Friday, May 9, 2008

tiip: T(h)I(nk)I(ng) P(ractices), critical dialogues in contemporary art and media practices

2AMP7H1 MA/ Art and Media Practice/ University of Westminster/ School of Media, Arts and Design/ Department of Art and Design

1.2 relational aesthetics the role of dialogue in art
In order to consider this question it is necessary to ask, what are relational aesthetics? Where does it come from, what is its background, its history, what made it possible and how is it art relational? I attempted some sort of framework within my consideration of the changing roles of artist and audience in which I discussed how the spaces between high art and the audience as well as technological advances, created room for expansion. I touched on the role of dialogue and interpretation within the art world and its importance to the relational aesthetic movement that is developing today. Hopefully this will have provided a framework for an understanding of the development of Relational Aesthetics and its place in the world of art. Like the author Richard Schusterman, the arts curator Nicolas Bourriaud has been looking for alternatives and it is he who in 1998 coined the term ‘Relational Aesthetics’. In the glossary of his book Relational Aesthetics (199 he offers this broad definition of relational aesthetics as an -“Aesthetic theory consisting in judging artworks on the basis of the inter-human relations which they represent, produce or prompt.” On relational art he says it is,“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 as an independent and private space.”

Nicolas Bourriaud (Relational aesthetics 1998p112-113)
Bourriaud considers that “The possibility of a relational art is testimony to the radical upheaval in aesthetic, cultural and political objectives brought about by modern art…….this development stems essentially from the birth of a global urban culture…”In short - “Relational art is neither a ‘revival’ of some movement nor the return of a style. It is born of the observation of the present and of a reflection on the destiny of artistic activity. Its basic hypothesis – the sphere of human relations as site for the artwork- is without precedent in the history of art, even though it can of course be seen, after the event, to be the obvious backdrop to all aesthetic practice, and the modernist theme par excellence.”

(Bourriaud in Participation ed. Clare Bishop 2006 P165)

Bourriaud considers the work of art as social interstice in which “an interstice is a space in social relations which, although it fits more or less harmoniously and openly into the overall system, suggests possibilities for exchanges other than those that prevail within the system.” Exhibitions…., “create free-spaces and periods of time whose rhythms are not the same as those that organise everyday life, and they encourage an inter-human intercourse which is different to the ‘zones of communication’ that are forced upon us.” (Bourriaud in Participation ed. Clare Bishop 2006 –P160-61)
To have a clearer idea of art that could be considered relational it might be helpful to consider a few examples of relational art –Philippe Parreno – invites a few people to pursue their favourite hobby on May Day, on a factory assembly line.Vanessa Beecroft – dresses 20 women identically in red. The visitor can only glimpse them through the doorway.Maurizio Cattelan feeds rats on Bel paese cheese and sells them as multiples.Jes Brinch and Henrik Plenge Jacobsen install an upturned bus in a Copenhagen square, causing a rival riot.Christine Hill offers services - works as a check out assistant in a supermarket, and organises a weekly gym workshop in a gallery. Offers back and shoulder massages to exhibition visitors, set up a fully functioning second-hand clothes shop.Jorge Pardo - a 50m jetty with a small pavilion was erected. The pier was functional providing mooring for boats, while a cigarette machine attached to the wall of the pavilion encouraged people to stop and look at the viewCarsten Holler recreates the chemical formula of molecules secreted by the human brain when in love, builds an inflatable plastic yacht, and breeds chaffinches with the aim of teaching them a new song.Noritoshi Hirakawa puts a small ad in a newspaper to find a girl to take part in his show.Angela Bulloch – creates a social space in her work – café.Santiago Sierra – persons paid to have their hair dyed blond 2001.Pierre Huyghe summons people to a casting session, makes a TV transmitter available to the public, and puts a photograph of labourers at work on view just a few yards from the building site.Liam Gillick – pinboard project, 1992 – contained instructions for use and potential items for inclusion. Tables and screens that are influenced by office spaces are erected in art galleries and provide backdrops to conversations.Rirkit Tiravanija, performance-installations: he organises a dinner in a collectors home and leaves him all the ingredients required to make Thai soup. He cooks for people attending museums or galleries. He reconstructed his New York apartment and opened it to the public 24 hrs a day, they could cook, wash, sleep as they wished.
Relational arts have arisen around the globe, some say in answer to social breakdown, political change and ‘trauma’ (Spheres of action – Peter Weibel. Art and Politics seminar, Tate Britain 2005) It has a variety of titles, relationalism; participation; communication arts; relative performance etc. Some of the artists while recognising the, “essentially collaborative nature of their work” refuse to be categorised within an ‘ism’ which would suggest that they do not recognise their role within a ‘movement’ but see themselves as groups working away from the dialogues of high art (Relationalism –Ben Lewis, safari art BBC 4) If we consider Arthur Danto’s argument that to philosophise about art is to bring about its end, (see the shifting role of artist and audience) then Nicolas Bourriaud is philosophising about their work in a way that might preclude or stultify its development and that might explain their reluctance to be feted as the new ‘ism’.However, such philosophy is difficult to avoid when the art is played out within gallery situations, as those very situations play into the hands of the critics and curators demanding dialogue and philosophy. It is much harder to do this if the art work is played outside within society. However, the recording and documentation pull it back into the realm of ‘Art’. More and more relational art is being played out in the street, on an everyday level. Artists are walking the streets documenting rubbish, leaving notes, having conversations, Sigur Ros – playing a series of concerts that weren’t advertised - Artists working for arts sake. So much of this art is ‘happening’ that the ‘is it life or is it art’ question has become a difficult one to answer. Maybe because it has finally become one? “Art participates in the organisation and reorganisation of experience… the making and remaking of our worlds.” – philosopher Nelson Goodman If we think that art is removed from society I think we need to think again – today art is everywhere, public art is more evident than ever before, references to art works and movements litter advertising campaigns and cartoons, it informs all our visual imagery and provides research sources for design ideas that fill our houses. “…the history of art as a tool box.”

