Why the EUnify hoodie is a both symbol of unrest and a call to action.

By Johann König
Illustration by Jean-Philippe Delhomme

A letter from… Berlin. - © System Magazine

Why the EUnify hoodie is a both symbol of unrest and a call to action.

The Treaty of Rome – which laid the foundation for today’s European Union – was signed on March 25, 1957. On the same day 60 years later, we held an event at my gallery in Berlin, to celebrate the anniversary of this historic achievement and raise awareness, especially among the younger generation, of the benefits of a union of peace. At the event, Wolfgang Tillmans relaunched his anti-Brexit poster campaign, this time for the EU’s anniversary and the elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany. He called himself a child of the EU, as it was the Union that had made it possible for him to study in the UK.

I am 37 now, and I still remember our holiday journeys being interrupted by border controls. So we wanted to make clear that nothing can be taken for granted, and that in these
times, we all must raise our voice and stand up for what we believe in. Over the past several years, it has seemed that fewer and fewer citizens identify with the Union, at the same time as it has become ever-more important to emphasize a shared European identity – a process of ‘Europeanization’ or the conscious shift from a national to a continental identity. Because that is perhaps the only thing that can help stem the current nationalist tide and chart the future of the European Union itself.

The EUnify project had started a few months earlier, in 2016, at the beginning of advent, that four-week countdown to Christmas when houses are dressed in colourful lights.
My gallery is situated in St. Agnes, a Brutalist deconsecrated church in Kreuzberg, the geographical centre of Berlin. For some reason, Christmas lighting is extremely popular in
this relatively forgotten neighbourhood of 1950s West Berlin social-housing projects. Shortly before the holiday season, Chris Dercon – at that time still the director of Tate Modern – connected me to architectural group morePlatz, which wanted to make a strong pro-European statement and needed partners. The result – a light installation spelling ‘EUROPA’ mounted like Christmas lights on the former church’s facade – fitted right in.

That early winter in 2016 was particularly cold and dark; Trump had just won the election, and the UK had voted in favour of Brexit five months earlier. It was imperative that we
did not leave the field to pessimists, particularly as the election in the Netherlands had recently seen politics take a shift to the right, and the French elections in May 2017 weren’t looking good. Europe was approaching a turning point. The whole point of our 60th-anniversary event was to make people see the positives of the European project, particularly with the young.

So my label, König Souvenir, produced the EUnify hoodie, portable ‘opinionwear’ that continues to spread our message beyond the event. In a time of seemingly impossible election results, social division and climate crisis, the hoodie became both a symbol of unrest and a call to action for young people everywhere. It has been accompanied by events and media campaigns that raise awareness not only of the European project, but of alliances for peace around the world. On the front, the EU’s emblematic circle of stars, has been broken and 1 of the 12 has lost its way and moved to the back, where it sits next to the number of the EU hotline. The design both reflects the feeling of uncertainty that has beset the EU after the British referendum and marks the beginning of a countermovement in search of more collaboration and unity.

The EUnify hoodie – a tool for political activation and unification – has gained a lot of attention. We have launched a couple of other ‘message’ products, including the Solidarity
Hoodie – in collaboration with Frankfurt-based collective IGNAZ – which targets intolerance, hatred and anti-Semitism in our society. With a kippa stitched on the hood to symbolize freedom of worship and tolerance, it stands for social unity and celebrates our pluralistic and multicultural society.

My aim with König Souvenir is to make it possible for a wide audience to relate to the artistic programme and all that surrounds it outside the constraints of the gallery walls. Many of the projects directly engage with current social and political issues, with the support of well-known creative figures such as Juergen Teller and Virgil Abloh. For the next König Souvenir, we have teamed up with the Sucuk und Bratwurst studio for a new campaign: to finally, once and for all, free the nipple!

Taken from System No. 12.