Reading 02: Excerpt from "Relational Aesthetics" by Nicholas Baurriaud

Please respond to the reading here. This is an important reading in regards to contemporary approaches to participation and public art.


One of the most interesting parts of "Relational Aesthetics" was the idea of "social interstice," communities that functioned outside the capitalistic framework of most of society. Public projection seems to fall nicely within the realm of social interstice. We've talked about the ephemeral nature of projection. Artists who do public projection are not producing a commodity that they can sell or that can hang in a museum for a paying visitor to see. Instead, the projection is presented at a particular time, in a particular space for anyone to witness.

I also liked the statement, "Art is a state of encounter" (162). Our first project was the first time I had interacted with the public as an artist. I'm more comfortable observing, researching, and writing about community engagement in the arts and so it was a positive, though tough, learning experience for me. As I think about the next project, I want to keep the statement, "Art is a state of encounter" in the forefront of my mind.

The parts that i found most interesting in the article pertained to his description of making a 'space'. The example he gives on page 162 of the piece "Turkish Jokes" was the most striking to me. How he describes the piece as 'producing a micro-community of immigrants' was something i hadn't necessarily thought of before in regards to public arts overall aim. Additionally on page 167 at the top where he writes "art no longer tries to represent utopias; it is trying to construct concrete spaces" was unmistakably connected to the example that made me pause on page 162. As i've begun planning for my project i've stopped to consider how i can make it more of a space rather than just some interactive pieces together in one place and the overall effect on the audience my piece will have.

The urbanization discussed in page 160 of Bourriaud's Relational Aesthetics is really an interesting dynamic to look into. I think relational art is so appealing, because people unwillingly become a part of something that they weren't expecting- and the participatory aspects of this sphere is indebted to our spaces and technological resources. The oppositionality of shattering the normal 'day-to-day' is what is so gravitational, for me. The act of "escaping the framework of the capitalist economy" (161) and transcending the typical inner workings of society is an extremely important aspect of art. All of my favorite art is oppositional, for instance the group of billboard defiling art bandits titled the "ad-busters" who alter advertisements to make artistic and political statements. This kind of street art mentality is exactly what Bourriaud is talking about, and raising questions and creating a social dialogue is critical to making a statement through modern day art.

I think "urbanization" is an interesting term as it is used in the article. In planning, urbanization means the rate at which an urban area grows compared to the overall region. Does "urbanization of the artistic experience" mean that that relational art needs to reach a larger group of people in public space? Does rural relational art have a part in this discussion? Perhaps I'm making a big deal about wording than is necessary.

"...the imaginary of our period is concerned with negotiations, links and coexistance" (pg. 166). I found this argument really compelling. Bourriard goes on to say that rather than art trying to represent utopias, it is now "trying to construct concrete spaces." I'm not sure how i feel about this argument. Meaning is always produced through contestations and negotiations, and the construction of an alternative space for relations is part of this highly contested process... can he truly say that there's been a break with "oppositional imagery," which "worked with breaks and clashes"?

Towards the bottom of page 165 there is a passage that reads: "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." For whatever reason this stuck with me more than any one line in the reading. It seems to relate directly to the art we are setting out to produce, commenting on the infancy of new media and the nature of its role in our society. Both of these elements intrigue me. For the first time we are able to produce art that is not directly stemming from a previous artistic approach. We are a generation that has been given a completely novel tool, and are allowed to define its purpose and use. As we've all learned, the importance of physical location while projecting is a fundamental concern. That is why the idea of "artistic destiny" as the article calls it causes my head to spin, as few things have excited me more in my artistic endeavors. For all of the planning and process that goes into a projection event, it still requires the work and the audience to arrive in the same location for a time. And if one is projecting to an "accidental" audience this element is greatly magnified. The idea of artistic destiny is not something I'm necessarily comfortable with, but I look forward to considering it in my work.

I really liked the quote "for art does not transcend our day to day preoccupations; it brings us face t face with reality through the singularity of a relationship with the world, through a fiction" on page 168. I like that quote, because for art to relate to us, it should relate to our lives. Also I think public art need to directly relate to our daily lives, even through at the same time it is trying to break us out of our daily lives by being an unexpected part of our day. I also really liked the quote "utopia is now experienced as a day to day subjectivity" on page 166. I like the because sometimes we tend to think too grand, and it ends up hurting us. But really just finding a way to have a good day, is an art in itself. Art then, I think, can add to this, and make us think of our day and lives in a new way that will add something to them, but not try and change them.

The strongest argument I found in this article is the idea that there seems to be two mindsets in the Art community, those of authoritative and democratic producers,and that these approaches apply to even "public" art. An interactive work with one "correct" or linear means of experience is a much different beast than an open-ended set of tools the viewer is allowed to freely interact with. However, I fail to see how any art could not "take as [its] theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context." Apart from the mentally ill or severely misanthropic, any person who exists in society will, as a matter of definition, reflect their given social context, consciously or not, just as a cross-section of Facebook updates, each one nothing more than the personal viewpoint of one member, creates a fairly accurate picture of the social whole. If Baurriaud is attempting to say that Relational Art is only concerned with these human relations as a result in and of itself, I wouldn't argue, but I also fail to see how this is so revolutionary as to constitute a radical change in thinking. I would argue that the majority of art created throughout human history has been created in a societal/experiential context, from site-specific cave paintings, frescoes or sculptures, to ritualistic totems, architecture and dance, to jewelry and personal embellishment. It has only been for a comparatively short amount of time, and for a privileged few members of society that the idea of the art-object has existed. Baurriaud's ideas may have an impact on modern art curation and education, but these institutions have always seemed myopic anyway.

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