2 letters on Europe
Dear Camille Henrot,
Some years ago, the poet Michel Deguy observed how the 20th century began with its future, “futurississimo”. Because of our anachronism, the appellation “futurism” retroactively dominated all Europe in the ’00s. Could Europe have happened only for artists?
Michel Deguy asked this question in 1986, not too long before the new ’00s, which were symbolically and chronologically the beginning of the 21st century.
You being a young artist in the United States, accepted as a European, I would like to ask you the same question, slightly modified: Could you describe the Europe that there was for you, if indeed there was one?
I am unable to imagine a place that would exist only for artists.
I don’t understand the meaning of the concept, perhaps because I have trouble seeing artists as a concrete group. That doesn’t mean that I deny the pertinence of them being called artists, and of course it doesn’t mean that I deny that artists exist.
Most probably, Europe is a kind of abstraction of that nature.
Venice is the first European city I visited outside of France.
I think that Venice heavily influenced my perception of Europe as a group of cities connected to one another by economic interests. Those economic interests create a context where there is exchange between people, a vector for cultural exchange.
When I think of Europe, I think of fluidity, wealth, festivity, but also fleeing, flooding, inequality, crossed borders and jam-packed boats. (I remember the first time I heard the expression “boat people”: it was in Venice, in reference to the vaporetto.)
A certain je ne sais quoi of Venice is found in New York. For sure, Europe’s common culture is much more discernible as soon as you leave its shores.
It’s like observing a country from an airplane, or like that drawing for The New Yorker by Saul Steinberg (View of the World from 9th Avenue) where other continents are just little lumps in the distance.
In many instances and ways, the term Europe is hackneyed in New York. It wasn’t until I got to New York that I realized through my relationships the profundity of my friendship with Germans, my immense complicity with Italians, my natural affinities with the Polish and the Portuguese, and how I share my taste for art criticism and the art of conversation with the British.