Sunday, December 9, 2007

Relational Aesthetics

The term 'relational aesthetics' was coined in 1996 by French theorist and curator Nicolas Bourriaud to characterize artistic practice in the 1990s. In his book of the same title, Bourriaud aims to identify and characterise what is distinctive in contemporary European art in the 1990s, as compared to that of previous decades.

Bourriaud wishes to approach art in a way that ceases ‘to take shelter behind Sixties art history’, and instead seeks to offer different criteria by which to analyse the often opaque and open-ended works of art of the 1990s. To achieve this, Bourriaud imports the language of the 1990s internet boom, using terminology such as ‘user-friendliness’, ‘interactivity’ and ‘do-it-yourself’. Indeed, in Postproduction (2000), Bourriaud describes Relational Aesthetics as a book addressing works that take as their point of departure the changing mental space opened by the internet.

Bourriaud explores the notion of relational aesthetics through examples of what he calls 'relational art'.
According to Bourriaud, relational art encompasses "a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space." [3]
A relational artist might, for example, convert a gallery space into a temporary stand for serving coffee, with the addition of background music, suitable lighting, books to read, and comfortable chairs. The artwork here consists of creating a social environment in which people come together to participate in a shared activity. Bourriaud claims "the role of artworks is no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within the existing real, whatever scale chosen by the artist."

In relational art, the audience is envisaged as a community. Rather than the artwork being an encounter between a viewer and an object, relational art produces intersubjective encounters. Through these encounters, meaning is elaborated collectively, rather than in the space of individual consumption. Bourriaud believes this collective encounter can be both democratic and microtopian. These intersubjective encounters may literally take place – in the artist’s production of the work, or in the viewer’s reception of it – or exist hypothetically, as a potential outcome of our encounter with a given piece.

Bourriaud contrasts relational art with art that asserts an independent and private symbolic space’. Relational art is thus conceived as the inverse of the privatised space of modernism as articulated differently by Clement Greenberg and Rosalind Krauss: rather than a discrete, portable, autonomous work of art that transcends its context, relational art beholden to the contingencies of its environment and audience. In some manifestations of this art, such as the performance-installations of Rirkrit Tiravanija, viewers are addressed as a social entity, and are even given the wherewithal to form a new community, however provisional or utopian.

the above is copied from:

For a sample text by Bourriaud see:

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