Little red shavings

ART ESSAY

Undressing the patriotic gold seal.

Words by & words by Marta Faustino


European Passport - Residue from the process of erasing national emblems from the front cover of passports

There are these stickers spread around town picturing little red shavings in a plastic bag and a website – www.europeanpa55port.com. The little red shavings, you come to understand, are what remained of the patriotic golden symbols on both David Blackmore’s British and Irish passports. What was leftover on the cover was the label “European Union”.
The cover of the passport seems naked and odd, like a blank page that is not yet filled with history. And what is national pride if not a common mythology: symbols, flags, anecdotes, language, tradition, heritage and history? This project is, first, a sort of negation of nationality and, only then, an invitation to fill in the space.

Maybe the symbols we created for the European Union are not strong enough: the starred flag, the wordless anthem, the open borders, the exchange programmes. Maybe it is in the more contentious symbols and failures that pride hid: the single currency, the single language Esperanto.

When you’re bilingual, there’s a new, more universal dimension to your patriotism – you gain perspective, you’ll love it differently, perhaps more deeply, but definitely more realistically. And, admittedly, if you have dual nationality, you feel closer to one than the other – but you can (should?) be both.
Identity is a layered affair. You’re not just one thing, or even just one thing at one time. You’re part of a number of groups, some interloping, some completely separate; very specific, or broad and overarching. I always say I’m from Lisbon, then I’m from Portugal and then I’m European. Each of these layers has its meaning, its symbols and traditions, but I am, nevertheless, all three.

Of the European skin, I can’t say I identify with the anthem, or even the star-studded flag – they seem bland and non-descriptive, the parliament too opaque and labyrinthic, the discourse too technical and condescending. But nothing will take away from me the richness of cultural and personal exchanges: feeling at home in 28 odd countries, travelling Europe by train, studying abroad, having a common understanding with over 510 million neighbours. It feels more symbolic to me the TV program of my infancy Jeux Sans Frontières, George Steiner’s idea of coffee culture, the human and intellectual dimension, even the shared defeats and embarrassments. A better symbol for me is the failed Esperanto language – the potential of equality and transnational understanding.

The beauty of this removal of the national symbols in favour of the transnational is that it voids the biggest threat for Europe. Europe’s idea of greatness is founded on our colonial past and historical hegemony. And we are witnessing, once again, the rise of the oh-so-valuable sovereignty and independence – old habits die hard. That most of the European countries think of themselves and mythologise themselves as great powers can only lead us again to the path of self-destruction.
An identity as a transnational union appeases the illusions of colonial past. Europe might be failing to capture the imagination of its citizens but its the best weapon we have against nationalism. It should be able to keep and contain your multiple identities within, but they will not (can not) be as strong and militant individually.
Even if we’re so Eurocentric that we think it’s more reasonable for others to describe themselves as Asian or African (continents so large that should render this definition irrelevant) but we are never European. As if each of the European nations were more significant and individual than the largest, most populated continents on Earth. We’re not there yet.

European citizenship, European Passport, Request for non-nation specific passport denied under Article 20 of Lisbon Treaty

However, it is difficult to create a symbol that for so many depends on the debasement of their own patriotic beliefs, but it is also a symbol for the future – the truly post-colonial future.
It might not be enough for everyone. It certainly wasn’t enough for at least one other request made to the European Union from a British citizen to have the words “European Union” removed from his passport. From the same location, exactly the opposite request.

David Blackmore is an accomplished European artist, currently based in London. He has been awarded the ‘Best UK based artist’ and is an Honorary Research Associate with the Slade School of Fine Art/UCL Art Museum. Whether through installation, performance or sculpture, his work is relevant, intelligent and witty. Undeniably, his roots as an Irish, European and British citizen have informed most of the themes though, as with every other topic, nothing should be too serious to be indisputable. Disruption is a mischievous tool with which Blackmore challenges structures and order.
On this project though, there is no name, no link to him. It’s a durational project, a bureaucratic maze to the belly of the bureaucratic monster: requesting something (still) impossible and outside any parameters and clauses of the impossibly opaque Lisbon Treaty. So in it he stands anonymous (no name, no seal, no country) requesting a passport that reflects his affiliations more correctly: a European Union passport.
It’s a challenge bigger than him – an ongoing struggle to make Europe a better place.

There is this wonderful shift in perception that washes over some astronauts when they first see Earth from space known as the Overview Effect. Suddenly, every human conflict and division seem so small in the vastness of the Universe and there’s a new awareness that the whole of Earth is interconnected.
On a different scale, seeing Europe as a whole, enjoying it as a Union, can provide us with a new perspective on the irrelevancy of our own particular nation within the scheme of things and a desire to connect with a larger group of people. How can we ever go back after we see it?

So, for now, the cover seems naked and stripped of something essential. But there is something of an act of faith in these little shavings: undressing the national cloak first, hoping this gesture will bring a new communal cover. How it will be adorned, which meanings and symbols to use, is yet to be decided – it is pure potential and an open invitation for improvement as neither of the current symbols fit anyway. It is a space for those who consider themselves citizens of the European Union to make up their own mythology; an invitation to join David Blackmore’s project and define “Europeanness”.  

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David Blackmore is an artist who likes to walk.

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