(NB in an interview with Karen Moss by Stretcher – October, 2002)
Art works are sold in art hypermarkets – museums and galleries abound and try to break down their otherness through late night and social events in which the art is the back drop for conversation and discussion. Maybe instead, we are a truly art centred society in which every nuance of life is mirrored back and forth in a myriad of media.Is relational art an extension of this society? Or is it a way of redressing the balance between high art (that ‘exalted’ in galleries) and the predominance of the visual image all around us, for want of a better description – ‘low’ art, dependent on borrowed images and references – set in new contexts, leading to new interpretations?Richard Schusterman in his book Surface and Depth 2002 (p185) says “works of art, like miraculous acts of God, transfigure the commonplace and require special interpretation, while ordinary mundane realities do not.” But what happens when ordinary mundane realities are proposed as art?If we consider relational art to be based in the ordinary, the mundane, then is it seeking, “…the holy grail of self-reflexive criticality.” (Rosalind Krauss A voyage on the North Sea p56 quoted in Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics Claire Bishop p64) through “special interpretation” – or is it art made out of a society subsumed by art and seeking to redress the balance, to return art to the centre of daily life and experience? Which position does it occupy – is it breaking down barriers or merely climbing and standing on them saying “look at me”? Does it seek to destroy the aura or merely try to restructure the domestic interface. I guess the answer will depend on whether you think art is separate, that it is, removed from daily life and experience. However, one thing is apparent; the role of dialogue is paramount to relational aesthetics perhaps more so than the work itself. The work requires, even necessitates, dialogue and documentation in order to occupy the realms of ‘high art’, to validate its position, in order to record that position in the history and development of art, to provide a point of reference. Equally it requires, “philosophy, to give its meanings genuine truth and life.”

(GWF Hegel, Introductory lectures on aesthetics 1993 p13)
As the relational projects become more elusive and ephemeral the range of documentation and analysis and dialogue seem to grow, proposals; manifestos; description; detailed logs of events; conversations; discussions; arguments; disputes; negotiations; reflections after the event; correspondence; retrospective surveys; 3rd person narratives; catalogues; essays and critical commentary.

There is so much written about this form of art maybe because the experience it produces is fleeting, transitory and personal. There is no ‘evidence’ of the art, only the feeling that you have experienced ‘something’ and a photograph or a letter written provides a souvenir of the experience, a memory of last week.
And yet who is relational art for, bearing in mind that those that have written about this art form, largely see it as work responding to the lack of connections, trying to repair, “weaknesses in the social bond” (Bourriaud Esthetique Relationnelle 1998 p37) Is it for everybody on the street or for an elite that practice a sensibility and a dialogue that maintains the role or at least the dialogue of high art? I would argue that the situations set up by relational artists connect like minded people and that the relations produced are “fundamentally harmonious” (Bourriaud) because they are “addressed to a community of viewing subjects with something in common.” – the subject, the environment, the situation, the time of day, the terminology, the language, etc.Does relational art stem from a social or perceived rootlessness leading to a desire to restructure the domestic interface? Or is its arts equivalent of putting the kettle on?Or “Perhaps discursivity and sociability are in the foreground of art today because they are scarce elsewhere.”

(Hal Foster, Chat Rooms 2004 p194 in participation ed. Claire Bishop 2006)
Maybe relational art is ultimately seeking to achieve a feeling of collective spiritual being, such as that achieved through carnival when people of all walks of life come together as one, perform as one, share the same experience, where the interpretation is equally as collective as the experience itself where “Art is a state of encounter…..” (Bourriaud) We might never know but we can talk about it.

above copied from:


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