Description of project by OMA
We invented the EU barcode some fifteen years ago: an alternative, colourful symbol for the European Union. A symbol of optimism. The EU – that was the idea – could be fun.
At the time such optimism seemed warranted, but in 2016, that spirit seems hard to maintain. This summer, Britain decided to jump ship, sparking similar discussions in the Netherlands, France and Austria, whether the interest of individual nations would not be better served when
‘free’ to pursue their individual course, unimpeded by interference from Brussels. That national sovereignty needs to be preserved and restored to its former absolute state seems to be the sentiment of many, and not just Britain.
This installation tells a different story. It shows a simple living room: the type you could find in any European home including Britain. The everyday objects in the room – table, chairs, sofa – have their origins in various European countries. In total there are 28 items – one from each EU member state – which together constitute the room’s interior, making it a showroom of European design and therefore also inadvertently of European collaboration.
Vertical blinds, reflecting the colours of the EU barcode, control the amount of light and ensure privacy. Invented and patented in the US in the 1950s (around the same time the European project started), vertical blinds have been applied all across Europe as one of the cheapest and effective ways of window covering and one of the most common forms of sun screening. Featured in interiors from Sweden to Italy, from Ireland to Greece, vertical blinds have become the silent witnesses of an emerging European unity.
The system isn’t perfect: the connection between the slat and the pivoting head, from which the slat hangs on to the mechanism, is fragile and often breaks or disconnects. In this particular room, it is the slat that carries the colours of the Union Jack, which has broken off, leaving an opening through which we see the daunting remnants of Europe’s historic past.
In the context of overheated debates, bloated anti-European rhetoric, and the media frenzy which follows, this simple room serves as understated evidence that there is a European project no matter what, which exists and continues despite recent setbacks. European integration is a fact of life, which transcends short term performance indicators and constitutes an essential vehicle that gives us our security, comfort and all the other wonderful certainties we tend to take for granted.
In a world where the most pressing issues inevitably exceed the size of nations, interdependence between nations is a given. BREXIT does nothing to change that. More than just a political phenomenon, Europe is a form of modernization, or rather a chance for the political sphere to catch up with modernization. Interdependence between nations is a direct result of scientific and technological progress, which once unleashed cannot be reversed. When problems escalate, so must inevitably the arena in which they are addressed. An institution like the EU is born out of the knowledge that in the face of the bigger issues we are all minorities. Countries in Europe have a choice: they can either realize or ignore the fact they are small. Yet small they all are, including Britain.
The United Kingdom is a modern nation, the origin of the industrial revolution, former centre of a global empire and, largely as a consequence, currently home to a global community. More than any other European country, Britain has been affected by other cultures. A retreat within the confines of its own borders is not only anti-European or anti-modern, but ultimately un- British. This simple living room offers ample proof.
An alternative symbol for the EU. A chromatic line up of all colours of all European countries, running from west to east. The barcode can be expanded as more countries join the European Union, and – although that was never anticipated at the time of its invention – it can also be reduced in case certain member states decide to leave. Although it was never proposed or considered that the barcode take the place of the current, twelve-star European flag, it has often been touted as such, particularly and most vehemently by the British press. Currently the barcode enjoys wide exposure as a popular symbol and it generously advertises a number of European products and ideas. The barcode was on the cover of a number of international newspapers when the EU was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2013.
In 1950, Edward and Frederick Bopp from Kansas City, Missouri, invent and patent the vertical blind under the company name, “Sun Vertical.” Similar to Venetian blinds, vertical blinds are a series of slats that can be made from a variety of materials, but instead of being horizontal, these blinds hang vertically from a horizontal track system. Slats can be rotated in a shaft in the overhead rail housing, which runs through independent geared carriers that convert twisting of the rail to a rotation of each individual slat, in synchrony.
The interior is that of a typical European living room. The everyday items in the room – 28 in total, one from each European country – make this simple living room into a show room of European design. The furniture is Europe, emphasising Europe’s fundamental commitment to modernity. Evidence that, despite the UK’s recent political choice, the process of Europe’s cultural integration continues, with or against the odds. Our most intimate daily environment constitutes the most eloquent example of Europe’s collaboration.
Europe before ‘Europe’ (image of Rotterdam 14 May 1940)
Before Europe became the united states of the European Union, the continent had been constantly challenged by different political regimes and had suffered from its dark violent past. The image painfully makes clear that not that long ago Europe again was a continent in shambles. Europe’s achievements are surprisingly recent and have accumulated at a very high pace. Unfortunately, the current anti-European momentum, such as BREXIT, or the rise of populist parties in Europe, suggests they could unravel at a very high pace too.