterranean where we began, I’m writing this in Britain on land reclaimed from the sea. It’s Passover, the festival that marks the Jewish people’s flight from Egypt, the ultimate celebration of freedom.
At Passover a spare glass of wine is made ready at the feast and the door of the house left open in case Elijah the wanderer returns as he must at the end of time, to answer all the unanswered questions left at the end of the world. The glass of wine and the open door are an act of hospitality – an enticement for homecoming.
Revelation comes from generosity of a welcome.
We come from the dark and enter the door to the world. Welcome. We travel through life, through light towards another dark door. Welcome.
This year the sea levels are rising. The salt in the sea is lessening. The land along the coast is being eroded.
The unanswered questions of the world await us.
Imagine, a ship sails towards the shore. W e set the table, we open the doors to our home, we walk onto the beach, we pull the boat ashore.
The stranger at the table. We start a conversation. It’s a beginning.
Michael Raedecker is a London-based Dutch artist. His most recent solo show was ‘camouflage’ earlier this year, at Grimm gallery, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
It is difficult for me to understand why people would even think that the UK should leave the EU. After all these years...
Last century, after two World Wars, a slow but steady process of unification and collaboration resulted in the European Union. Over the last 50 years or so, this has grown to 28 countries working together on progress in the 21st century. And yes, there are problems running the EU, but so are there in our own backyard, and these will all be solved eventually.
Leaving will create countless bigger problems. To leave seems like going back in time and throwing the laws of progress and all the hard work overboard. It is like suggesting that we throw away our computers and plug in our old-fashioned bakelite phones and VHS recorders; and hurrah how life will be jolly good again. Incomprehensible example; destructive decision.
Amalia Pica is a London-based Argentinean artist. Her work is currently on display in Tate Modern and is included in Manifesta II, Zurich. This year, she has two solo shows, at Mark Foxx, Los Angeles, and Kunstverein Freiburg, Germany.
Timothy P.A. Cooper
Timothy P.A. Cooper is an essayist and researcher whose work is grounded in both anthropology and media history. He lives in London.
The referendum campaign has forced many who would not usually rush to consider how their relationship to the state is manifested in their public life, to question the extent to which residency or citizenship permeates the private sphere. What is clear to many is that the Remain and the Leave camps have failed to reflect the depth of feeling that their referendum has unleashed and polarized. Whether we choose nationalism or supra-nationalism, the country has already actively chosen to perpetuate a referendum trend that detracts from, rather than benefits, our democracy. In short, we may well have fallen into a trap of our own making. Anthropologist Alfred Gell, arguing against a distinction between artworks and artefacts, believed that an animal trap, ‘communicates a deadly absence – the absence of the man who devised and set it, and the absence of the animal who will become the victim… If we look at other traps, we are able to see that each is not only a model of its creator, a subsidiary self in the form of an automaton, but each is also a model of its victim.’ In our own referendum-as-trap the benefits of European cohesion have been rendered invisible by a proliferation of hunters and an absence of prey.
Ben Eastham is editor of The White Review, and writes regularly for frieze. He lives in London.
My dad is from the north of England; my mum from the west of Ireland. My grandfather was named Jones; my great-grandfather Grossmann. Several of my forebears participated in the uprising against the English occupation of Ireland, another was sent there to quell it; my family was represented on both sides of the wars. I was baptised and confirmed into the Catholic church – part of a bargain, perhaps, struck between my parents, a balancing out of their decision to spend the duration of my childhood on the English side of the Welsh borders – but count among my predecessors English Protestants and German Jews. Everyone oppressed each other in the name of various abstract ideas.
