Europe 2000 - The Parallel Campaign (1998)


Photographic transparent film, acryl
120 X 216 cm.
private collection, Brussels (B)
photo: Johan Luyckx

Europe 2000 - The Parallel Campaign

The contest to hold the European Cultural Capital event for the year 2000 was so strong that the Culture Ministers of the European Union couldn't decide which city should receive the title for that year. So they decided to give the title to all the nine cities that had asked for it. These cities were Avignon (France), Bergen (Norway), Bologna (Italy), Brussels (Belgium), Helsinki (Finland), Krakow (Poland), Prague (Czech Republic), Reykjavik (Iceland) and Santiago de Compostela (Spain). In a certain way this meant that almost whole Europe became ‘Cultural Capital of Europe’.

When a city becomes ‘Cultural Capital of Europe’, a commission is installed in that city to judge all the propositions for events coming from the population, artists, cultural institutions, organizations, …etc. The project ‘Europe 2000 – The Parallel Campaign’ of Koen Theys was one such proposition to the commission of Brussels Cultural Capital of Europe 2000.

The title refers to the famous novel ‘The Man without Qualities’ by Robert Musil. This novel tells the story of a cultural event (The Parallel Campaign), organized by a small group of politicians and intellectuals, that should take place in the year 1914 in Austria-Hungary, a country that Musil called ‘Kakanien’. ('Kaka' is a child's word for feces in German, just as in American English. The name of Kakanien is derived from the German abbreviation K und K (kaiserlich und königlich or "Imperial and Royal") Musils intellectuals in the novel had decided that, to show the greatness of their country to their biggest enemy (Germany), a whole year of festivities should be organized. But what these festivities should look like, should not be decided by themselves, but by the people of Kakanien. So they asked the whole population to come up with ideas for these festivities. After a while however, it became clear that the propositions that were introduced by this population were very contradictory. There was not one idea that had the sympathy of all the inhabitants of Kakanien. In the end, the only solution that came out, was the organization of a huge military parade.

A lot of parallels can be made between this story and the organization of the events in the context of the cultural capitals of Europe. In both cases the population is asked to come up with ideas for the festivities, and in both cases one can see a strange combination of cultural and multi-cultural ideology on the one hand, as well as a national pride that has to be exposed. In the press texts of all the cities that took part in the event of ‘Cultural Capital of Europe 2000’, one could read things like: “…This celebration of culture aims to break down barriers between people, institutions, professions, cultures and countries …” or “… The presence of as many communities and individuals as possible, in the celebration of tradition and modernity; of the artist from east and west.”…etc. However, the same governments that supported these ideas of internationalism, defended their national borders in a way that one started talking about ‘fortress Europe’.

The proposition of Koen Theys for Brussels 2000, Cultural Capital of Europe, was to make an installation at the entrance hall of the festival, based on these contradictions. The installation would consist of a huge map of Europe on which one could see the nine Cultural Capitals of Europe for the year 2000 depicted (indicated by their logo - a blue star), as well as all the closed refugee centers that existed in Europe at that time (indicated by a square with bars and melons). On this map one could read a selection of propaganda texts made by these ‘Cultural Capitals of Europe’, placed on it as if they were a meteorological indication of the winds that flew over Europe. And on the other hand, one could read also, as an index by this map, all the cases of refugee victims who died (or were killed) in trying to cross the borders depicted on this map. The list of victims started from the declaration of ‘Shengen’ in January 1993. During the whole year 2000, new cases, that would officially have been recognized, would have been added to this list.

Aside from this map, two reading rooms would have been installed. In the first one, one could have found information about the cultural events that took place in the city, while in the other one; one could have found information about how to ask political asylum in that country. In the first room one could have seen excerpts of broadcasted events that took place in the framework of the Cultural Capitals, while in the other room one could have seen excerpts of broadcasted military parades that took place in those same countries…

As Koen Theys knew that this project would never be accepted (and indeed it wasn’t), he worked out the scale model for this project as a work on itself.

“… a map on which all closed shelters for refugees and all cultural capitals of Europe are indicated, combined with all kinds of noble declarations of those cities. As a kind of index of the map, we also find a list with names of people who have died at an attempt to cross the borders in Europe…”
Hans Theys – catalogue “Een strak geordend rommelkot en wuivende gordijnen”

Entire article (NL)