Meet The Europeans at work
Since the start of their new project ‘The Europeans‘ we have been supporting photographer Rob Hornstra and writer and filmmaker Arnold van Bruggen. With ‘The Europeans’ they want to portray modern Europe. Travelling from region to region and from theme to theme in this multi-year project, Hornstra and van Bruggen want to create a 21st century time piece on the European Heartland. We had a chat.
How did the two of you deal with the pandemic and the inability to travel, which obviously is a big part of your work? Could you still produce work?
Unfortunately we had to put a hold on our chapter The Black Country. Travel there was impossible for a long while. Only this spring we’ll be able to finish that chapter of The Europeans! Meanwhile, we were able to organize a residency in a closer region called The Naval Base. One of our focus points here was the life of volunteering, sports associations, small member organisations organised around hobbies, sports, singing, music, you name it. Almost everybody worked at home. Group gatherings were put on a halt. We could meet and talk to people in their empty club houses. For the project as a whole, we’ve also included the pandemic in our writing and photography, and we’re interested to see how in ten years time we’ll look back on this period. Already now many people seem to have forgotten about the lockdowns, curfew and masks.
Knowing you realised The Sochi Project before starting The Europeans, with travels to former Soviet republics invaded by Russians, can you recall your thoughts on the Russian invasion of Ukraine?
We were – and still are – in shock. The first weeks we couldn’t do anything else than staring at our screens, refreshing twitter, reading the background stories, contacting friends from Ukraine who were mostly fleeing the country. We immediately organised a big sale of our Sochi Project books and managed to send 7,500 euros to the Ukrainian Red Cross.
After a while, going through our own work on Russia and the Caucasus, we realised, this is just another edition of Russian imperialism, like we witnessed around the Caucasus in so many shapes.
It might not have featured in your plans, but can you claim making a time piece on European heartlands and not travel to Ukraine?
Of course, when starting of to make a time piece on Europe, you can have a certain set of plans and themes, but in the end, reality will take over. We never thought of a pandemic for example, though in hindsight people have been warning for ages. We couldn’t have imagined a giant invasion like Russia attempted. Who would’ve? Of course we realise this is something big for Europe and subsequently it will be included in our project. Both by going there and making stories about the millions of Ukrainian refugees that live all over Europe now.
Both of us traveled a lot to the former USSR countries before. Arnold even witnessed the two previous revolutions in Ukraine. We feel the urgency to start working on a chapter about war in Europe. There is already a lot of great journalism coming from Ukraine. We have to try and keep our longterm perspective in our mind, also when thinking of new chapters related to the war. For sure this will be a central part of the story on Europe in the 20’s of this century.
In the introduction on your project you refer to Henri Cartier Bresson who – according to you – “sought evidence for a greater identity, a European parable shared by the people and the landscape.” Now that you have been working on The Europeans for some time, did you find any shared European sentiments?
It’s maybe a bit early in the project to make too big statements, but if there’s one thing we notice is that everywhere people are reacting to globalization and reinforcing local identities, either in a cultural or political sense. Our upcoming Black Country chapter will be an interesting chapter in this sense, since we noticed that the old generations of workers in this region gave up their optimism about their region and linger in nostalgia. More positive perspectives come from recent immigrants who see new opportunities for businesses and families. We’re looking forward to find this story out!
Where can Europeans see more of your work in the months to come?
In the next months we will present our first four chapters in consecutive exhibitions in a former fashion store in the main shopping mall in Den Helder. Besides that, we will finish The Black Country and like to present it locally, as we always do after finishing a chapter. Hopefully we will start working in Ukraine. Rob will have a solo in Fotomuseum Den Haag, in the Netherlands in December 2023, a lot of Sochi Project and The Europeans work will be featured in this exhibition. And you never know what else might cross our path, we’re open for collaborations and embrace any possibility to show our work!
Want to know more about the way Hornstra and van Bruggen work? Click here to see a video of their presentation during Europe Day ’22.