Bourriard’s Relational Aesthetics and Carsten Holler & Jennifer Rubell

The concept of relational aesthetics at initial glance is one of promise. The optimistic claims that Nicholas Bourriard makes for the form are logical on a superficial level. Art is now able to break free from the restrictive conventions of the “white cube” or heavily contrived formal gallery atmosphere. Art is now allowed to “break the fourth wall” and to interact with its patrons. It no longer is for passive consumption and contemplation, but rather it is transformed to an active participatory experience.

As the form reached near ubiquity in the 90’s, its power diminshed. The promise the form held was overcome by child-like meaningless fun. The conversations and relationships that these environments were supposed to foster were filled with mundane chatter. They lacked the intellectual content that seemed to be at the heart of the form. As we saw in the short video on the Tirivanija piece, the most memorable part of the experience was the quality of the food that they had consumed. I highly doubt this was Tirivanija’s intent when he originally held the piece in 1992. Now that the MoMA has acquired the rights to the work it has just become a commodity like every other piece of art. There is nothing subversive or challenging about it. It has become a a playground for the privileged.

Recent examples that reinforce the failure of the potentially subversive form are Carsten Holler’s Experience at the New Museum and Jennifer Rubell’s Incubation at the Rubell Family Collection in Miami. Each artist claimed to be manipulating the viewer or consumer’s notion of time and space. Perhaps the artist’s were successful in accomplishing this feat, but to what avail? To discuss how much fun it was to go down a slide in a gallery? How delicious the yogurt was that they eagerly waited to eat?

I doubt that Deleuze would be satisfied with the conversation that filled each gallery space. The most memorable part of the Holler exhibit was the immense line up one had to wait in to get in. Or the endless paperwork that had to be completed to waive the museum’s liability if an accident should have ensued. The timing of the Rubell installation was certainly notable. It was staged during Art Basel Miami Beach. This is approximately a week long period where Miami becomes flooded with the the world’s most affluent collectors. These collectors and their friends were those who partook in Rubell’s breakfast installation. Any other time of year, Miami’s design district is located in rather dismal neighbourhood, nearly Hirschhornian . It would have been interesting if it was held in say, July, when all the privileged collectors and snowbirds had fled. If she had invited the under privileged youth that populate the surrounding area as well as the locals that are shopping at Fendi down the street. Conversations might  not have solely consisted of which hotel one was staying at during the fair or which exclusive party they attended the previous night.

Links to the referenced art
Cartsen Holler
Jennifer Rubell

Rubell’s work as a whole is a great example of the fluffy relational aesthetics that Bishop is attacking. The image on her homepage is a wax reproduction of Prince William with an exact replica of Kate Middleton’s engagement ring attached to his sleeve. Rubell is posing with the figure.  The viewer/participant is encouraged to step on the pedestal and place their finger through the ring. On the walls of the gallery, there are a collection of Rubell’s recurring series of drinking paintings, that dispensed a variety of alcohol associated with the British monarchy. Rubell’s idea was now that every girl could experience an “engagement to prince charming”. If that is not a statement in conformity, I don’t know what is. Combined with the consumption of expensive alcohol in a white cube gallery setting, this is an execution of traditional practices reinforced by a new relational aesthetic form.


Kyle Beechey

6 Responses to “Bourriard’s Relational Aesthetics and Carsten Holler & Jennifer Rubell”

  1. Kyle,
    It’s hard to disagree with your general point here, but I also think that it’s pretty much a given that much of contemporary art will be superficial or market-driven, etc. It seems to me the real challenge is to search out the art and artists who don’t fall into these categories or who resist them as much as is possible (and in their own singular way). This has always been part of the appeal of Deleuze for me. While as capable as anyone at delivering a withering blow (not afraid to call something stupid when it is deserving of such an appellation), his focus is not placed on the negative, the derivative or the banal, so much as the exceptions to this rule. The exceptions are few and far between but it is the exceptions that make it all worthwhile. It is the exceptions that should be our ultimate focus – and our own working ideal.


  2. This reminds me of something I saw at MoMA once: a wall placard that was part of a show about the Fluxus movement read, “One of the goals of Fluxus was to create an anti-art to bypass the gallery and museum system.” Standing there reading that inside MoMA’s hallowed halls, I couldn’t help but wonder: does that mean they failed?