The nation state thus seems to me a ludicrously outdated invention, propped up by the pernicious myth of a national character. Yet six years ago, as I worked off a hangover in a Brooklyn bar with a French friend, I remember clearly the moment when Beethoven came – incongruously – onto the jukebox. It must have been some time after our hangovers shifted back into drunkenness because we both suddenly pined for Europe, for a sentimentalized ‘home’ that I would normally disdain. This piece of music (and I know nothing about classical music) seemed at that moment to embody a set of values to which we both ascribed and a cultural tradition to which we belonged. That ideal of Europe is a story about culture and enlightenment in which — because based on shared human endeavours in the arts and sciences rather than the wars, colonialisms, and conquests of its constituent countries — I might actually want to participate. To identify as European is perhaps only a staging post en route to a future in which geographical accident will no longer be thought to define an individual, but it’s the only identity that I feel comfortable in. That will remain the case whatever happens this week. And, if we do fuck it up, I can always get an Irish passport.
Clare Woods is an artist who lives in Hereford. She currently has a solo show at Pier Arts Centre, Orkney.
The notion of the conversation scares me, it makes me feel vulnerable. It has opened a platform for the all the racist, ignorant and selfish people in this country to express their extremist views. We should not be thinking what is best for us we should be thinking how best to keep a united Europe and help the countries less fortunate than ourselves. The world is in a mess.
Mick Peter is an artist who lives in Glasgow. Earlier this year, he had a solo show at the Drawing Room, London.
Laura Robertson is a writer and editor based in Liverpool. She is co-founder of The Double Negative magazine.
We’ve been here before. In fact, in regards to some human behaviours, it’s hard to distinguish between the Europe of now and the Renaissance period (14-17th century). Thrilling new discoveries in science and technology, and new ideas across philosophy and the arts, led to the Enlightenment; equally, huge changes left many disillusioned, conflicted and angry. Alongside the creative visionaries of the era, like Leonardo da Vinci, political provocateurs rose to prominence, like Martin Luther, who took advantage of rife uncertainty to ignite religious war. Sound familiar? How else could the Bonfire of the Vanities – the gleeful destruction of books, paintings and musical instruments deemed immoral – happen in Florence, Italy: the very heart of European culture? An event that seemingly contradicts a rise in intellectual debate and scientific questioning?
Fast-forward to the present day: relatively recent technological leaps mean we have human beings working in space and communicating their experience to everyone on Earth, in real time. We have the highest ever life expectancies; widening participation in the best education; transformative developments in medicine; access to and information on every part of the world and the known universe.
And yet …
And yet fascism is on the rise. We want to put walls up, divide communities and withdraw from wider society. Britain looks to remove itself from the very union that was set up to make sure that Hitler’s Third Reich would never happen again. Some of us are destroying the arts; ISIS smash ancient artefacts in Syria and anti-Semites vandalize Anish Kapoor sculpture in France. Football is usurped by neo-Nazis. Where they have burned books, said journalist Heinrich Heine in the 19th century, they will end in burning human beings. Is this where we are heading?
On Tuesday, I listened to Chris Kutarna speak at an event. The co-author of Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks & Rewards of Our New Renaissance and a Fellow at Oxford Martin School, Kutarna believes that we are seeing remarkable similarities between the conflicts of first Renaissance and the 21st century. He calmly, terrifyingly, told us that patterns in history suggest Donald Trump will become President of the USA. That the UK will leave the EU. History, indeed, repeats itself. When people feel divided and vulnerable – as they so acutely do now, in the face of extreme poverty and extreme wealth, drone warfare, migrant boats, big brother surveillance and climate change – they blame each other. They pull up the drawbridge, lock the doors. People in hard right politics feed that fear and encourage division.
Unless we do something about it.
On Saturday, I watched alongside millions of others as astronauts Tim Peake, Yuri Malenchenko and Tim Kopra returned to Earth from the International Space Station. Their car-sized metal capsule burned dramatically through the atmosphere, before parachuting gently through the clouds onto the vast Kazakhstan tundra. Many astronauts have spoken about how small Earth looks from the outside; how exquisitely beautiful and fragile this one planet appears. How the experience of space travel – made possible only by the collaboration of multiple countries – exposes the pettiness of human politics. After seeing Earth as a pale blue dot through the lens of Voyager 1, Carl Sagan famously noted: ‘There is perhaps no better a demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.’
