Relational Aesthetics

During my thesis research about societal situations structured by design I have been finding very interest examples of creative collaboration. However is still a field in development that does not have very well defined boundaries between the different fields, sometimes is more artistic, sometimes is more psycho-therapeutical, political, marketing, and so on. Participatory developments are methodologies with a huge potential, they are demanded by the societies, they are interesting opportunities for businesses, and even a comfortable way for governments to invest in culture. Therefore I consider important to start critic discussions in every field about the subject. I found recently the research work of Claire Bishop and although it still have many opportunity areas it is a breakthrough for the contemporary concept of relational aesthetics. Here I resume some important thoughts from an interview between her and Jennifer Roche. I would be very rewarding to hear some comments about it.

Socially Engaged Art, Critics and Discontents: An Interview with Claire Bishop
By Jennifer Roche

Socially engaged art, community-based art, experimental communities, dialogic art, littoral art, participatory, interventionist, research-based and collaborative art.

In socially engaged art, critic Claire Bishop believes the aesthetic is being sacrificed on the altar of social change.

“Artists are increasingly judged by their working process — the degree to which they supply good or bad models of collaboration,”

“There can be no failed, unsuccessful, unresolved, or boring works of collaborative art because all are equally essential to the task of strengthening the social bond,”

Bishop draws on the notion of the aesthetic as defined by philosopher Jacques Rancière, who said that the aesthetic is the “ability to think contradiction.” “For Rancière,” writes Bishop, “the aesthetic doesn’t need to be sacrificed at the altar of social change, as it already inherently contains this ameliorative process.” In other words, art heals. No need to hurry it along

“Their work joins a tradition of highly authored situations that fuse social reality with carefully calculated artifice,” Bishop says of Deller and the others. Like Dadaism before them, they created “intersubjective relations (that) weren’t an end in themselves but rather served to unfold a more complex knot of concerns about pleasure, visibility, engagement, and the conventions of social interaction.”

Bishop clearly wishes to shed the recurring ethical themes in the critical discourse, which she often describes as Christian ideals of self-sacrifice and “good souls,” in favour of embracing the contradiction that naturally arises from the artist’s intentions.

I would like to argue that the best collaborative practices need to be thought of in terms other than their ameliorative consequences
In this context it is crucial for art practices to tread a careful line between social intervention and autonomy.

My view is inevitably influenced by living in the U.K., where New Labour have for the last nine years instrumentalised art to fulfill policies of social inclusion…

The mere fact of being collaborative, or participatory, or interactive, is not enough to legitimise a work or guarantee its significance.

If we look at the proliferation of collaborative art practices today, it seems that many no longer have the oppositional and anti-authoritarian punch they had in the late 1960s and 1970s – when radical theatre, community arts and critical pedagogy emerged in opposition to dominant modes of social control. Today participation is used by business as a tool for improving efficiency and workforce morale; it is all-pervasive in the mass-media in the form of reality television; and it is a privileged medium for government funding agencies seeking to create the impression of social inclusion.

[Lacan] would argue that the best socially collaborative art does not derive from a superegoic injunction to “love thy neighbour,” but from the position of “do not give up on your desire.”

It requires intelligence and imagination and risk and pleasure and generosity, both from the artists and the participants.

Rethinking the conventions of participation.

Overturning the very premises from which social engagement operates can be both artistically and critically invigorating.

I completely agree that turning to other disciplines can help to sharpen our mode of discussion about works of art, particularly those that step into the social arena.

I resist very strongly – is the idea that art is the “last place” to go for engagement, that it is the only remaining “free space.” This idea is dangerous and lazy.

The situation I would want to avoid is of inconsequential practices that make no impact on either field.

Kunst Werke. Berlin, Germany. September 2000
Santiago Sierra

Still from Jeremy Deller’s video,
“The Battle of Orgreave


2 Responses to “Relational Aesthetics”

  1. 1 Martijn van Berkum February 28, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    Yes! really good Claire Bishop. She’s an important critical voice in participatory and relational practice. Did you check this one:
    [ claire%20bishop-antagonism&relational%20aesthetics.pdf]
    It’s her first critical analyses of Nicolas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics, which can summorised as “relational for what purpose?”, blaming Bourriaud for relational for the sake of being relational. Furthermore, check ‘Participation’, Bishop functioned as an editor for this book and put together an amazing set of articles and essays that give a fairly complete discursive overview of the title’s subject.

    The interesting questions I think are: what is a relational methodology? And how can it serve issues such as social innovation, critical thinking and community practice.

    In that regard Miwon Kwon (One place after another) and Grant Kester (Conversation pieces) provide interesting insights into these matters. They prove that one of the key issues is attitude. e.g. how to deal with the power relation in a relational work.

    Lots to say about it! let’s just have a coffee and discuss it further!
    ciao! martijn

  1. 1 Deanne Tremlett Postgraduate Research MA Fine Art Trackback on June 25, 2011 at 9:49 pm

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