»When I began, I was certain that the EU had a strong future. Today, like many others, I am far less certain.« When Damaso Reyes came to Solitude in January 2007, he had just begun his long term photographic documentary project, The Europeans, which explores how Europe and its people are changing as the European Union expands and integrates. From Solitude until now, how has this still ongoing project developed?
Clara Herrmann: How did Solitude influence your work and life?
Damaso Reyes: The months I spent in Stuttgart gave me the chance to reflect on what I had already done, but more importantly forced me to consider the shape my project should take. In that time, I created and exhibited a body of work, but perhaps more importantly I was exposed to a great number of other artists from around the world who were working in different media. Through the art, science and business program, I met Philippe Perreaux, a Swiss lawyer working in the field of copyright. For the past several years, we have collaborated on Cleared World, which is a project exploring the idea of creating a single story, with each artier adding to the work of the other.
CH: How would you sum up the topics in your life as an artist? Why are you interested in the Europeans?
DR: My focus as an artist is to explore the stories of the average person. In mass media, we primarily hear the perspectives of the great men and women of our times. Through The Europeans, I am exploring how history is being experienced by citizens who don’t normally appear in our narrative. For my practice, history is how large scale trends are felt by ordinary people.
CH: What were the main questions you were dealing with in your project?
DR: The main themes of my project are identity and migration. Europe is experiencing a large movement of people both within the EU and from outside in. How Europeans see themselves and each other is central to the future of the EU. In addition whether or not the idea of nationality can be separated from ethnicity is key to the integration of new migrants and their children. But Europeans are struggling with the idea that one’s bloodline should not determine one’s identity.
Since 2007, I have continued to document how Europe and its people are changing through images. But I have also expanded my work in the form of articles written about topics from the asylum system in Austria and the spread of Pentecostal Christianity to the lives of Europeans of Turkish descent.
I have also begun to create multimedia pieces and installations based on the images, sound and interviews I’ve collected.
CH: How would your project help foster a discussion?
DR: My project does not seek to provide answers to the large questions that Europe faces. No art project can do that. But I believe that these images, by challenging certain assumptions, can encourage a discussion about where Europe is going. Through my images, I believe people will see the similarities between themselves and others rather than the differences. And through this, they may understand that they have common interests as well. I always hoped that my work would help foster a discussion about the future of Europe among its inhabitants. I was able to to do just that in a panel discussion that was held during my most recent exhibition in Ireland.
CH: From Solitude until now: How would you describe the development of The Europeans?
DR: Since my time at Solitude, I have begun to more deeply explore how other media, especially audio, can assist my images in telling complex stories. I have also seen Europeans become much more doubtful about the need for the EU since the economic crisis. When I began, I was certain that the EU had a strong future. Today, like many others, I am far less certain. The politics of nationalism once thought near dead have resurfaced and threaten the fabric of Europe. For me, the Solitude experience was critical in not just the development of my project, but in my evolution as an artist.