Nowadays the functions and purposes of art are as diverse as the forms it can take. Art can be quite “nice” and perfect for decorating our guest room sometimes, but it is also more than capable of setting off alarms or presenting a situation that influences our world from a different angle. At first sight, some artworks seem so weird that we don’t know how to deal with them, but reading their label may clear up the confusion in our head.

One such artwork shown at the 2021 Art Encounters Biennial is EU 01, by Dutch artist Remco Torenbosch. It is a conceptual work, because Remco Torenbosch, a highly educated individual who studied at Willem de Kooning Academie in Rotterdam and Universität der Künste in Berlin, doesn’t try to draw beautifully, but seeks deep meanings beyond form and appearance. 

His overall artistic practice addresses political, social and economic issues that affect our daily lives, offering new perspectives on things we thought we knew or did not even see. The previous sentence may sound a bit like a cliché, but, honestly, the artist has some very important things to say; otherwise, he wouldn’t have exhibited at Kunsthalle Wien, De Appel Arts Centre in Amsterdam, Victoria and Albert Museum in London or Kunsthaus Zürich.

The slightly weird work I mentioned above, EU 01, consists of 28 blue canvases placed next to each other, but with some distance between them. It’s pretty confusing when you first walk into the ISHO Office and see them there. However, the blue colour, the number 28 (or 27, at the last count) and the title make reference to the European Union. Additionally, the canvases were woven to order in different companies in EU member states. The qualitative differences and the differences between the shades of blue come to represent a socio-economic map of the European Union and the visualization of an industry about to disappear in Europe – the textile industry. An industry that started on this continent, but today thrives in China and other countries in South and Southwest Asia.

On a different, more optimistic note, all those shades of blue on Remco Torenbosch’s flags make me think of how diverse the European Union and Europe in general are. The canvases represent not only the over twenty countries and peoples that make up the Union, but also the numerous European and non-European minorities that have lived together in these lands for so long. All this conglomerate of ethnic groups and peoples has contributed to the social, cultural and economic diversity that characterizes our continent and constitutes the basic principle of the European Union.

With all the optimism we should share, we cannot overlook certain aspects of the reality around us. Consequently, I can’t help noticing that EU 01 is a truly contemporary representation of the current political situation. In the spacing of the canvases, I see a metaphor for the political distance that separates the Member States today. Unfortunately, the European Union seems more divided than ever; the political, social or economic crises have given rise to all sorts of populist governments pulling in the direction opposite to the common good and the principles of the Union. Coexistence and understanding seem more and more difficult to achieve, and the borders are becoming increasingly visible.

This world has never been a land of milk and honey. This is the reality, and Remco Torenbosch’s work illustrates it very clearly. This doesn’t mean that all hope is lost and things cannot improve. Artworks like EU 01 help us understand our situation better and learn what needs to be corrected, so that we can live together in harmony.