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Metamorphosis. Art in Europe Now
George Rouy, Don't Give Us the Morning, 2018© George Rouy

This group art show celebrates unity in Europe

Featuring 21 artists from 16 countries across Europe, this exhibition maps out the creative landscape of the continent

The Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, and with it, Communism across east and central Europe began to crumble. In its place sprang new freedoms and movements which led to a meshing of cultures. Two decades on, however, and Europe faces the obstruction of a new wall. While not a physical erection, the restrictions on free movement between Europe and the UK will be felt deeply. When, in summer of 2016, a majority of the UK cast its vote to leave the European Union, it set in motion a series of debates, conversations, and controversies which are still far from resolved.

Metamorphosis. Art in Europe Now, which opened last week (4 April) at Paris’ Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, showcases the work of 21 artists, each born between 1980 and 1994, and having grown up in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall. They hail from 16 countries across Europe, including the UK, and many have studied, or now live, in countries other than the one they first called home. This, the show’s programme says, “shows the very real mobility that exists within the European cultural space”.

Traversing the mediums of painting, sculpture, fashion, design, video, and installation, the 21 artists in the show were chosen from more than 1,000 portfolios. Curator Thomas Delamarre explains that the initial selection was made from intuition. In the next stage, he found that “suddenly threads began to appear, and we started to follow those”. The ideas which surfaced are aptly summed up in the show’s title of Metamorphosis, which Delamarre says relates to notions of collecting, pasting, reassembling, and fragmenting. “These can touch on the materials themselves but also the historical narratives,” he adds. Borrowing from folklore, collective memory, and legacies, like in music, Delamarre says “the artists are sampling and remixing” from a huge range of globally relevant ideas. It’s a melting pot of identities, techniques, materials, ideas, and aesthetics – all of which combine to enrichen the layers of a Europe we now know.

Ideas of hybridisation, collage, and archaeology run throughout the space’s two levels and are explored in various ways. UK artist, George Rouy combines traditional painting with computer software, enlisting Photoshop to help map out his compositions. He creates canvasses filled with his signature large, looming figures. Whereas Greek artist Alexandros Vasmoulakis looks at ways to present painting in new ways. In this instance, he utilises DIY wallpaper to hang his works and create new visual experiences for the viewer.

Disciplines also overlap. Self-described “cultural post-producer”, Dutch artist Tenant of Culture (aka Hendrickje Schimmel) repurposes and sews together discarded materials to birth new forms in a critique on consumer culture and wastefulness. Opposite these, sits works by Italian duo Formafantasma, who transform electrical waste into useable furniture for the future.

Other notions of hybridisation come in terms of identity. Syrian-born, Paris-based painter, Miryam Haddad’s works are made up of fragments of memories of her hometown complete with new visions from her imagination. “My imagination is built on real images, architecture, and everyday life, but I don't work from a photo so I don't want it to be realistic,” she explains. “What happens on the painting is a translation of what I have in mind and my imagination, these little fragments of memory and real life and what comes together.” Swedish-based Lap-See Lam pays homage to her Chinese ancestry by presenting a film featuring 3D scans of Chinese restaurants and voiceovers from the Chinese diaspora. Titled Mother’s Tongue, Lam comments on the “cultural reality of immigration and how it affects the construction of identity and otherness over time”.

While the show itself doesn’t explicitly reference Brexit, a map of Europe – borderless and with country names omitted – is presented on the ground floor, which Delamarre calls “a statement in itself”. Brexit instead looms as a metaphorical storm cloud and threatens to dampen the energy and connectivity of the European art community. Despite this, Delamarre is determined to shine a light and light on its unity. “There are a lot of questions on the state of Europe right now,” he says. “Of course, there are pretty dark things happening, but there’s also an incredible dynamic from the young generation. So the show is about looking at this vitality and bringing the artists together in order to celebrate Europe and its many relationships. It’s about the idea of a very wide Europe – the one that most of us want.” In this sense, it’s a reminder of a unity that we might soon be missing.

Metamorphosis. Art in Europe Now runs at Paris’ Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain until 16 June 2019