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The Elephant in the Room?

11 December 2015 | 6.30pm


Talks and Screenings on Social Inequality, Meritocracy and Art

The Elephant in the Room? aims to address the issue of social inequality in the art world. Above all it will be asked “What is it to talk about class inequality in the art world in 2015?

Low pay and a lack of meritocracy perpetuate a field that is hierarchical and closed to many people of lower social rank. We must tackle these problems at a local level while condemning, for example, the alleged poor working and living conditions of migrant workers building the Louvres and Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi. We can’t even begin to claim the moral high ground within the art world if we don’t start by cleaning up art world practices first. The success of political art and 'artivism' will depend on the ability of the art world to address its own power dynamics and the inequalities which arise from them.

Speakers have been invited to approach the topic from their own background, contributing to a discussion on meritocratic values within the field of artistic production, reception and display. It is hoped that the tripartite social class system (i.e. lower, middle and upper class) can be supplemented with recourse to issues of non-class based wealth inequality, race, gender and sexuality.

Ultimately it will be asked whether a new 'universal class' can be formed from an alliance of dissafected and underprivileged workers, students and unemployed people from across the social spectrum? What role would the art world have in that process?

Day 1 (10 December) will be held at Open School East:

  • Echo by Fiamma Montezemolo (2014, Spanish with English subtitles, 15 minutes), an experimental ethnographic research and video essay on the afterlife and echoes of nine artworks that helps identify the role of the artist in tackling socio-economic issues. 
  • POV by Alessandro Rolandi (2011, 15 minutes), considers the politics of looking, seeing and being in the world in a film that represents a commonplace and domesticated still life.
  • Et in arcadia ego by Channa Boon (2015, 30 minutes) explores on the heritage of Stalin’s totalitarian power as it follows a game of chess played by two residents of Odessa, Ukraine, sitting near the city’s Arcadia Beach. 
  • In the Red by Oliver Ressler and Ana Pecar (2014, 10 minutes), a film about the Strike Debt group, an offshoot organisation of Occupy Wall Street in New York City who initiate several activities to expose hidden mechanisms of financial capitalism.

Day 2 (11th December) at the RCA:

  • 6:30pm: Opening Remarks by curator and organiser Mike Watson
  • 6.45pm Roundtable discussion chaired by Alpesh Maisuria: A Social Class and the Art World (5 minute presentations followed by dialogue). With Mark McGowan (aka The Artist Taxi Driver), Laura Oldfield Ford, Ana Pecar, Andrew Cooper and Eric Ogbogbo (RCG), and Nadir Letang Cushnie
  • 7.25 – 8pm: Panel B Art and Transformational Possibilities. (5 minute presentations followed by dialogue) with Mark Fisher, Chris Knight, Alexei Penzin, Chardine Taylor Stone
  • 8pm: Concluding remarks and preamble to film Screening: Chto Delat? The Excluded: In a Moment of Danger, 2014.
Organised by Mike Watson (curator), and co-curators Gloria Lin, Dorian Batycka, Seemab Gul.

Please RSVP to the link here:

Supported by a grant from Arts Council England