It might seem like important decisions are out of our hands. That history dictates. That we’re powerless to instigate real change. But that’s not the case at all. We may have been here before, but we don’t have to repeat the same, old mistakes. You have the democratic right to make your voice heard: to vote and to be counted. This is why you must use your vote on Thursday to remain in the EU.
Say no to the divide and conquer politics of the Leave campaign. Stand up against apathy, fear, anger and disillusionment. Stand up for and defend true unity, progress, and empathy. Think about the achievements we can make – and have made – when we act as one, united Europe in one, united world.
Donna Huddleston is an artist who lives in London. Her work is currently included in ‘Making and Unmaking: an exhibition curated by Duro Olowu at Camden Arts Centre, London. It runs until 18 September.
Lisa Brice is an artist who lives in London. Her work is currently on show in ‘Making and Unmaking: An Exhibition Curated by Duro Olowu’ at Camden Arts Centre, London, until 18 September.
‘My pain is too much.' Jo Cox. 12.45pm-13.48pm, 16th June 2016.
VOTE REMAIN 23rd June 2016.
Emily Pethick is Director of the Showroom gallery, London.
Brexit threatens to produce alarming retrogressive social, political, economic and cultural consequences. Not only will it have an economic impact that will resonate both in the UK and globally, but in affecting our relationships with the rest of the world, through closing down borders and of all the positive influences and investments that have come from our being part of the EU, including on human rights and environmental concerns. Our position in the EU has been of huge benefit to the cultural field, many international artists and thinkers based in Europe or resident in the UK contribute massively to the richness of our cultural sphere. The ‘out’ campaign has traded on racism and fear, which has had produced extremely negative, divisive and horrifying influences. One can only hope that the majority will see that it’s better to be connected, to make Europe a better place together and participate positively in the world, rather than to sit on the outside. Once out we cannot step back.
Des Hughes is an artist who lives in Hereford. This year his solo shows include at Bruce Haines, London, The Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield, and Pallant House Gallery, Chichester.
This is a section of a cross-stitch that I’m working on: Turnturnturn.
Alexis Teplin is an artist who lives in London. Exhibitions this year have included 'Drag, Push, HOOT', Mary Mary, Glasgow, and the 20th Sydney Biennale. Teplin also has an upcoming exhibition at Gavlak, Los Angeles.
Combatting xenophobia is like trying to run carrying a boulder: you limp ahead for as long as possible with your elbows out. Withstanding all the media spin and propaganda we know that Europe will be worse off if Britain leaves and vice versa. What seems clearest in the EU referendum is that it is a symbolic and prescient question of ethics, community and humanity.
Andrew Hunt is a curator and writer who lives in London. He is currently a Research Fellow in the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at Kingston University and edits the imprint Slimvolume.
Like many other people, I believe that the UK’s historic EU referendum hinges on a far more simple issue than current arguments and anxieties around migration and neo-liberal economics. The continued relevance of the original utopian post-WWII structure of participation and unity that served to create the current EU as an organization that would help avoid future conflict is of most importance. The connected history of Conceptual Art as an international movement within this context – in which dealers such as Konrad Fischer attempted to heal wounds through culture after WWII by uniting artists from the US, Britain and Germany in the small town of Dusseldorf during the late 1960s – presents contemporary art in its many forms with a distinct example with which to develop internationalism in the present.
Very recently, I helped edit a book with the artist Scott King that contains a short chapter produced in collaboration with the writer Tom Morton. This work describes a satirical and fictional proposal for a public sculpture called the ‘European Monument for Unity’ (‘EMU’ for short), which includes sculptural elements from all EU member states commissioned in a democratic process to produce a single structure. For me, outside of arguments around the sometimes-ludicrous nature of public artworks (which often simply represent the dominant ideologies of a single nation state at any particular time), or the bureaucracy of committee-led commissioning processes, King and Morton’s printed ‘what-if?’ scenario presents a poignant and melancholy memorial to the international postwar utopian collaborative moments mentioned above, and simultaneously reflects the illogical arguments currently put forward by mainstream politicians who wish the UK to leave the EU.
