Lapdogs Of The Bourgeoisie

09 Nov - 03 Dec 2008


Duration: 9 November – 3 December

Events program (Talks, Screenings, Workshops and a Reenactment): 9 -10 November.

Featuring the artists
Annika Eriksson
Chris Evans
Dirk Fleischmann / Michele di Menna
Liam Gillick
San Keller
Hassan Khan
Natascha Sadr Haghighian
Marion von Osten.

Curated by Nav Haq and Tirdad Zolghadr

To what extent does class play a role in the production and dissemination of contemporary art? Lapdogs of the Bourgeoisie is a project touring internationally from 2006 to 2009, investigating how and whether the ideology of socioeconomic background still defines your artworld career, and to which point such a career might consolidate the ideologies in question. In short, the notion of class is the thematic touchstone of the project, and yet the idea is not to use contemporary art to explore class structures in society at large. Rather, the project hopes to develop a sense of art world reflexivity, tracing hegemonic patterns within the field itself. Moreover, in the light of recent changes in working conditions within and without the arts, a main question here is whether the traditional analytical tools at our disposal are still useful today. In the best of cases, Lapdogs of the Bourgeoisie offers a venue for new working hypotheses, pointed political speculation and heaps of high-quality art, but also a revisiting of what a group exhibition can offer in terms of format, topic and discussion. The show at hand is not a traveling exhibition - the work on display is continuously redeveloped over a three-year collaboration between artists, curators, academics, students and others. The venues thus far included Gasworks London (Oct. 06, including Sylvie Fleury and Erkan Özgen & Sener Özmen) Platform Istanbul (Jan. 07), Tensta Konsthall Stockholm (Jan. 08). The Arnolfini Bristol represents the final venue for the event, in mid 2009, when the project as a whole will be documented in an extensive publication.

The work on display at Townhouse Cairo is flanked by an opening forum including workshops, lectures and performances. The exhibition includes

Cinema Subotnik, an extensive screening program curated by the participating artists.

Annika Eriksson, we are not who you think we are, performance series, ongoing
In her studies of art world and corporate hierarchies, Eriksson treads a fine line between populism and pedagogy, engaging in neither, but offering what she calls mere “suggestions” for the participants, which can include many different strata of the respective food chain. For the opening of the Gasworks exhibition of Lapdogs of the Bourgeoisie in 2006, Eriksson engaged with dozens of individuals who had never attended a private view before, creating a curious atmosphere of productive paranoia at the event. For Platform Istanbul in 2007, Eriksson invited Fevzi Cakmak, a gallery security employee with a vocal interest in art, to curate a selection from the collection of Garanti Bank, Platform’s official patron. At Tensta 2008, Eriksson invited Stockholm veteran Kjartan Slettermark to reenact an iconic 1970s performance, in which he attended art openings dressed up as an enormous poodle, a literal yet art-historically informed reading of the exhibition title, exploring how the politics of performance and the aesthetics of protest have shifted over time. The title we are not who you think we are is used for all of Eriksson’s contributions throughout the Lapdogs of the Bourgeoisie project.

Chris Evans, Is My Work Commercial Enough, performance workshop, ongoing
An adaptation of Chris Evans’ Is My Work Too Commercial? (2006) this workshop continues the artist’s investigation into how art objects are produced, circulated and consumed. It bears echoes of an earlier project, Free Tutorials (1999, with Duncan Hamilton), which involved a minibus of artists visiting six art colleges. Unannounced and thus mildly intimidating, the tutorials “encouraged students to talk about their work unencumbered by institutional protocol”. In 2006, Evans continued his explorations into art world conditions of production with the large-scale project Militant Bourgeois, addressing the truism that artists require financial hardship to produce valuable work. Is My Work Too Commercial? and Is My Work Commercial Enough? are informed by a spirit of open inquiry, bringing a well-known professional blend of pedagogy, career tactics and aesthetic strategy to new and bewildering extremes.

