Relational Art: Apart, we are togethor

When thinking about the descriptions and criticisms of Relational Art, I thought about how art creates its own language and dialogue and Deleuze’s  interest in art as a different way of thinking about the world, and the process that both the artist and the artwork go through in becoming.  In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze states that, “Our criticism of these linguistic models is not that they are too abstract but, on the contrary, that they are not abstract enough, that they do not reach the abstract machine that connects a language to the semantic and pragmatic contents of statements, to collective assemblages of enunciation, to a whole micro politics of the social field. (Deleuze and Guattari, pp. 7, 141). Like language, art can reach higher levels of  abstraction (or multiplicities) and is one of the key criticisms that Bishop brings up when critiquing “relational practices” in art. This higher level of abstractedness can also be found in the theory of Jacques Ranciere’s essay titled “Aesthetic Separation, Aesthetic Community.”  The basis of the essay revolves around the quote from a poem “Separes, on est ensemble,” which he translates as “Apart, we are together” (The Emancipated Spectator, pp. 51). In theory, I think that all art has an open and political component to it, but the ability of the viewer to engage critically and reflect  is what I think Relational Art strives for, but as Claire Bishop theorizes, some of the artists lack.

Bishop criticized Tiravanija’s installation of cooking Pad Thai as being too literal, focusing on use over contemplation and eroding the idea of an aesthetic community as “apart, we are together.” She also critiqued his work and the relational artists that Bourriam refers to as lacking an aesthetics all together. But what is aesthetics? If we go by what Ranciere defines as aesthetics and an aesthetic community, and what I think Bishop is drawing her criticism from, aesthetics is a disconnection (i.e., a tension and antagonism). After doing some research I found that this was in fact the case, when I found an interview with Bishop titled “Socially Engaged Art: An interview with Claire Bishop” by Jennifer Roche. Although she states that she is sympathetic to the fact  that relational artists’  intentions to create community exist, she believes that some of the artists’ attempts at creating a community lack because although socially engaged, they do not create an aesthetic tension of “apart, we are together.” Ranciere states that “the paradoxical relationship between ‘apart, we are together’  is also a paradoxical relationship between the present and the future.” We create art today to reflect, and by doing so, we stand apart. And with the aesthetics of today we strive to create future communities together, tomorrow.

Here overt interactive participation is not needed to create a community, the idea being that communities are always forming, creating, and changing. But what about the spectator? In Dave Beech’s article “Include Me Out,” he states that Ranciere would argue that participation is socially divisive and always exclusionary but nature, because someone is always left out. This creates an exclusionary element resulting in “banal discourse,” as we have seen in Bishop’s article. Beech explains further that “(t)he participant here is generally powerless to question or critique the art or the art-concept, nor are they, in any real sense, a meaningful or true collaborator within the work. I question the motivations around art that acts as an alleviator in this way, for what purpose do we need to coexist and be interconnected and for whom?” You can read the article here.

In the documentary “Relational Art: Is it an ism?” Tiravanija describes his art  as a take on Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain,” a ready-made of a urinal in which Tiravanjia basically “takes the urinal and pisses in it, along with other people, hopefully.”  I think his statement reveals a lot about his intentions and thoughts about what a community is, and what an aesthetic community is. I mean, isn’t what we do everyday just basically taking the ready-made now and pissing in it? I am not saying that it is not art, I’m saying that it lacks multiplicities and the ability of the viewer to reflect and be critical of the present. I don’t really see a new way of thinking in this piece. I have to say though that in “Relational Art: is it an ism?”, it was revealed that in Untitled (Still), after the Pad Thai was eaten, the participants’ dirty dishes were put on display as a sculpture, adding a new layer of multiplicity to the work for me, but I think as someone mentioned in class (and I’m not sure if it was a reference to this work), it felt like “and then…he served pad Thai…and then…he created a sculpture out of dirty dishes…”

One Response to “Relational Art: Apart, we are togethor”

  1. Hello, i am currently writing my dissertation as part of my BA Drawing degree at Camberwell Arts College, London. I am investigating what ‘use’ and ‘contemplation’ mean and during my research came across the article in October magazine written by Claire Bishop. Your writing on the same article is very interesting and helps to clarify both those terms for me.

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