Europe Je T'aime Moi Non Plus

opinion, Disegno, June 2016

On 23 June, British citizens will vote for the UK to either leave or remain part of the European Union. Should the UK vote to leave the EU, the design industry is likely to change significantly.

For the 11th issue of Disegno: The Quarterly Journal of Design, Disegno hosted a roundtable inviting figures from across the design spectrum to consider the creative value of the EU and the impact of the UK’s membership referendum on the design industries. The resulting discussion will be published in Disegno #11 (on sale in mid-June) and on, in late-June.

In the days leading up to the EU referendum, Disegno will be publishing reflections from a selection of the designers featured in the roundtable. To complement these reflections, Disegno asked French designer Nelly Ben Hayoun to reflect on her experiences of the EU.

Nelly Ben Hayoun: Europe, Je T'aime Moi Non Plus

Nelly Ben Hayoun is a designer and founder of Nelly Ben Hayoun Studios. Ben Hayoun was born in Valence, France and resides in London.

"I would sum up my fear about the future in one word: boring. And that's my one fear: that everything has happened; nothing exciting or new or interesting is ever going to happen again ... the future is just going to be a vast, conforming suburb of the soul."

So said English novelist JG Ballard in 1982. Now that was pessimistic, but at the time I used to love that line. The “vast suburb of the soul”, totally resonated with my gloomy teenage years in the south of France. The future ought to be adult-serious, therefore boring was my young political reaction against the world of stupid, the ones of adults.

There were no limits really, everything was boring. We had the duty to make a change. We were the invisible generation, the disruptive and passionate kids and grand-kids of Camus, De Beauvoir, Ballard, Sagan and Baudelaire, taking our French literature classes in the park or in between tabletop football at the bar in front of high school. For us, boring was everything that was not in permanent motion.

We used to sign up for all the high school exchanges. Writing 'frenchglish' covering letters on why we should be allocated a spot on a Euro Bus to cross Europe into Romania, the UK, Spain, Italy, Austria, and so many more. We called it the exchange of culture, but really it was the most beautiful friendships and life training you could get.

Living in Europe, I shared Gauloises on the road, refined my French accent, and at least tried to sing Karma Police, French-nonsense style. And because, being optimistic when you are a teenager is just not what you do, I loved to read JG Ballard whilst crossing borders, onboard buses with my classmates.

We were the Erasmus kids.

Starting in 1987, Erasmus was, and has remained, one of Europe’s most incredible educational programmes, allowing millions of teenagers like me to go and learn abroad. Erasmus was my first experience of Europe. I smoked throughout with my English classmates and with my Romanian friends. We would organise giant parties in which the Erasmus kids would experience the joy of being alive and together all at once.

I was born in 1985, and I was lucky to be part of the generation that benefited from Churchill's vision of a United States of Europe. I went to Spain, Denmark, Italy, Greece, Poland, Romania, Sweden, England, basically all over Europe, on the Euro Bus. I benefited from an open, free education system in which we could all learn from each other and appreciate each other’s accents, food, music and drinks.

Yes, Europe is not perfect, and yes, we have to sort it out. I am not naïve, I know that we have to rethink its structure and part of its vision. But Europe should remain a platform for exchange, and we should discuss this together instead of letting it down.

To put it simply, when I think about what I could tell to an alien civilisation about ourselves, I do not think about France or England, I think about Earth and where we all come from. It is all about perspectives, after all.

Europe, is a concept, a utopia maybe, but it reassures me and others to think that we can somehow live together and forget about frontiers for a while. I don't want to go home, I am at home and we are in this together. We all deserve to experience Europe together. Let's not let the next generation down. Let the bright stars of Europe be blue for the years to come.