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Installation and talk

Is populism made from plastic?

Click here to view the presentation specific installation performance

This paper approaches the subjects in question from the less typical perspective of a practicing artist using a model developed in the studio rather than the library. It argues how concepts such as political ideologies can be understood in a similar way to how I understand physical matter through my lens as a contemporary sculptor. It explores how culture, values and beliefs are closely comparable to the behavior of material, space and movement.

I argue how the expansionist nature of neo-liberalism - greater mobility of people and trade, enlarged definitions of social acceptance, transparency etc, are typical characteristics of an abstract entity. Populism on the other hand rallies in the opposite direction. It is identified with characteristics which convey an idea of limits, confinement and clearly defined roles. It favours more traditional, nativist and protectionist policies. It seeks the leadership of ‘real’ people over the more removed elite. These more inward looking traits typically represent a more material and tangible entity.

A similar matter based approach will be taken with regards to the recent pandemic. Covid-19, like any virus, is quintessentially abstract matter. An important part of an abstract identity is the ability to move freely filling up space. This is best achieved below the radar, under an ephemeral and intangible shroud. Other large abstract forces such as the digital dimension, the stock exchange or ideas show how these less perceptible characteristics provide the toolkit to effect profound change upon our existence as is currently evident. Taming the virus has effectively meant taming an abstraction by deploying its counterpart - materiality. A more material version of space is no longer open and accessible but embodies containment, limits and lock down. The paper will consider how when it concerns their own country, authoritarian populist leaders are quick to close in on themselves to limit a perceived abstract threat. But when it came to shutting down the virus, the likes of Johnson, Trump and Bolsanoro were decisively slow.

The talk concludes with illustrating how the world has been witnessing a move more generally towards an abstract state and at breakneck speed in terms of technology, climate change and communication and that the shifts from neo-liberalism to populism are part of this more general trend.

Basis of talk given for: Democracy & Populism Equality, Truth and Disagreement in the age of Covid

Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics & Ethics

University of Brighton (UK)


Populism, Emotions and Polarisation (HEPP2)

University of Helsinki, FL




The rise in right-wing authoritarian populism - a backlash in an increasingly abstract world

Populist leaders and movements are shuddering mainstream politics showing a worrying trend being played out across Europe and the EU including Brexit (UK), Marine Le Pen (France), Norbert Hofer (Austria), Geert Wilders (Netherlands), Viktor Orban (Hungary) and Golden Dawn (Greece) etc. Many experts, journalists and political commentators describe a battle of values between the older and younger generations. They observe how older generations who grew up under the umbrella of a more traditional and less liberal value system feel increasingly alienated by neo-liberalism and social progress such as feminism, LGBT rights and anti-discrimination measures. Equally changes in the economy’s operation such as globalisation, deregulation and automation is also said to have largely contributed. These changes have gradually been taking place over the last century and have now reached a tipping point. But rather than explain this phenomenon through the traditional socio-political or economic lens of relevant academic experts and commentators, it is told through the unusual and creative perspective of an established practicing artist. The talk will entertain how it might help to see them in terms of art, aesthetics, space and movement. It will describe how what we are witnessing can and maybe even should be framed in terms of space, aesthetics and form as well as figures, cohorts and trends. Perhaps it is not a cultural backlash that can explain the rise in populism but a backlash of the physical against the abstract and its movement in space.

Abstract for talk given at 8th Euroacademia conference (2019) 'The EU and the politicisation of Europe'

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