In June 2016 we were in sunny Brexit, London, finalising the theme for our Belgian entry to this first Design Biennale. A last-minute decision, just like most things decided in Europe. Small but beautiful it should be; just as our country is... So here is a brief history of our motivation.

UTOPIA: LESS IS MORE – AT THE DROP OF A HEAD

Maalbeek Metro Station, Brussels, 19 July 2016 Benoît Van Innis during the inauguration of his memorial wall - a new commemorative artwork for the victims of the attacks on 22 March - depicting an olive tree as a symbol for hope, underlined with a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca © Belga / Nicolas Maeterlinck
Utopia: it must be the magical number 500. And the close connection to Belgium. Thomas More began his fictional, socio-political work – a personal reflection on the ideal society – in May of 1515 while serving as an envoy in Flanders, then part of the Seventeen Provinces of the Habsburg Netherlands. With the port city of Antwerp as its décor, the essay takes the form of a dialogue between More and a voyager returning from newly discovered lands. On a lazy Sunday afternoon in 1516, More completed the essay over a Duvel or two, in the good company of his editor Erasmus (at that time an inhabitant of Anderlecht, Brussels) – who has been credited with having proofed the first plot and print of the book at Aalst-born Dirk Martens’ publishing house in Belgium’s old university city of Leuven. In these Shakespearian times, London was still a cultural backwater. It was not until 1551, sixteen years after More’s execution, that this masterpiece was first published in England. Thank God for the Belgians... Today, it might take less for a head to roll... Less was More.

EUTOPIA, BACK TO THE ROOTS, OR IS EUROPE JUST OUT OF HER SKULL?

Woodcut illustration of Utopia, 1516
Brussels, Belgium. Europe’s capital, home of the EU parliament, NATO, and multinational HQs. Anno 2016: where have all the great EUtopian dreams of the 1950s gone, at a time when EU citizens use the noun Brussels as a synonym close to dystopia, an imagined place in which everything is unpleasant, bad, and goes wrong...? Europe, wake up!

In its first edition, the map of Utopia took the shape of a human skull. In today’s EUtopia – grasping for the perfect society – the map might be otherwise. Therefore we are musing on today’s EUtopia by producing a new – tongue very much in cheek – utopian map as a symbolic wake-up call for Europe: exactly 500 years of Utopia – approximately 50 years of EUtopia.

Benoît van Innis (left) and one of his drawings on the wall at Maalbeek metro station, Brussels, 2000 Photo: Bart Van Leuven
Sunset, 2016 by Frederik Delbart
This in a landscape where the EU is facing Grexit, Brexit, Nexit, Frexit, Dexit, Spexit... when all we desire is a new Europe that is more EUxiting. Just as More and his graphic designer visualised the contemporary society 500 years ago, we asked an engaged artist to recreate a Utopian map for 2016. And meanwhile, Europe can restart her reflexions on the ideal society of the moment... No more wakey-wakey but wake the f%€k up.

BENOÎT VAN INNIS

MARCH 2016, MAALBEEK METRO STATION


A few months ago, the very heart of Brussels, Belgium, Europe was heavily afflicted. Close on the heels of the dirty bloodbaths in Paris, bombers viciously attacked Brussels Airport and the Maalbeek metro station. Aside from causing 30 deaths, injuring many people, and shocking a nation (and Europe), part of the metro station was destroyed, including an original mural created by Belgian artist Benoît van Innis (completed in 2000). The tiles depicted anonymous passengers on the move in Europe’s capital; the station is just one step away from the EU parliament and thus a popular hop-on point for Eurocrats.

HERE AND NOW

A few weeks after the attacks, Brussels and the city’s public transport company (STIB-MIVB) appointed the same artist to make a new series of tiles for the restored station as a testimony to that troubled day: not a group of anonymous passengers this time, but an olive tree – as a symbol of peace and hope, underlined by a poem by Federico García Lorca. In light of such an act of empathy and humanism, we thought it only right to ask Benoît van Innis to draw an updated Utopian map in the form of a hand-printed lithograph, with limited edition posters available for purchase. The drawing also graces the cover of this issue of DAMNo magazine, a homage to Sir Thomas More.

DAMNo wishes to thank all of our partners. Firstly, Benoît van Innis for his lithograph and his immediate ‘yes’; Pierre Bleue Belge for delivering the beautiful stone that so wonderfully expresses Belgitude; Frederik Delbart for his outstanding design; Van Den Weghe for so swift- ly and eloquently producing the table; Delta Light for illuminating the space; Flanders House – Embassy of Belgium in London for their spontaneous support; Fritz Hansen for the elegant chairs and last but not least, the London Design Biennale. Merci.

This article appeared in DAM58. Order your personal copy.