Fernanda Eberstadt is a writer who lives in London.
I’m an American who, pretty much since the age of 17, has chosen to make my life in Europe and in a Britain buzzing with foreign settlers like me. Ten years spent in the French hinterlands in the early 2000s blew to smithereens what remained of my native US faith in the kind of society shaped by free-market individualism. Continental Europe convinced me that a state where even remote Pyrenean villagers were provided with decent schooling and healthcare, art-house cinemas, mediatheques, music festivals, long paid holidays, and free training in case they wanted to become nursery-gardeners or blacksmiths, was more civilized than the US model, in which only corporations get subsidies.
Britons, after almost 40 years of neoliberal governments, are still on the fence about which social model they want to follow – just look at Danny Boyle’s heart-stirring Olympics tribute to the NHS, which is in the middle of being surreptitiously privatized!
The coming referendum has little to do with the EU, and everything to do with people’s feelings of political powerlessness. The Leavers are deluding voters into believing that it’s immigration that is fraying social services, not deliberate ideological choices made by the Cameron government about how to respond to the Great Crash. I believe Britain is made richer by us immigrants, more advanced by EU human rights and environmental regulations. Cut free from a Europe of open borders and social protections, shorn no doubt of Scotland, Britain would be a drabber mingier rump-state, a miser left counting its dragon’s hoard of pennies.
Heather Phillipson is an artist who lives in London. She has been nominated for this year’s Jarman Award.
Francesca Gavin is a writer and co-curator of the Historical Exhibition of Manifesta11, Zurich, Switzerland. She lives in London.
The nationalists have forgotten why the EU was formed, so that the horror of something like World War II would never ever happen again. Britain is not safer or stronger as a fragment.
Mark E. Brydon
Mark E. Brydon is a musician who lives in London.
Don’t break up the band, no-one cares about your solo career.
Caragh Thuring is an artist who lives in London. Her work will be on show in Question Centre, Westminster Waste, London, 9-16th July, and, in November, at Thomas Dane Gallery, London.
Today in London I had lunch with my Spanish cousin his Swedish wife my Scottish Mother and Dutch father. We chose Ile Flottante not Eton Mess for desert.
Celine Condorelli is an artist who lives in London, but is currently on a residency in Lisbon, Portugal. Her work was included in this year’s Sydney Biennale, Australia and is included in ‘Making and Unmaking’ at the Camden Arts Centre, London, until 18 September, and later this year, the Liverpool Biennale.
I am happy not to be in the UK right now. I really do feel European, I really am European, but that is not a set of financial agreements, it is a political idea. Entirely missing from the conversation.
David Noonan is an artist who lives in London. His work was included in 'Theories of Modern Art' at Modern Art, London.
Filipa Ramos is the editor-in-chief of art-agenda and lives in London.
Although I am a European citizen who has lived, worked and paid taxes in the UK for the past ten years, I am not entitled to vote in this referendum: this is a consultation that is only for British and Commonwealth citizens. Perhaps all of Europe should vote as well to decide whether the UK should stay or leave? Although I am not a major supporter of the European project – a market-driven set of policies that facilitates the homogenisation of power and exposes countries like mine (Portugal) to an extremely violent vulnerability – for the UK to leave is like opportunistic rats deserting a ship that is struggling but not necessarily sinking.
Joe Scotland is Director of Studio Voltaire, London.
I am pro-Europe.
I am pro workers’ rights.
I am pro human rights.
I am pro immigration.
The thought of leaving is so fucking depressing.
Annika Ström is a Swedish artist living in the UK. Recently the 10th version of her performance piece ‘Seven Women standing in the Way’ was shown in Künstlerhaus Palais Thurn und Taxis, Bregen, Austria. The ninth version was performed as part of ‘Duh!’ at Focal Point Gallery, Southend-on-Sea, earlier this year.
Tom Morton is a writer, curator and contributing editor of frieze. He lives in Rochester.
