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Tirdad Zolghadr: Kitchen Party- revisiting Class Hegemony, Ethnic Marketing and the unp Casa Refugio

In the exhibition project Ethnic Marketing (2004-2006), the issue at hand was to assess the emergent vicissitudes of the gradually “globalizing” art circuit without repeating the curatorial clichés of recent years. Having watched one example of critical internationalism after another reduce itself to postcolonial platitude or self-congratulating adventurism, TZ framed this project as an inquiry into Euroamerican xenophilia in and of itself. Rather than try and build the proverbial Third World “platform”, or “forum”, or “bridge”, the question is what makes the bridging so attractive in first place.

Who stands to gain from searing critiques of the North and Northwest, or from upholding the aims of the East and South? An unresolved tension here is the contradiction between the notion of artistic specificity or autonomy, and the premise that art always testifies to a sociocultural context. If art is a Euroamerican tradition per se, how can it be globalized without a reasonable amount of epistemic violence? And if it is irretrievably enmeshed with context, how to explain the miracle of art being immaculately conceived all over the planet in a comparable way? Though we cannot jump over our own intellectual shadows to answer questions of such pretentious magnitude, we can, however, take a good look at the xenophiliac fervor that fuels and complexifies them.

The above research evolved into a premise more promising than ethnicity, namely that of class hierachy, in the form of the exbhition project Lapdogs of the Bourgeoisie, in collaboration with Nav Haq. To what extent does class play a role in the production and dissemination of contemporary art? The project is touring internationally from 2006 to 2009, investigating how and whether the ideology of socioeconomic background still defines your art world career, and to which point such a career might consolidate the ideologies in question. But although the notion of class is the thematic touchstone of the project, 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 much high-quality art, but also a revisiting of what a group exhibition can offer in terms of format, topic and discussion.

Finally, drawing on seminar experiences including the unp Berlin event "That's Why You Always Find me In the Kitchen At Parties", or the opening unp conference "A History of Productive Failures", Zolghadr will raise a (self-)critical discussion of the exhibition-as-school concept, to contextualize it within larger debates and tentatively suggest new directions. The above themes and contents aside, how does criticism, discussion, theory render itself visible here, and to which extent can or should it strive to do so. How to circumscribe the working definitions of success and failure. And how do those criteria sit with tendencies within the art field, e.g. increasing demands for professional dexterity, and audiences with increasingly varied educational backgrounds. More often than not, professionals have been reacting to these demands with copy-paste proficiency and vaguely intellectualized panic, and given the conditions of labor within the field, a call for more “academic” approaches is hardly realistic. What may prove more promising is to foster a critical sense of the models and prototypes framing one’s theoretical armature, to develop a notion of how they may compromise or at times perhaps enhance the quality of the discussion.

Tirdad Zolghadr

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