EUROPE OR DIE
Presented by Organs & Alliances 17th October 2018 Goethe-Institut Paris
The project EUROPE OR DIE was based on a collaboration between two leading art colleges in France and Germany: ENSAPC Paris-Cergy, and HGB Leipzig. This collaboration was initiated by Dr. Clémentine Deliss, Guest Professor at ENSAPC, who sought to develop an alliance on several levels: first between individual students and then between art educational institutions in Germany and France. The concept was to inquire into the structures of trust and communication that operate between artists today. In the context of the biennale syndrome (over 200 biennale take place each year), the aggressive art market and its infrastructure, and the political conditions affecting Europe, it felt timely and relevant to ask art students to consider what an alliance might mean to them today. Following several seminars in both locations, the Franco-German student group decided to purchase an early version of an offset printer. This printer was originally exported by Heidelberg to the colonies, where it became the generator not only of colonial tracts, but equally of manifestos and texts related to emancipation and independence. The students purchased a model built in Prague in 1968 by pooling their personal funds. The plan was to quite literally move the Tiegel machine from Leipzig to Paris in a purpose-built trailer, stopping off at various locations along the way and printing on site. Locations were to include art venues but also more controversial settings such as slaughterhouses, hospitals, refugee centres in rural towns or larger cities. The grant provided by the Goethe-Institut in Paris was to fund the transport of the machine to Paris and the presentation of the project upon arrival.
The project was more complex than originally imagined and required a lot of fine-tuning. Firstly, the machine itself needed cleaning and repair. It weighed over 1,5 tons and could only be moved if a trailer or van, specially adapted to contain the machine and its accessories, was purchased. Part of the students’ team set itself to the task to renovate the machine and spent the majority of the summer months cleaning the Tiegel and working out how best to get it on the road. This somewhat surreal enterprise became the core of the challenge itself. No machines of this caliber are transported across Europe. The group felt that this was a statement in itself: their alliance was the infrastructure created by the action of purchasing the Tiegel. The contents of the printed tracts to be produced and disseminated would be based on the movement of the machine, where it stopped off, and which communities were addressed.
By the summer of 2018, it was clear that the financial wherewithal to buy a trailer and move the machine was not available. An alternative solution was developed: to present the project at the Goethe-Institut in Paris together with a limited-edition portfolio and a live debate. The portfolio was prepared in Leipzig, and guest writers were invited to contribute texts. We were able to secure the participation of Paul B. Preciado, transgender philosopher and activist; Tom McCarthy, Booker-prize nominated novelist; Martin Heller, legal consultant for artists; Turner-prize nominated artist Luke Willis Thompson; and artist Lydia Ourrahmane. In addition to these leading figures, each member of the team contributed a printed page. The aim was to produce an edition of 250 portfolios, printed on the Tiegel in Leipzig, to be sold at the modest sum of 20 Euro each. The revenue would support the movement of the machine from Leipzig to Paris in the spring of 2019.
The conference and launch of the portfolio in Paris took place with the participation of Luke Willis Thompson, Lydia Ourrahmane, and Martin Heller. For the event, the students at ENSAPC produced several short films, which demonstrated situations in Paris and Nice, in which they handed out sheets of paper with the statement EUROPE OR DIE. This slogan is apparently shouted out by those who embark on the trans-Mediterranean journey from Africa to Europe. It can be interpreted in different ways depending on where one is located, be this the UK, France, Germany or Eastern Europe. It has a clear relevance in today’s Europe. In addition to this question, the group also investigated the trade in organs that plays a major role in trans-border movements today. Organs & Alliances thereby activated a multi-dimensional discussion on the nature of the body, the metabolics of human movement, and the complexity of forming alliances in today’s art context.
Unfortunately, the Tiegel machine broke down during the printing process. As a result, only 47 portfolios were produced in time for the event in Paris. By the time each artist had received their copies, there were practically none left to sell. The students were adamant that they would produce more copies but to date no more have been printed. As with students, they have dissipated and are pursuing other projects.
The project has been well received internationally. One of the key points has been the ‘offline’ nature of Organs & Alliances. Whilst there are no more portfolios to hand out or sell, there is a buzz about these tracts and when one sheet is found, it is duly photocopied rather than being scanned and transmitted online. To work counter to the ubiquity of the digital appears to have made a mark. Through this project the team of students has learned about the complexity of setting up a network in real time. The focus therefore has been on their professional development. By engaging in this project, they have highlighted the current dependencies that characterize the art world and their inclusion within it as young professionals. To have to work on your own identity, setting up an alternative infrastructure with its own finance and organization is hard, especially if you prefer to depend on existing residencies, biennales, group shows, and the chimera of the art market. In this sense, the support of the Goethe-Institut provided an essential educational dimension with practical as well as conceptual ramifications.
Clémentine Deliss/Nina Volz