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Class Consciousness

In which people talk about art


Last week: the cinema, as I said. Yesterday, we happened to be around the Harbourside, so popped into the Arnolfini to see one of the current exhibitions, “Lapdogs of the Bourgeoisie: Class Hegemony in Contemporary Art”. It’s a touring exhibition that has travelled around various European venues in the past three years or so, changing and unfolding each time as the artists involved respond to the discussions their exhibition provokes. In general, though, it questions the concept of working as an artist; the sort of people who work as artists, and the ways in which the art world will automatically perceive an artist and attempt to classify their work based solely on their background and origins.

As part of the exhibition, there was a talk by local artist and academic Wayne Lloyd, on the Bristol art scene. We were intrigued as to how he would describe the local art scene within the context of the exhibition; and were rather disappointed when his talk seemed entirely context-free. It was a description of a few local “artist-run spaces” which have occupied rooms in the city centre in recent years; a small part of the local art scene, but one that Lloyd clearly knew well. However, description was all we got; no sort of synthesis, no concept of how these spaces fitted into the art world or into the city itself. I would have hoped, at least, for an attempt at explaining why those specific artists did what they did.

I was left slightly puzzled as to how the talk was meant to fit with the rest of the exhibition, almost (but not quite) to the point of putting up my hand and asking a question at the end. I’m not entirely sure what the question would have been. “Given the exhibition’s title and subtitle, how do these spaces demonstrate that there is (or isn’t) a class hegemony in local art?” sounds more like an exam question. “How many people from Hartcliffe or Withywood visit these spaces?” sounds a bit flippant and glib. “Given the exhibition’s title and subtitle, how the hell was any of that relevant?” just makes me sound too ignorant, especially when everyone else in the audience other than me and K seemed to think the whole thing very meaningful. Maybe they were all part of the hegemony too.

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