These anti-Brexit posters show just what we lose by leaving the EU
Jonathan Jones, The Guardian
Artist Wolfgang Tillmans turns
activist with passionate posters about why Britain should stay in
Europe. Is he going too far – or not far enough?
The artist Wolfgang
Tillmans has said what I feel: “What is lost is lost forever,”
he warns over a blue and violet image of the Earth from above,
apparently one of the photographer’s pictures taken through the
window of a passenger jet – an image of boundless space, longing
and desire. He is talking about the EU.
has created a series of passionate posters arguing why Britain should
stay in Europe and urging young voters in particular to make
sure they are registered to vote in the EU
referendum before 7 June.
Should artists weigh in and lecture
people on why we should vote to remain in the EU?
This is a territory
where many have been stunned into silence.
In a pre-emptive strike, the Brexit
side scored easy points against cultural celebrity Emma Thompson
after she made
comments at a film festival about what Britain might look like
out of Europe. The lesson appeared to be that members of the cultural
elite – who include Turner
prize-winner Tillmans – are advised to stay silent, or risk
being mocked as part of the Europhile establishment the leavers
Nobody commissioned Tillmans to make
these 25 overtly political works, which combine lyrical images with
bold words. He is acting on his own initiative (aided by his London
and Berlin studio assistants) as a citizen concerned the remain
campaign lacks passion.
“We have reached a critical moment that
could prove to be a turning point for Europe as we know and enjoy it
– one that might result in a cascade of problematic consequences
and political fall-out,” he writes on his
website, where the posters are available to download and share.
“What is lost is lost forever” is
the one that moves me most because it expresses exactly what is at
stake. All the passion about the EU debate may seem to be on the
Brexit side, with their enthusiasm for national sovereignty and
visions of a sceptred isle.
This emotion has suddenly turned from
a strength to a weakness, as damning data on the potential economic
woes of a Brexit piled up and Barack Obama delivered his
cool blow. Patriotic feelings are all the Brexiteers appear to
In place of economic reason, they resort to absurd vitriol.
But there’s a long way to go, and
emotions continue to matter. Tillmans’ image of a lost horizon
captures what I suspect is the hidden emotional truth for millions of
people. We may not be out there ranting, but if Britain voted to
leave we would wake up on 24 June with a terrible sense of loss and
isolation, a sadness that would be hard to shake.
Britain outside Europe would feel like
a foreign land to its own people.
Whose country would such an
isolationist island be? Not mine – I’d be lost there.
leave campaigner and justice minister Dominic Raab has conceded that
may need visas to visit Europe if they vote to go.
What kind of
backward step in history are these people contemplating? A visa to
Tillmans expresses the tragedy of such
an outcome in a poster that adapts the words of the poet John Donne:
“No man is an island. No country by itself.”
In another, over an
ethereal blue and orange photograph, he asks: “If people like
Rupert Murdoch, Nigel Farage, George Galloway, Nick Griffin, and
Marine Le Pen want Britain to leave the EU … Where does that put
I suspect Tillmans is not on Nigel
But he can use his more selective fame to directly
address younger voters who need to register and vote. And other
artists should follow his lead if they can express themselves as
naturally and sympathetically as he does in these posters.
The photograph he matches with his
revision of Donne’s
immortal lines is a view from the sky of a coastline battered by
the waves. Instead of white cliffs with green grass behind them, as
in some Brexit fantasy island, the land here is cut off from a wider
world and looks like a desert.
Isolate this island and it will die.