Relational Aesthetics – Get Real/Get Tactical

I’m probably going to step on some toes with this post, but following our discussions on relational aesthetics, i feel completely underwhelmed by the entire ‘genre’ as it exists in our discussions and class examples. although, i guess it depends on what you expect relational art to accomplish. if it is to act as an agent in social or political change, then it seems as though there is much more failure to be had than success.

the examples that we viewed in class were either deluded by a warped sense of humility – a hasty, mid-afternoon swap of prince and pauper only to be reversed with the closing of gallery doors OR a sort of lukewarm intervention relegated to the sanctuary of a museum or gallery that leaves attendees scratching their heads.

these works are not disingenuous. they simply don’t carry weight because they lack urgency and momentum. they lack ‘real’ consequences.

enough with the half-baked relational aesthetics. if you’re going to do it, i would argue that the only way to do it effectively is to move past the so-called art world and into the real. if you’re going to make a spectacle, make one that not only hypnotizes society, but also fucks it up.

i’m sickened to say that the work of the Weatherman in the 1960s and even the attacks of September 11th are closer to ‘effective’ instances of ‘relational aesthetics’ at work than the examples we viewed in class.

for genuine and lasting consequences, people need their daily lives to be disrupted. the latest episode of “Idol” needs to be upstaged by a clip of something naughty and perverse. pedestrian traffic needs to be snarled by disruption. relational artists need to speak the language of relations in a way that we idiots of society can understand on our way to work or during our evenings of wine and television. it would be the ‘democratic’ thing to do, right?

– Matt Whitman

8 Responses to “Relational Aesthetics – Get Real/Get Tactical”

  1. immanentterrainsp11 Says:

    Okay, but what you’ve said here is not new. As I previously mentioned (in the post on the dilemma of avant-garde art), one can trace a line that leads from the Situationist International to terrorist cell groups in the seventies like the Red Army Faction and Autonomia Operaia. The question I would ask is: how is this art? Or are you saying that art should give way to politics/political action – or that they are the same thing? For Deleuze, art and politics are both necessary, but they are not interchangeable, and I agree with this: art is too important to be discarded in the name of “real” political action. I’m obviously not saying that there isn’t a time and place for the latter. But there is nothing wrong in my view with artists being artists or trying to find artistic solutions to political/social issues.


    • it is absolutely not new. Baudrillard, moreover, did a fantastic job in trying to understand terrorism as a sort of artist’s action in The Spirit of Terrorism. it doesn’t matter to me whether radical intervention is or isn’t art. if an artist is going to tackle serious, injurious social problems in their work and express political agency so clearly in their work, they could do their constituents and their patrons justice in giving participants a scar or a bruise to wear home rather than a present or a ‘new point ‘of view’. and i would argue, as the Situationists would, that this would be most effectively accomplished outside of an ‘art’ setting, where consequences appear to have greater meaning.


  2. immanentterrainsp11 Says:

    It is absolutely not new. Baudrillard did a fantastic job at trying to understand terrorism as a sort of artist action in The Spirit of Terrorism. It doesn’t matter to me whether or not radical intervention is or isn’t art. The lines have already – have always – been been blurred. I simply believe that if an artist is going to work with serious, injurious social problems and CLEARLY take up a political agency, they could do their constituents justice and their patrons a service by giving us a bruise or a scar to take home rather than a present. Otherwise, I believe that the work is masturbatory. This is why I try to stay away from political and social issues in my own practice. I prefer non-importance and self-indulgence.

  3. immanentterrainsp11 Says:

    “This is why I try to stay away from political and social issues in my own practice. I prefer non-importance and self-indulgence.”

    Perhaps this last sentence is where the problem lies? It seems that a real problem today with art is that it either avoids a social or political stance or it claims one without really challenging itself. Fredrick Jameson said that, ‘all art is inherently political, because it represents a lack. The process of creation is an attempt to fill this lack. Thus, so long as there is art, there must be something lacking in society.’ If this is true, I think it is interesting to then take into account how much “art” there seems to be these days. It’s everywhere, however, many or most of the artists seem to dodge the real issues, and think inside the box (of the canvas, the gallery) only making this situation more problematic. The public isn’t challenged, but increasingly the public can’t be challenged. Art has found it’s safe space in the gallery, and I think this is why it has become banal. What needs to happen today to Art is something along the lines of what happened to Rock in the 70’s when Punk happened.

    Stephanie Kauffman

    • immanentterrainsp11 Says:

      I would agree. If your criticism with the art of relational aesthetics is that it lacks urgency and true commitment to it’s causes, then by denouncing any political alignment would also result in a similar problem. I thought it was extremely insightful when, in her guest lecture, Huong pointed the difference between political are and artists who make art politically. Many of the projects erected that fall under the umbrella of relational aesthetics seem lazy and noncommittal, and to me that would be a result of the artist being content with making political art, but not being willing to make art politically.

      The political nature of art does not need to be in its content, but in its ability, as Stephanie quotes Jameson above, to “represent a lack”. In this way, it is not a satisfactory response to deny the presence of political or social influences, nor does it eliminate a responsibility by denying a political perspective. All art will contain politics because it art comes from a creator, and is interacted with in the world.

      The problem instead, is a refusal to allow ones own politics to become a art of the art. With the relational aestheticians who’s work lacks power, it seems to me that they have allowed their work to remain in the realm of political art in it’s content without allowing themselves the vulnerability of making art politically.


      • immanentterrainsp11 Says:

        So, then, what is the the difference between work that is created with political intention and work that is created and given political context by an audience? If the intent and interpretation oppose each other, whose voice will overpower the other?

        I think it depends upon which side of the process you are observing from.

        I understand your point about the political nature of the work existing in its ability or applicability, but who determines what that is? Is it up to the viewer to imagine and inject a role for the work in some political or social scenario? Maybe every appropriation of the work by a viewer would change the piece completely, rendering the artist irrelevant following the act of creation.


  4. immanentterrainsp11 Says:

    I don’t know, I think there is only a problem if your definition of ‘real’ is very rigidly defined. People exist in all sorts of spaces – cold and physical, societal, imaginary, or some liminal space in between. And various events (consequential ‘issues’) occur in all of these different spaces. Whether you or I see particular events in particular spaces as significant or important will always be debatable and thus the sustainability of ‘art-making’.


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