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Whether placing large chunks of glacial ice in Copenhagen, Paris, or London (‘Ice Watch’) or mounting enormous waterfalls alongside New York’s shorelines and underneath the Brooklyn Bridge (‘The New York City Waterfalls’), Danish-Icelandic conceptual artist Olafur Eliasson frequently takes art out of museums and into the public sphere. His artworks invite us to look at the way we all collectively perceive and interact with our environments, inside an installation or outside in society.

With ‘Earth Speakr’, Eliasson’s interactive artwork for the German Presidency of the Council of the European Union, he collaborates with Europe’s youngest citizens to create art in a space where each of their voices count. Eliasson and his team specially designed a digital platform on which young people can create voice messages about their hopes and ideas for the future of Europe and the planet. “I want to address this topic specifically with kids and young people because I believe they understand what is happening to our planet,” says Eliasson. 

Last year Eliasson was named a United Nations Development Programme Goodwill Ambassador for his work on addressing the climate emergency and renewable energy. 

The planet and the effects of climate change feature prominently in several of Eliasson’s artworks. In the aforementioned ‘Ice Watch’ from 2014, Eliasson wanted people to experience the melting of glacial ice blocks from Greenland, to make global warming tangible. For his work ‘The glacier melt series 1999/2019’Eliasson photographed Iceland’s glacial landscape in 1999 and again in 2019, depicting the drastic changes that occurred over 20 years due to the climate crisis.

For ‘Earth Speakr’, Eliasson believes the participation of the Continent’s youngest citizens, all of whom are still too young to vote, is essential. From 1 July 2020, on the occasion of the German Presidency of the Council of the EU, the ‘Earth Speakr’ app will be free for download via the App Store and Google Play; people may also meet up with the project at earthspeakr.art. Additionally, the project will be presented physically at the headquarters of the Council of the European Union in Brussels, the European Parliament in Strasbourg and the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin, transporting the young people’s voices to the centres of European policymaking. “Kids are experts. We should turn to them, welcome their imagination, listen and learn,” Eliasson says.

Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas nominated Eliasson last year to headline the German Presidency’s cultural programme. “With Olafur Eliasson’s work of art, we are creating a digital space in which young people can exchange ideas, argue and collaborate. Especially right now, we must overcome physical distance through cultural proximity and promote personal encounters in the digital realm,” Maas said, referring to the distance created by the COVID-19 pandemic this past spring. “That is exactly what Olafur Eliasson’s work of art stands for – bringing people together, despite their physical separation, in a shared digital cultural space and letting their voices be heard.” 

This artwork is funded by the German Federal Foreign Ministry and realised in cooperation with Goethe-Institut.

Unity in diversity

The Presidency’s cultural programme highlights projects that invite the participation of all Europeans and thus strengthens the European public sphere.

What does a European look like? German photographer Carsten Sander set out to capture 1000 portraits from every EU member state and assembled a mosaic of diverse individuals in his collection ‘Faces of Europe’. The photographs will be exhibited in the heart of the European Union in the Buildings of the Council of the European Union in Brussels.

In ‘Europe in Film’, 12 jury-selected short films from students of German-language film academies offer a glimpse into the issues Europeans think most about. In ‘I am European’, three women deconstruct the notion of identity and compare their experiences. European children communicate effortlessly with one another in their different mother tongues in ‘Morning Call’, as they hash out their solutions for environmental problems. Physical viewings will first be available in late October 2020.

‘Pathways - Europe at Your Fingertips', a digital game initiated by the Art Directors Club and supported by the German Federal Foreign Office, invites users to step into an Augmented Reality map of Europe where five protagonists travel through the cities of Paris, Athens, Brussels, Tromsø and Plovdiv. The characters experience challenging as well as hopeful adventures, either taking them back in time or into the future. They all cross national borders, but the map can only unfold in a united Europe.

Participatory art in unconventional places 

In the following five projects within the German Presidency’s programme, Europeans of all ages, backgrounds and genders will have cultural encounters from within their private homes, in public spaces in their neighbourhoods or even in a new European city in the following cultural events. The projects are planned and organised by the Goethe-Institut and its Europe-wide network.

‘Europe’s Kitchen’ seeks to explore the notion of hospitality in its widest sense, using the private space of the kitchen table as a starting point. European artists from all fields will bring their “ingredients” to 10 kitchen spaces across Europe and enable new kinds of encounters and exchanges, both virtual and live.

In ‘#oekoropa’, European pupils will compete to devise the most climate-neutral trips among the three capitals of the Council Presidencies: Berlin, Lisbon and Ljubljana and their hometown. The 10 winning teams, with members aged 16 – 19, will carry out their emission-free journeys in 2021. 

The 'Generation A=Algorithmus’ project explores how AI (artificial intelligence), will change and influence the lives of Europeans in the areas of work, creativity, health, education, privacy  and climate change. Climate Hackathons, AI residencies, Robots-in-Residence and an online series with talks about AI, among other events, will host dialogues about AI’s impacts in these areas. The Goethe Instituts project will climax in autumn2021, after the culmination of Germany’s Presidency, in a Generation A festival at which point a culminative message will  be presented. 

'Tell me about Europe' aims at sparking discussions between generations about Europe, its history and its future while reuniting East and West. The discussions between old and young will take place in ten European cities and are based on a collection of interviews with contemporary witnesses. ‘European Archive of Voices’ has gathered the insights of public figures born before 1945 who helped shape the European discourse through their intellectual work. 

‘Disappearing Wall’ is an interactive installation that brings together quotes from both old and contemporary European culture. Participants from across Europe were encouraged to send in their favourite quotes from songs, poems, books, etc. A selection of 6000 quotes will be printed on wooden blocks in various languages. These blocks will be set into a wall and displayed in public places in various locations around Europe. Passers-by will be able to remove a block, gradually leaving behind the empty wall and the barriers every wall represents.

Beethovens European dimension

With Hotel Beethoven: Connecting People, Sounds and Ideas, the Brussels Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR) is dedicating an exhibition to the composer Ludwig van Beethoven to mark the 250th anniversary of his birth. Alongside reflections by artists such as Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol and Christine Sum-Kim, the exhibition which is funded by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media and opens on 12 October focuses also on the political dimensions of Beethoven’s work and forges links to current challenges in our society. The Hotel itself as both a public and private space and a melting pot of different cultures, provides the stage on which the narrative unfolds. The concert Ludwig van Beethoven – Symphony No. 9 performed by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and the European Youth Choir Europa cantat and directed by Daniel Barenboim is to give the German Presidency of the Council of the EU its final flourish on 18 December with the strains of the European anthem.

For more details about Goethe-Institut’s events planned especially for the German Presidency of the Council of the EU, please visit their site.