January 10, 2011 - e-flux journal - “Idiot Wind”
January 10, 2011

“Idiot Wind”

Issue no. 22 — “Idiot Wind: On the Rise of Right-Wing Populism in the US and Europe, and What It Means for Contemporary Art”

Available online:

When Paul Chan and Sven Lütticken proposed to gather a series of “reports” on the (mostly) recent rise of right-wing, populist movements for e-flux journal, it was immediately apparent that the urgency and complexity of the topic required its own special issue. As protests erupt throughout Europe in opposition to austerity measures being pushed through by right-wing governments and EU fiscal bodies, we are also now witnessing a phenomenon spreading throughout the Northern Hemisphere in which some of the most brazen hardline racist rhetoric emerges not only from politicians, but from the general populace as well. What is going on? It is our pleasure to present Chan and Lütticken’s “Idiot Wind” as the January/February 2011 issue of e-flux journal.
—Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle

Idiot Wind
On the Rise of Right-Wing Populism in the US and Europe, and What It Means for Contemporary Art

Guest-edited by Paul Chan and Sven Lütticken

The global financial crisis that began in 2008 continues to impoverish countries by exposing them to punishing economic forces that seem neither controllable nor accountable to the sociality from which they spring. And, like clockwork, right-wing populist movements in the US and Europe step onto the social stage to reassert the will of “The People” in these great times.

These populist movements reconceptualize real fears about deteriorating social and economic conditions as an imaginary loss of an “original” commonality at the center of society that must be renewed at the expense of those living at the circumference. Xenophobia, racism, nationalism, and homophobia fill the void left by the loss of lives and livelihoods ungrounded by the downturn. Government austerity measures meant to contain the economic fallout further erode the interconnections between classes, races, and ethnicities that make up contemporary life, adding to the growing sense of social isolation, which in turn reinforces the desire to forge a common country by punishing what is considered most foreign from within.

The profiles and trajectories of the movements differ. In Denmark and Holland, populist parties outside of government are poised to influence legislative policies because those governments depend directly on the parties’ support. In the UK, where the UK Independence Party has had limited national success, David Cameron’s seemingly inclusive “Big Society” populism is now leading the savage dismantlement of the public sector under the auspices of being a “dramatic redistribution of power from elites in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street.” Germany has a tradition of Neo-Nazi parties, but their political potential remains limited. Although public support for Thilo Sarrazin is widely regarded as a sign that a new kind of populist party can gain prominence—and politicians such as Horst Seehofer try to score by echoing his discourse—he remains a media phenomenon for the time being. In general, the policies and rhetoric of politicians in established political parties are increasingly shaped by the rules of the populist game, as in Sarkozy’s campaign against the Roma. Meanwhile, in the US the Republican Party is being transformed from within by the dramatic rise of the Tea Party movement.

In addition to class warfare, most populisms are based on a return to national and ideological origins, leading to characteristic uses and abuses of culture, and of art in particular. If the recent battle around the removal of David Wojnarowicz’s video from an exhibition in Washington, DC is any indication, art’s main role is that of a convenient target for reactionaries looking to energize their political base. Art is defined as alien to “authentic” culture, since it does not explicitly express and affirm the values that embody the country. In some European countries, art is seen as a heavily subsidized field that steals tax Euros away from “the hard-working citizen,” similar to unemployment benefits and other “left-wing hobbies.” On the other hand, art is implicated in a global speculative economy in which it is one more investment option, and in this respect, it is again vulnerable, coming to function as the concrete manifestation of abstract financial forces that weaken national economic sovereignty; an uncommon luxury lacking in both culture and rootedness. And yes, art is indeed part of the problem—how could it be otherwise? Rather than gloss over the issue, one should affirm and exacerbate art’s problematic status, its essential undecidability, which holds the promise of a more productive politicization of contemporary art above and beyond any projects on “aesthetics and politics” or “art and activism.” Read more…

—Paul Chan and Sven Lütticken

With contributions by Etel Adnan, Peio Aguirre, Claire Bishop, Gregg Bordowitz, Sabeth Buchmann and Jens Kastner, Gavin Butt, Paul Chan, Melanie Gilligan, Renée Green, Tom Holert, Brian Holmes, Sven Lütticken, Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen, and Hito Steyerl.

