Monday, 16 January 2012

Relational Aesthetics

Relational Art or Relational Aesthetics is a mode or tendency in fine art practice originally observed and highlighted by French art critic Nicolas Bourriaud. Bourriaud defines relational art as ‘a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space.’1I feel that sharing a common emotion or experience when viewing a work of art is more important than not experiencing something similar to those around you.

I also feel that to experience something completely different to those around you perhaps either indicates a lack of understanding of the piece by the viewer or a lack of clarity of the piece by the artist during creation, this however could perhaps be intentional. Marcel Duchamp gave a talk2 that I feel challenges my belief in the artist alone participating in the creative act regardless of the role of the spectator, where as he recognised that in the chain of reactions accompanying the creative act, a link is missing. He believed that the spectator determined the weight of the work on the esthetic scale.

This gap which represents the inability of the artist to express fully his intention; this difference between what he intended to realize and did realize is the personal “art coefficient” contained in the work. In other words, the personal “art coefficient” is like an arithmetical relation between the unexpressed but intended and the unintentionally expressed. To avoid a misunderstanding, we must remember that this “art coefficient” is a personal expression of art “à l'état brut” that is, still in a raw state, which must be “refined” as pure sugar from molasses, by the spectator; the digit of the coefficient has no bearing whatsoever on his verdict.3

All art is participatory, regardless of whether or not it’s seen by anyone but the artist. By participatory, I mean that because the artist creates the work and without the artist there would be no work the artist has participated in the act of creation. The public or the audience of the piece don’t necessarily have to be in the presence of it if there is another way in which it exists, through documentation or a common knowledge. If you know about a work of art, if you’ve thought about it, if you’ve mentioned it, even if you’ve never seen it, it is still participatory. In order to form an opinion on something, to think or to speak about something, to prejudge something, that something has already become a part of you; you are therefore involved in the work, with or without visual proof.

1. Bourriaud, Nicolas, Relational Aesthetics (Dijon: Les Presses du Réel, 2002)
2. Duchamp, Marcel, from Session on the Creative Act, Convention of the American Federation of Arts, Houston, Texas, April 1957.
3. Duchamp, Marcel, 1887-1968 The essential writings of Marcel Duchamp (London : Thames and Hudson, 1975) 139.