Chris Evans, The Freedom of Negative Expression, 2006 - ongoing, film trailer on video, film script
In much of his work, Evans forges difficult relationships between arts production and its supposed others, from aristocratic patrons to CEOs to funding board bureaucrats. Mostly it is the intriguingly stilted result of translating political and aesthetic ideals across these socio-cultural spheres that forms the basis of the artwork. The piece on display is based on a fictionalised conversation between Evans and a key figure of the 1960s British Constructivists, known for her uncompromising views on the establishment’s misuse of the arts to consolidate the capitalist status quo. Both a film and a sculpture are developed from this material, to be fully realised as the Lapdogs of the Bourgeoisie project progresses.

Dirk Fleischmann, The Stop Show, 2003 - ongoing, performance / Michele Di Menna
Using kiosks, lectures, even chicken farms as his format, Dirk Fleischmann takes the patient achievement of maximum reward from a minimum of means as motive and subject matter. For this exhibition, Fleischmann staged his ongoing project The Stop Show on Resonance FM London in July 2006. The ultimate equal opportunity game show, contestants compete against each other to count a ten second time span as accurately as possible. Taking The Stop Show’s idea of a level playing field to its logical curatorial conclusion, the winner of this contest was invited to participate in the Gasworks exhibition. Frankfurt art student Michele Di Menna took the prize, and is now enjoying a pre-career retrospective in the context of the Lapdogs of the Bourgeoisie exhibitions.

Liam Gillick contributed to the Platform Garanti event by construing an extensive vinyl patterning for the gallery walls. The work, entitled Run to the Nearest Town, represented a combination of formalism and textile related models, arts and crafts references, but also a rationalist tradition of bar charts and the rise of business science. Typically for Gillick, the artwork doubled as slick scenography and underhanded political contention. In Stockholm, Gillick engaged with the design of the Artist’s Cinema (cf. above) rather than the overall scenography, a gesture he is to repeat at the Townhouse Cairo

San Keller, LAPDOGS OF THE BOURGEOISIE?, 2006 - ongoing, colour C-prints
Keller has been documenting the manner in which parents of Zurich, London and Istanbul artists display their offspring’s work in their homes. He has continued this project in Stockholm, and shall further pursue it in Cairo, engaging with parents from a multiplicity of class backgrounds. These milieus never translate into visual evidence in the work; far from a sociological study, Keller’s work throws the viewers back on themselves, as the subtexts of cultural capital and aesthetic lineage within the living room scenographies are only hinted at, with humorous, calculating skill.

San Keller, Nothing’s Perfect, performance, ongoing
Over recent years, Keller has been focusing on the pecking orders of the artworld, showing particular interest in the - usually conveniently mediated - powerplay between critic and artist. The work Nothing’s Perfect actually consists of a gold-tipped wooden baton reproducing the stick used by Christian Dior on his atelier tours. Dior used the baton to point out flaws in the work of his employees, while Keller’s version is predestined for critics touring art exhibitions. In the Cairo showing of Lapdogs of the Bourgeoisie, the piece shall be consummated by a given local professional who shall tour the premises with the baton, pointing out shortcomings in the work and its display.

Hassan Khan works in various media including documentary film, video and performance. He often engages with the materiality of public space using magazine inserts, city buses and private apartments as carriers or venues. For his work on the Gasworks Gallery façade, Automatic is the Voice that Speaks, the artist merged various popular and commercial iconographies into a lenticular image playing on an inventory of “internalised bourgeois constructs”. Surprisingly but perhaps tellingly, the image was neither tagged nor sabotaged during its two month display. In Stockholm, his contribution Decoy involved a minimalist sculpture at an upscale restaurant where the exhibition dinner was held, but also including obtrusive actors planted within the audience.