It’s not a simple issue – like Britain’s unelected House of Lords, and its constitutional monarchy, much of the EU’s political architecture is strikingly undemocratic – but Thursday’s vote does present us with a simple choice. Would a post-Brexit Tory government retain the workplace rights and environmental directives currently enshrined in EU law, or would it gleefully shred the few imperfect legal safeguards that Britain’s living things have against exploitation? Would the barely-concealed racism of the Leave campaign blink out of political discourse the moment Boris Johnson proclaims UK Independence Day? We already know the answer to these questions. So, remain.
Stella Bottai is the Programme Curator of the Stanley Picker Gallery, Kingston University, London.
I like to look inside other people’s fridges. In order to keep coherent with ideologies of true-British identity and national independence, would pro-Brexit voters still drink French wines, make Moroccan-style couscous and buy chicken kievs? Would they cook Spanish paella or prepare a Greek salad for their friends?
And what is going to happen to their hummus/houmous/hummous/houmus/hoummous? In 2013, a survey showed that British people consume nearly twice as much of this Middle-Eastern dip compared to the rest of Europe. (Apparently Britons get through 12,000 tonnes of hummus a year. That’s 12,000,000 kilos, GBP£60m worth).
This week’s referendum gives British voters an opportunity to review their country’s relationship to the EU. What scares me is how this referendum seems to have become, for many people, a vote about being British versus being European. Following campaigns and debates on the upcoming vote, one could hear several claims that a ‘leave’ vote will allow Britain to get its true identity back.
As an Italian person who has lived in the UK for ten years, I struggle to understand where the notion of ‘European’ starts and ends in the mind of a pro-Brexit voter. A vote to leave would be an utterly sad event for the cultural ecology of both UK and EU at all levels, mainstream and otherwise. Quoting Jo Cox: ‘We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.’
Vote Remain. Don’t let Europa be taken away!
(P.S. I would also like to flag this great article by Joseph Finlay which highlights the precarious situation for EU citizens living in the UK (like me) should the pro-Brexiters win.)
Isobel Harbison is a writer and curator who lives in London.
As a child, I remember being unspeakably moved by Oscar Wilde’s short story ‘The Selfish Giant’ (1888) and felt troubled by the gesture and consequences of his wilful exclusion and short-sighted self-interest, erecting the sign ‘TRESSPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED’. As an Irish immigrant, mother and long-term British resident, I am now unspeakably moved by the death of Jo Cox MP. I wish that I had the option to vote for her in the coming years, to see her lead a future Cabinet and go on to create and maintain an economically fairer and socially-minded Britain, one that continues to support the European project knowing as instinctively as she did, as I do, the breadth of good it does its people. But as this is now tragically not an option, perhaps what her death leaves us with is a clear moment of transition, where a Britain on the cusp of building walls around its great garden, decides instead to let life in.
Philip Hoare is a writer based in Southapton. His film with Jessica Sarah Rinland and Edward Sugden, 'We Account the Whale Immortal', will be showing at Utopia 2016: A Year of Imagination and Possibility, Somerset House, London, 1 July - 30 September.
We presume the sea surrounds us, here on the British archipelago, our island state. Apart, defined, unlike the amorphous continental mass beside us. We're always one step away. Surrounded by a cordon sanitaire, to keep the rest of the world at bay.
But the sea also connects us. It opens us to the world. It unites us with people who cross it, promised by their smugglers that they will leave their problems behind and step into our cities of gold, borne there by the water.
The sea does not care. It didn't care for the shipwrecked victims portrayed in Théodore Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa (1819), a triangle of desperate bodies surmounted by a black figure waving a red shirt.
This same ocean once carried out terrible trades. In human beings, in whales, ranging through the world's resources, bringing back the profits of its plunder. J.M.W. Turner created awful visions of those consequences, sublime in their own terrible beauty.
We thought we held dominion. We were an imperial power, forever extending our reach. Now we seek to recall it, in an extended act of retreat, abandoning our responsibilities.
