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In discussions about the current revolutions in the Arab world, it is often said that they are engaged in a struggle for future democracy, which is couched as a typical western ideal. However, the question arises as to whether a struggle for freedom actually embraces democracy as the ultimate aim. Like all political ideologies, democracy is charged with specific power structures. Furthermore, with the emergence of right-wing political parties, concepts such as freedom, power, and democracy have been reappropriated and become the subject of much discussion in many western democracies. For example, in the Netherlands, the right-wing Partij van de Vrijheid (PVV) (Party of Freedom; in itself a non-democratic party), which holds that the integrity of the nation is threatened by immigration and certain religious groups, tolerates a government of Christian Democrats and Liberals. What place does the concept of freedom have in our present parliamentary democracy, and what is the future of freedom? Is freedom possible for everyone or achievable by a only select few? Does the power of democracy or democratic power stand in the way of freedom? And what does this mean for the free or liberal arts, which are under such enormous pressure in the current political climate?
PAUL CHAN is an artist who lives and works in New York. His work has been exhibited widely in many international shows including: Making Worlds, 53rd Venice Biennale, Venice, 2009; Medium Religion, ZKM, Karlsruhe, 2008; Traces du sacrê, Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2008; and the 10th International Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul, 2007. Solo exhibitions include: My Laws are My Whores, The Renaissance Society and the University of Chicago, Chicago, 2009; Paul Chan: The 7 Lights, Serpentine Gallery, London and New Museum, New 2007–2008; Paul Chan — Lights and Drawings, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. In 2002, Chan was part of Voices in the Wilderness, an American aid group that broke U.S. sanctions and federal law by working in Baghdad before the U.S. invasion and occupation. In 2004 he garnered police attention for The People’s Guide to the Republican National Convention, a free map distributed throughout New York to help protesters to get in or out of the way of the RNC. Chan’s essays and interviews have appeared in Artforum, Frieze, Flash Art, October, Tate etc, Parkett, Texte Zur Kunst, Bomb, and other magazines and journals. In 2011 he co-edited (with Sven Lütticken) the E-Flux Journal about populism.
HITO STEYERL is a documentary filmmaker, theorist and art critic who holds a PhD in Philosophy. Her work, which examines issues such as migration, globalization, feminism, and postcolonial critique, comprises film, essays, and installations. She has lectured at Goldsmith’s College, London and the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, among other institutions. Steyerl’s films include: After the Crash, 2009; Do you speak Spamsoc, 2008; Lovely Andrea, 2007; and November, 2004. Recent exhibitions include: Vectors of the Possible, BAK, Utrecht, 2010; A History of Irritated Material, Raven Row, London, 2010; Im Moment des Verdachts [In the Event of Suspicion], 2010, Bielefelder Kunstverein, Bielefeld, 2010; Alles Anders? [Everything Else?], Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, 2010; Hito Steyerl: After the Crash, Artspace, Auckland, 2009; and Red Alert, Kunsthalle Winterthur, Switzerland, 2008. Steyerl also publishes widely about art and theory in such publications as E-Flux, Texte Zur Kunst and Artforum.
ANN DEMEESTER is currently director of de Appel arts centre and head of de Appel Curatorial Programme in Amsterdam. She is on the editorial board of the magazines A-Prior and F.R. David and has written recent essays on Michael Borremans, Jennifer Tee, Salla Tykka and Nicolas Floch. After studying literature and linguistics within the field of Germanic Languages she worked as an editor and art critic for the Belgian national newspapers De Morgen and De Financieel-Economische Tijd. From 2000 onwards she worked as an assistant curator for Jan Hoet in both the SMAK, Museum for Contemporary Art in Gent (BE) and Museum MartA Herford (DE) where she realized exhibitions and projects with e.g. Luc Tuymans and Raoul De Keyser, Rui Chafes, Royden Rabinowitch, Rob Birza, Joe Scanlan and Bjarne Melgaard. From 2003 till 2006 she functioned as director of W139 production and presentation platform for contemporary art in Amsterdam and alongside programming, managed the renovation and acquisition of the art space. Demeester curated in collaboration with Kestutis Kuizinas — the Baltic Triennial in Vilnius in 2009. From May 2009 up to February 2010 Ann Demeester was commissioned as ‘cultural intendant’ by the Municipality of Amsterdam for the purpose of sharpening the debate over the role that art and culture can play in urban (re)development processes.
FARID TABARKI is the director of Studio Zeitgeist which conducts/coordinates research and develops projects on the local, national and European Zeitgeist. Studio Zeitgeist works on themes like radical decentralisation, radical transparency, (social) media, politics, generations, aesthetics, Europe and education. Recently Farid has co-founded the Finishing School, an education institute that primarily focuses on teaching broad knowledge, etiquette and empathic leadership with ʻhigh potentialʼ twenty & thirtysomethings as its target audience. He’s also (guest) lecturer at Erasmus University Rotterdam and Fontys University of Applied Sciences (Academy for Creative Industries). Earlier Farid was editor-in-chief and researcher for Coolpolitics – a Dutch civic social organisation that encourages younger generations to shape and develop their role as citizens and works towards building Dutch, European and global civil society. In 2006 and 2007, he presented the parliamentary election edition of MTV Coolpolitics. Currently he’s the presenter of the television show Dare to Think, from Socrates to Sartre. More information can be found on www.studiozeitgeist.eu, twitter.com/studiozeitgeist and www.finishingschool.nl.