Hardly a day goes by without a news report on the European Union. The once so applauded opening of the borders between member states is currently under attack: aren’t the European countries making it far too easy for criminals and illegal migrants to move freely between them? And didn’t they rush headlong into a common currency without stopping to consider the consequences? Meanwhile, we have come to realize that some of the members are unable to meet the EU’s financial obligations.
Right-wing parties are winning voters by calling for stricter immigration policies – and even a return to border checks. Many people are also predicting the end of the euro. A collective plan to rescue the weaker countries can apparently no longer count on either financial or moral support. All in all, an uncertain and turbulent future awaits each of the member states.
Beneath the banner of a common flag, Europe has always been a patchwork of independent nations. The crisis has made it clear that a United States of Europe is still a long way off. An EU breakup, which would result in a prosperous north and a less prosperous south, is seriously being considered. In the future, further disintegration is perhaps a more likely prospect than political union.
These uncertainties sparked the series of works titled ‘Circus Europe’, which were created by Machteld van Buren in 2012. These eight large collages illustrate how the struggle for survival is being waged various European countries. Each country is depicted as an animal: the body consists of a map onto which the realistic head of an animal has been superimposed. Germany appears to be a bird of prey – not the traditional eagle, but a vulture. Great Britain is portrayed with a number of horse’s heads, which form part of the landscape. The awkward juxtaposition of these figures suggests that the UK is not only struggling with its position within the EU, but is also divided by internal strife.
The juggling acts which these circus animals have to perform to keep themselves going are indicative of how each nation functions. But just how the stunts work is not entirely clear. Rather than leaving it to politicians to define the Europe of today and tomorrow, it would be good to have artists depict it as well. Given the tone of the debate, alternatives with a playful or visionary element might actually be quite useful. So let the fun begin: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Circus Europe!’
In January 2013 the Courthouse Gallery, Ennistymon (Ireland) presents CIRCUS EUROPE: an international collaboration of poetry and images. With eight large collages by Machteld van Buren (the Netherlands). The exhibition runs from January 12 – February 1, 2013.
Eight poets are invited to offer their interpretation of these images: Jo Slade, Frank Golden, Jessie Lendennie and Patrick Chapman from Ireland, Arnoud van Adrichem, Martin Reints, Lieke Marsman and Peter van Lier from the Netherlands. Irish publisher Salmon Poetry is publishing a booklet of this project.
Translated by Susan Massotty