Yesterday, as we sailed from Falmouth in Cornwall where England runs out, a plane flew overhead, trailing a banner exhorting us to leave. As if we might all sail away from the troubled world that fractious Europe and its problematic borders. As if Britain itself might sail back into some perfect past, set free of the ties that bind us.
But then I thought of Herman Melville, as I often do when on the ocean's skin, or swimming in it. As misanthropic as his anti-hero Ishmael may be, he declares to the readers of Moby-Dick, and the rest of us, 'God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return'.
In our interconnected age, there are no boundaries. Gender, race, species: the old classifications and hierarchies must disappear, if we're to survive. The sea does not care. But it is the great leveller, the conduit of culture and life. It is the ultimate connection, not a division, not a defence. It opens us up to the new, rather than closes us down to the old, forever renewed with every tide.
'Is this Utopian?', Oscar Wilde asked a century ago, in The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891). 'A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias'.
For better or worse, we're all in this together. We're all on the same voyage, into the future, not back into the past.
Ellen Mara De Wachter
Ellen Mara De Wachter is a writer and curator who lives in London. Her book The Art of Collaboration will be published by Phaidon in spring 2017.
For six months next door has been a building site. Or, better, an unbuilding project in which the outer layer of cement has been drilled off the façade of the old warehouse and replaced with a pastel yellow render. From my desk I can hear the labourers on the scaffolding; they are foreign. They speak Polish, Portuguese, French and maybe another language I don’t recognize. I’ve chatted to the South African foreman a few times, asking him how long the noise will last. He is friendly and conciliatory and makes promises the British weather doesn’t let him keep. Recently, they started digging up the courtyard with a pneumatic drill. Their noise makes me feel exhausted. This is London in 2016: building works and foreigners. And this is London’s greatness: aspiration and otherness. According to the latest census in 2011, the city is 37% foreign. I wonder how much longer that will be the case. I’m an EU citizen and I have lived in this country for 21 years, but because I am not British my opinion that my adoptive country should remain united with my continent of origin will not be considered. I accept that I am not eligible to vote on this occasion. What I find a lot harder to accept is the mass disenfranchisement of 2 million British citizens because they have lived abroad from this supposed democracy for longer than 15 years. And the way the EU Referendum has traded on deceit, from its inception before the last general election, when David Cameron used it as a stratagem to court the far right vote, to its imposition on a population concerned with more pressing matters like making the rent and seeing a doctor. Most exhausting of all is the schizoid behaviour from both the Remain and the Leave campaign. Between them they have rehearsed so many lies that it has started to feel like they’ve exhausted the very notion of truth. The two sides have created a mystifying electrical storm that I fear could lead people to irreversible recklessness.
To me, the EU Referendum feels like an unjustifiable distraction from the real emergencies. It makes me think of a McGuffin, a minor plot device Hitchcock often used, which seems to drive the action of a film for a while but turns out to be meaningless. Would Hitchcock ever have imagined this real-life McGuffin? In his 1940 film Foreign Correspondent the plot briefly focuses on a secret clause in a peace treaty. We never find out what it said and in any case, shortly afterwards, England and France declare war on Germany. Today, the plot revolves around a possible ‘Brexit’, which offers no indication of where the larger story will take us, but certainly feels ominous. Meanwhile, official policy sets aside emergencies that started years ago and that intensify by the day: now refugees are interned in camps, British families use food banks on a regular basis, and we are told that tens of thousands die every year from air pollution in this country.
Many of my friends in London are creative freelancers, exhausted by the high cost and precarity of living in a city where, according to the Mayor’s Office, the average artist earns £10,000 per annum and the average property costs £500,000. I remember first arriving in the Eurostar terminal from Brussels in the mid-1990s and seeing a garish yellow and purple poster screaming for Britain to make an EU exit. At the time it seemed like a ridiculous message, one to be laughed at. Now we campaign for Remain and dread a Leave outcome. We also know that London is a bubble filled with foreigners, and there’s a whole country out there voting on Thursday.