  3. Piril Gunduz Says:

    I don’t think it is helpful to try to assess the ‘success’ of the Fluxus movement, while wandering among MoMA’s hallowed halls; the only thing the wall placard would make me think might be that institutions such as MoMA began to be more self-reflexive. Rather, in order to assess whether Fluxus failed or not, I would look into newer modes of art that are being referred as “new genre public art”, “site specific art” or “socially engaged art.” Because these art interventions or art projects, whatever you call them, are challenging the conventional definitions of art, the vocabulary for them is still evolving, but they have some common characteristics such as fostering civic engagement and the use of the public sphere as opposed to the white cube system, blurring of the spectator/performer binary, challenging the commodity fetishism of the art market and so on. It’s only been 50 years since the beginning of the Fluxus movement and since then, it has been the precursor to many artistic projects. The reasons why today, institutions like MoMA might seem to be more powerful than ever may lie elsewhere such as the cultural inertia or the inclination to romanticize about art and the auteur… In my opinion, Fluxus artists ‘hacked’ the gallery and museum system, creating a new terrain for other possibilities of artistic production.


    • The kind of operations here presented and labelled as Relational Aesthetics are, as stated, less a freeing of art to address something outside of itself and more an striation of this “outside” by art, as essentially another face of Capitalism.

      I have had conversations on this recently with a couple of people. One proposed that there was a commonality between Occupy and artists putting on their own exhibitions in warehouses, living rooms and fields. I would argue that if there is a surface commonality of form this is countered by the fact that these artists, whether intentionally and directly or otherwise, are simply trying to break new ground for Capitalism. Just as “pop-up shops” are as common a promotional activity for business as are “flash mobs” for publicity purposes. Détournement rapidly becomes yet another resources for he side it is supposed to oppose.

      I don’t want to be all doom and gloom about it though, as someone rightly said, this isn’t the mode of D&G at all. There are machines that are functioning in the field of potential that Relational Aesthetics hints at. The best example I can think of right now is On the surface this might seem like yet another non-committal construction of a situation to be marvelled at, not least as it is at least sometimes, publicly funded. However I think there are two distinct differences, one is quite clearly that THBTP are not only engaging in dialogue with people and creating a space for dialogue between others in a setting which directs their attention away from the spectacle of art, but they ARE obviously people with their own agenda. This is not simply a “one might say” or “what if” scenario which hides the author’s position behind a blank and changing pseudo-neutrality. Secondly, THBTP is not positioned as “art” even though it is support by such a body and frequently engages in such contexts. The “art” which I am referring to here is the established cultural/mental architecture (perversely, Capitalism owns this art completely. Regardless of your political position regarding art as a commodity, this commodification essentially stifles or strangles the “thing’s” ability to be anything other than various flavours of value. The system it constructs for us to encounter art, robs us of this very encounter replacing it with layers of endless layers of signs with the occasional false-bottom which makes us think we have reached the reality).

      THBTP is much more of a formless operation (what is being done aside from people getting hair cuts? all kinds of things, all kinds of conversations, all kinds of actions, “performance” or “activism” are far too narrow definitions) than that, it isn’t devoting anywhere near enough effort to self-promotion (as entity and for the careers of the individuals which make it up).

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  5. ハロー。自分は今月で35歳と3カ月になります。そして夏日が多い日になりました。ですからすぐにでもいらない毛はしたいですよね。今では、全国に脱毛サロンがめちゃくちゃあります。やりたいところは、人それぞれですが、特に脱毛したいのはワキです。私は、人気店のシースリーで脱毛しています。そのおかげで、だんだんとムダ毛がなくなっています。やはり一人で処理するのとは、比べようもないです。もう少しシースリーに通ってムダ毛をなくしたいです。でも、脱毛クリニックに通ったとしても知っておきたいのは脱毛にかかる金額です。それについては、従業員に聞けばいいでしょう。他にも気になるのが、いつまで通わないといけないのかです。私はできれば、9カ月くらいですべて終わってくれると嬉しいです。まあ、行こうと思っている人は相談してみましょう。

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