The Hut of European Identity
What is Europe? Europe is real, but structurally open and indefinable. It is hardly a “thing”. There are things and persons “in” Europe that are not necessarily “of” Europe. Moreover, Europe certainly also exists for those who are not within it. When Europe’s political project is defined by the conformity to an imagined and unified cultural past – as something “we” inherited – we run the risk to leave out of our proposition the contested and – truth be told – the future.
Inside the Hut of European Identity, we suggest the possibility of European characters – and histories – that are not agreed upon, that are not based on the lowest common denominator of several national cultures, but on Europe’s inherent conflicts, on the idea of Europe as a contested political space – a project, in fact.
he Hut is an actual space: pieces of wood raised perpendicularly suggest the idea of columns, while horizontal beams laid upon them afford us the idea of entablatures. Fabrics and sheets salvaged from the demolished sector of the “Jungle” in Calais form and cover an incline that protects the interior from the sun and the rain. Placing all these different and diverging conflicts under one roof is not meant to finally resolve them by forcing them into a narrative of agreement and consensus, but rather the opposite: it is to suggest the possibility to live among multiple statements. The Hut concedes to the conflict between them in no way direct violence, but the violent feeling of many layers coming together, a strength of emotion and passion. It also sketches and tests the possibility of an archive where multiple readings would be possible across a material culture of conflict and other EU-related archaeological findings.
We have started by collecting material evidence. If the official material culture of the EU (again, think of banknotes, memorials, buildings, squares) is manufactured to manifest an “imperialistic” narrative (what Europe “should be”: transparent, continuous, technically democratic), what are then the objects, spaces, architectures that witness other possibilities, or that deny this narrative? An archive of such materials would encourage oblique readings through the EU’s parallel and possible histories and identities.
The structure stayed empty for over one month, representing the identity of a ghostly polity, and then the first objects started to come in: multilingual banners from Athens, a Pan-African flag from Calais, squatters’ posters from a past European Summit in Amsterdam, flower crowns found in Schengen, weary construction materials from Calais.
What do we want to keep? What do we want to leave? Is our identity going to result from that?
Discussion The Hut of European Identity
Thanks for this contribution, Paolo and Guiditta. In my view it goes to the heart of our continuing struggles with identity and self, which escalate with globalization and readily proliferate into political battles. Hubert Hermans’ ‘dialogical self theory’ (2010) is an insightful reading of this from the field of psychology. In built form, the Hut materializes an approach to engaging with these issues, and the lyrical way you frame it leads me to wonder if architecture—rather than art or other social structures—is a more effective metaphor (and structuring mechanism?) for the kind of heterogeneous (and, I would say, ‘multivocal’ and dialogical) integration I think we are advocates for.
A material-discursive approach—a counter-archive or counter-accumulation that bears witness to the unseen, ignored or repressed—seems to hold great potential, especially considering the influence of the link between the past-oriented narrative of European identity and the enormous historical material accumulation you mention (memorials, buildings, squares, etc.).
I wonder if the counter-archive should also take a step back (or inside) and strengthen and make more visible it’s own meta-voice/identity. It/you already have defining characteristics: being a space of shelter, openness, vibrance, even non-violent turbulence. And, perhaps it’s too obvious and thus unsaid (and that is the issue), but what would a vision for the EU be in consensus about? Surely, promotion of the most progressive charter of human rights including the right to the city—and more wilful ways to affect its materialization.
Thank you Jon. The dialogical self is definitely a useful concept here. In my provisional attempt, I also wondered how public and/or intimate such space should be…
PS I did this project within the framework of New Europeans, the arts and design program of the Netherlands presidency of the EU. There is more on neweuropeans.org