EU posters download:
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Statement from 24 June 2016:
I’m not feeling depressed today. I had a profoundly sad moment the evening before last when, leaving Tate Modern, I looked at the building and after sunset walked over the Millennium Bridge. Both were opened in 2000, both symbols of a new openness. That same month I was nominated for the Turner Prize for British art alongside two other non-Britons and one Briton. This was the new London that had been taking shape since the early 90s. The London that had self-confidently taken its place at the very centre of Europe. I looked at the yellow-red sky to the west and my eyes filled with tears, realising that this could be the final evening before a new era. That sixteen years later we should have got to a situation where half the population rejects this open and international spirit is hard to comprehend. This all happened when there was still the general feeling that the vote would favour remain.
The fact that, unlike many others this morning, I’m not feeling deeply depressed about the way the English and Welsh voted makes me realise that the sorrow I’d felt two days previously was the emotional manifestation of something that I had sensed for a long time; which Tony Blair put into words on 29 August last year in The Guardian. Blair who had completely lost touch with reality over Iraq, suddenly showed a moment of lucidity, as he wrote to fellow party members in an effort to persuade them not to elect the populist left-wing candidate, Jeremy Corbyn, as leader of the Labour Party. Reading the last paragraph, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck as Blair admitted that his generation would have to rethink everything, because what we are currently seeing is part of something even bigger: ‘But people like me have a lot of thinking to do. We don’t yet properly understand this. It is about to transform a political institution we spent our whole lives defending. But it is part of something much bigger in politics.
Because it is a vast wave of feeling against the unfairness of globalisation, against elites, against the humdrum navigation of decision-making in an imperfect world, it persuades itself that it has a monopoly on authenticity. They’re “telling it like it is”, when, of course, they’re telling it like it isn’t.’
Now ten months after Blair wrote these words, the first big wave has breached one of these institutions. He was writing about left-wing populism in his own party, but the larger picture is of course the more damaging right-wing populism, which yesterday's vote is so much part of. We still have more of this to go through. The only thing that helps is not to lose courage, because what’s being attacked by populists is not in fact the real evil, instead it’s substitutes that get attacked – refugees, the UN, the EU, or simply politicians. It’s now the duty of us all to defend the pillars of the free world order that was created over the last 70 years. To hold the centre ground, and not to contribute to the centrifugal energies around us. And I know that we’re still the majority.
Wolfgang Tillmans, 24th June,
for Süddeutsche Zeitung
Statement from 26 May 2016:
The reasons why I felt compelled to get involved in the UK-EU referendum are personal – my lifelong involvement with the UK, my love for the UK and its culture, music and people, my career’s groundedness in Britain and the always warm welcome I felt here as a German. I see myself as a product of the European post-war history of reconciliation, peace and exchange.
However, the more pressing reason why I morphed in recent months from an inherently political, to an overtly political person, lies in my observation of the larger geopolitical situation and an understanding of Western cultures, as sleepwalkers into the abyss.
The term “Sleepwalkers” comes from the title of the book by Christopher Clark which describes Europe in 1914, when different societies ended up in a world war, which none of them wanted. Today, I see the Western world sleepwalking towards the demolition of the very institutions of democracy, negotiation and moderation which allow us to live the lives that we are living.
In the US we are currently observing a rage which is threatening to wash away great American values, which anchor the world as we know it. These people claim to make America great again, but they embody the opposite. In the East of Europe, we see a surge in nationalist fervour, which wants to sweep away freedoms won only some 25 years ago. In western Europe and Britain, we see a wave of discontent with the outcome of globalisation, which turns its anger from the real perpetrators, say for example the tax-evading billionaires, to the weakest in our societies: refugees from terror and war.
Original statement 25 April 2016:
I’m sure you are also following with horror the rightwards drift and anti-EU sentiment brewing across Europe. The Dutch referendum should be the final wake-up call, alerting people to the real risk of the UK’s EU referendum resulting in a victory for Leave.
The official ‘Remain’ campaign feels lame and is lacking in passion. It also lacks an active drive to get voters registered – and with the deadline already falling two weeks before the referendum, this should be an urgent priority.
I want to get involved and actively campaign. In particular, I want to work towards maximizing turnout among younger voters by focusing on the first, crucial step: voter registration – the deadline for which is June 7! So anyone who hasn’t registered before this date has no chance of having a say, no matter how strongly they feel about the issue. So the really crucial date is June 7. Everyone’s grannies registered their vote long ago, but students no longer get automatically registered by their unis. This is because of a new law brought in by the Conservatives that makes it possible for them to disenfranchise up to 800,000 students, who as a group tend to move around a lot more and so drop off the voter register easily.
I feel that we have reached a critical moment that could prove to be a turning point for Europe as we know and enjoy it – one that might result in a cascade of problematic consequences and political fall-out. Firstly, the weakening of the EU is a goal being actively pursued by strongmen like Vladimir Putin and European parties on the far-right. Brexit could effectively spell the end of the EU. It’s a flawed and problematic institution, but on the whole it stands for a democratic worldview, human rights and favours cooperation over confrontation.
It could prove to be a one-in-a-generation moment. Can you imagine the years of renegotiations for undoing treaties, and all the negativity that would surround that.
In the past weeks myself and assistants at my London and Berlin studios and Between Bridges worked on these texts and designs. Please feel free to share these posters, they work as print your own PDFs, or on social media, or in any other way you can think of. I consider them open-source, you can take my name tag off if more appropriate.
Let’s hope for the best - but hope may not be enough