The print edition of e-flux journal can now be found at:
Amsterdam: De Appel / Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten Antwerp: M HKA Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Athens: OMMU Aubervilliers: Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers Auckland: split/fountain Austin: Arthouse at the Jones Center Banff: Walter Phillips Gallery, The Banff Centre Barcelona: Arts Santa Monica / MACBA / Basel: Kunsthalle Basel, Museum fur Gegenwartskunst Bergen: Rakett Bern: Kunsthalle Bern Beijing and Guangzhou: Vitamin Creative Space Beirut: 98weeks Berlin: b_books / Berliner Künstlerprogramm – DAAD / do you read me? / NBK, Neuer Berliner Kunstverein / Pro qm Berlin and Zurich: Motto Bialystok: Arsenal Gallery Birmingham: Eastside Projects / Ikon Gallery Bologna: MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna Bregenz: Kunsthaus Bregenz Bristol: Arnolfini Brussels: Wiels Bucharest: National Museum of Contemporary Art Bucharest (MNAC) / Pavilion Unicredit Cairo: Contemporary Image Collective (CIC) / Townhouse Gallery Calgary: The New Gallery Cambridge: Wysing Arts Center Chicago: Graham Foundation / The Renaissance Society Dubai: Traffic Dublin: Dublin City, The Hugh Lane / Project Arts Centre Dusseldorf: Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen Eindhoven: Van Abbemuseum Frankfurt: Portikus – Städelschule Gdansk: Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Łaźnia Genève: Centre de la Photographie Ghent: S.M.A.K Glasgow: CCA Centre for Contemporary Arts / Sculpture Studios Graz: Grazer Kunstverein / Kunsthaus Graz / para_SITE Gallery Grijon: LABoral Centre for Art and Creative Industries Hamburg: Kunstverein Helsinki:Museum of Contemporary Art KIASMA Hobart: INFLIGHT Hong Kong: Asia Art Archive Istanbul: BAS / DEPO / Platform Garanti Cologne: Kölnischer Kunstverein Kansas: INKubator PRESS Leeds: Pavilion London: Architectural Association/Bedford Press / Gasworks / ICA / Serpentine Gallery/ The Showroom / Visiting Arts Los Angeles: REDCAT Lisbon: Maumaus, Escola de Artes Visuais / Oporto Ljubljana: Moderna Galerija Luxembourg: Casino Luxembourg Marfa: Ballroom Marfa Madrid: Brumaria / CA2M / Pensart Mexico City: Proyectos Monclova Milan: Fondazione Nicola Trussardi Milton Keynes: Milton Keynes Gallery Minneapolis: Walker Arts Center Moscow/ Garage Center for Contemporary Culture Munich: Museum Villa Stuck / Walther Koenig Bookshop, Haus der Kunst Munich New Delhi: Sarai-CSDS New York: e-flux / Independent Curators International (ICI) / Printed Matter, Inc Nottingham: Nottingham Contemporary Omaha: Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts Padona: Fondazione March Paris: castillo/corrales – Section 7 Books / Centre Pompidou / Palais de Tokyo Pori: Pori Art Museum Portland: Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, (PICA) / Publication Studio Prague: Dox Centre for Contemporary Art Prishtina: Stacion – Center for Contemporary Art Prishtina Providence: AS220 Ramecourt: Performing Arts Forum, St Erme Outre et Ramecourt Reykjavik: Reykjavik Art Museum Riga: Kim? Rio de Janeiro: Capacete Rotterdam: Witte de With Saint-Nazaire: Le Grand Cafe, Centre D’art Contemporain Salzburg: Salzburger Kunstverein San Antonio: Artpace São Paulo: Master in Visual Arts, Faculdade Santa Marcelina Sarajevo: Sarajevo Center for Contemporary Art Seoul: The Books / The Book Society Sherbrooke: Foreman Art Gallery of Bishop’s University Sofia: ICA Sofia / Sofia Art Gallery Skopje: Press to Exit Project Space St Louis: White Flag Projects Sydney: Artspace Stockholm: Bonniers Konsthall / Index / Konstfack, University College of Art, Craft and Design Stuttgart: Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart Sydney: Artspace Tallinn: Kumu Art Museum of Estonia Toronto: Mercer Union / The Power Plant Torun: Centre of Contemporary Art Znaki Czasu in Torun Utrecht: BAK, basis voor actuele kunst / Casco-Office for Art, Design and Theory Vaduz: Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein Valletta: Malta Contemporary Art Foundation Vancouver: Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia / READ Books, Charles H. Scott Gallery, Emily Carr University of Art and Design Vigo: MARCO, Museo de Arte Contemporanea de Vigo Vilnius: Contemporary Art Centre (CAC) Vitoria-Gasteiz: Montehermoso Kulturunea Visby: BAC, Baltic Art Center Warsaw: Zachęta National Gallery of Art Wiesbaden: Nassauischer Kunstverein (NKV) Yerevan: Armenian Center For Contemporary Experimental Art, NPAK Zagreb: Gallery Nova / Galerija Miroslav Kraljevic / Institute for Duration, Location and Variables, DeLVe Zurich: Postgraduate Program in Curating, Zürich University of the Arts / Shedhalle / White Space.

Image above:
Krijn de Koning.

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