Marysia Lewandowska and Neil Cummings, Faking It, ongoing
Lewandowska and Cummings are known as the authors and publishers of numerous studies on the scenographies and epistemics of art & finance, including Capital, Lost Property and Free Trade. For Lapdogs of the Bourgeoisie, the duo has been preparing a video project addressing issues of copyright, or the ownership of means of creative production, by appropriating the format of the UK TV show Faking It. In said show, members of one class are trained emulate the behavior of another, to the point of fooling a specialized jury. A collaboration with OTV has been pursued in the hope of realizing a filmed version for the Cairo exhibition.

Suhail Malik, Gonna Pop a Capital in your Class: Karl Marx’ Capital, part 3, lecture / workshop
Suggested reading: Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 3, Part 4, available at
The workshop examines the fate of the bourgeoisie and class relations when capital is organized by accumulation through finance (rather than historic property relations), in relation to the exhibition project at hand and the high visibility of contemporary art in the richer metropolitan regions. Malik teaches in the Department of Art, Goldsmiths, London, where he is a director of the Political Currency of Art Research Group (, and is currently working on a philosophy of American power.

Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Solo Show, performance lecture, ongoing
Sadr Haghighian is an artist who works with video, performance and online modes of presentation. In Solo Show, she revisits the age-old practice of hiring anonymous assistants to realise artworks, often demanding extensive, creative work on their behalf. This revitalised tradition raises complex questions of authorship and ethics within the artistic food chain. In addition, the practice makes any quasi-autonomous artist appear almost rearguard, adhering to notions of originality that look romantic by comparison. Her lecture involves an empirical test sheet, to be filled out by the audience prior to the event.

Marion von Osten, “I Am Like That Anyway”, 2006 - ongoing, plinths, video
Von Osten is an artist, theorist and curator known for her long-standing engagement with Marxism and feminist theory. Her analyses of working patterns within the creative industries were key contributions to the debate on post-Fordist conditions of production in the art world. Here, von Osten turns to the highly successful H&M campaign featuring Madonna and her crew, presented as a non-hierarchical community reminiscent of corporate self-presentations, but also of art historical icons such as Warhol’s Factory. Von Osten has discussed the image, its ideological ramifications and its artistic analogies with Gasworks staff in London and the Platform Garanti team in Istanbul, touching on the predominant aesthetics of success, and the self-exploitative pull of the creative industries, but also on the impossibility of accurate institutional representation. In the exhibition, edited recordings of the discussions are flanked by tableaux vivants of the gallery staff reenacting the image of the H&M campaign.

Marion von Osten, Do All in the Dark in Order to Save Thy Lord the Light: On the filmmaker Daniel Schmid, lecture & screening program
Here, von Osten engages with the work of Swiss filmmaker Daniel Schmid in the form of screenings, lectures and poster production. The film Do All in the Dark in Order to Save Thy Lord the Light, for example, tells the story of a servant school displaying a subliminal link to cultural producers’ roles in bourgeois society. Tonight or Never is a satire on 19th-century class relations in which a lady of wealth holds a soirée for her serving staff; roles are reversed as the servants are waited on by their masters. Artists among the guests encourage the servants to rebel: “in these films the artist plays the role of an animator duly producing images of feudal decay and oriental fantasy - in the end nothing changes other than the different classes getting to know each other better” (von Osten). Another film, Tosca’s Kiss, addresses the “Casa Verdi”, the first nursing home for retired opera singers, founded by composer Giuseppe Verdi in 1896. In a film that developed a cult following over the years, Schmid captured a world in which the singers - many of whom had significant onstage careers - re-live and re-enact their triumphant roles of the glorious past. For Cairo, von Osten plans to combine her research on the Casa Verdi with a study of Verdi’s Aida and its historical local references.

This exhibition is organized in coordination with Goethe Istitut – Egypt and Pro Helvetia.

Tags: Annika Eriksson, Chris Evans, Sylvie Fleury, Liam Gillick, Natascha Sadr Haghighian, San Keller, Hassan Khan, Michele Di Menna, Sener Özmen, Andy Warhol