Relational Aesthetics

When I read the chapter on relational form in Bourriaud’s book I was excited about the possibilities of this concept. I understand and agree with much of Claire Bishops critique regarding the importance in creating tension and antagonism for a more true democracy to emerge. However, her choice of Santiago Sierra, as an example for relational artists to consider, threw me off.  I see a lot more of Deleuze’s writings in Tiravanija for example than I do in the work of Sierra. I know Bishop’s intention was not to relate these artist to Deleuze, however, given the context of the class if I feel it is relevant to bring in his perspective.  One of the things that attract me most to Deleuze’s writings is his emphasis on creativity, fluidity, productivity, and relationships. Although the end result of Tiravanija’s work, like-minded individuals eating curry and networking, is banal and somewhat comical, his intentions of collapsing the distinction between life and art and attempting to create community are interesting. His installation is not Starbucks but a reaction to Starbucks and the lack of interaction that one finds there. If we think of the city as something with which we enter into a relationship – which we shape and which in turn shapes us – then the introduction of spaces that encourage interaction is exciting. Although, the end result is unimpressive, I think this is a situation where we do not throw out the baby with the bathwater but rather think how we can develop it.

In contrast Sierra’s work, while controversial, doesn’t do much to foster a space, which is creative, productive, fluid, etc. He points out how people are exploited and degraded by exploiting and degrading people in a gallery. He doesn’t work to produce a new type of relationship, but rather re-affirms the old.  His work plays with our duel emotions of attraction and repulsion to human suffering and pushes the line of what is appropriate, thereby creating controversy which in turn leads to dialogue. However, it seems as though there could be a more productive, though perhaps less flashy or raw, way of doing this. Thomas Hirshhorn does exactly that when he builds his shacks in Turkish neighborhoods and encourages interaction, which is built on dignity and integrality rather than humiliation. By bringing in the works of philosophers he adds a new layer to the experience and the creation of meaning. However, I can see how this experience can also become somewhat banal or a cliché for faux community.

While reading about relational aesthetics, I kept thinking about the work of Christian Boltanksi. I don’t have much of an art background but I recently learned of Boltanski’s work through a documentary film. Boltanki works a lot with found photographs. In one of his projects, he takes archival photos of German children who were separated from their parents during WWII and passes it out to people at a train station in Germany without saying a word. I think this is particularly interesting if you compare this type of action to say a World War II memorial. This encourages an interaction with history that is a lot more relational and fluid.

I’ve included a link to the entire documentary but the part I referred to starts at 42:20 and goes until 46:15.

dori cohen

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