You are on page 1of 25

Julia Svetlichnaja

Relational Paradise as a Delusional Democracy - a Critical Response to a Temporary Contemporary Relational Aesthetics

Paper prepared for the Art and Politics panel, BISA Conference, December 19-21, 2005, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland.

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

In attempt to theorise artistic practices of the 90’s trend towards interaction and interpersonal connection, French art critic and co-director of Palais de Tokyo in Paris Nicholas Bourriaud has devised the term “Relational Aesthetics” 1 , which soon became known as the most serious recent theoretical attempt to define the position of art in relation to capitalist society. Bourriaud’s book, Relational Aesthetics was the product of the on-going debate within the artistic circle that the author worked with, and it concentrated mostly on the works of European and French artists in particular. Recently, for its political implications and, specifically, for its claim that relational art has democratic potentials, Relational Aesthetics has overcome its geographic boundaries and it come to internationally renewed attention. Referring to the generation of artists that populated the 90s, Bourriaud claims that the most striking feature of their works is “first and foremost, the democratic concern that informs it”. 2 In Bourriaud’s view, art is a form of information and communication flows between audiences, and from this standpoint, the role of the artist is to facilitate and enhance this exchange, which will lead to the emergence of the powerful networks in art. Analysed in Relational Aesthetics artworks were more concerned by the relations with or between the spectators, than with the form of the work itself. Bourriaud argued that works such as cooking a soup for the viewers, creating environments for a genial talk, or directly chatting with the audience serve as alternative modes of sociability; less standardised and more liberating. In other words, intra- audience encounters catalysed within a relational art paradigm offer, in contrast with the capitalist system of exchange, affective resonances and revived social connection, which directly contribute to society’s democratisation. The purpose of this paper is to present Bourriaud’s theory of Relational Aesthetics and examine its alleged democratic potentials. Does Relational Art, which core notions is to “inhabit the world in a better way” by producing inter-subjectivities and thus humanise capitalism, contribute to more democratic society and if yes, what kind of democracy does it foster?

What is Relational Art?

Nicolas Bourriaud defines Relational Aesthetics as “aesthetic theory consisting of judging artworks on the basis of the inter-human relations they represent, produce or prompt”. Bourriaud insists that

1 Nicolas Bourriaud, French art critic, curator of Palais de Tokyo contemporary art centre in Paris. Bourriaud coined the term "Relational Aesthetics", which he outlined in a next for the catalogue of the exhibition "Traffic" shown at the CAPC Bordeaux in 1996

2 Bourriaud, Nicolas, Relational Aesthetics, Les presses du reel, 2002: 57

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

Relational Aesthetics is a theory of form rather than a theory of art as it does not imply the statement of an origin and a destination. For instance, the goal of avant-garde movement was to revolutionise society by means of braking away from a conformism and tradition, interrupting the sense of continuous development in the arts by its transgressions against anything established as

a given, and, of course, avant-garde has deeply concentrated on the object not as it is but as it is

for us. While avant-garde artist valued private subjectivity and an original, unique and final product of it whether it is a painting or a sculpture, relational artist values the process over the final object and common space where subjectivity is produced rather than a private one. However, what is precisely meant by the process? Let me give you an example. New York based artist of Thai origin Rikrit Tiravanija 3 cooks Thai curries for the gallery’s visitors and leaves the leftovers and used food packets in the gallery when he is not there. Bourriaud explains that artistic work such as Rikrit Tiravanija’s should not be perceived in terms of a space or objects involved but rather as duration or a process to be experienced. In other words, the performative and engaging feature of the work

is far more important than either objects to be viewed in space or the space itself. In this way it is

problematic to define exactly what form relational art consist on as it is completely indebted to the

contingencies of audiences and sites. What Bourriaud percives as a ‘form’ is nothing more but a ‘coherent plane’ on which heterogeneous entities meet. This ‘form’ therefore must be flexible, open to dialogue and exchange. Bourriaud argues that this ‘relative immateriality’ is a sign of a priority given by artists to time in relation to space. “They [artists] display and explore the process that leads to objects and meanings” 4 , writes Bourriaud. While it is ambiguous what form relational art consist on, it is more problematic to address what possible meanings it might lead too. Answering this question, Bourriaud quotes Tiravanija, who, in turn, quotes Wittgenstein: “Don’t look for the meaning, look for the use.” While Wittgenstein emphasized the role of the context in defining the content, Bourriaud implements this standpoint rather literally. For Bourriaud the politics of use imply the elusiveness of the content itself, which, in his words, “may be inserted into different programs and used for multiple scenarios”. 5 In this way, the politics of use serve as rather anti-

3 Of Rikrit Tiravanija's art could be said that it is very typical for the type of contemporary expression that emerged in the mid-1990ies that is sometimes referred to as "relational aesthetics", a term invented by French art critic Nicolas Bourriaud, or simply "social art". Tiravanija's art is indeed highly social and often dependent on the visitors input to function and come alive. Tiravanija, who was born in Buenos Aires in 1961 but has lived most of his life in the New York is of Thai origin and in his early works he often used the skills he learnt from his mother, who was a cook, to prepare Thai meals for the visitors, works which in a sense became a type of low-key interactive performances including all involved to socially engage in everyday tasks. His installations often takes the form of stages or rooms for sharing meals, cooking, reading, playing music or even living and they can be seen as open-ended social experiments in which the artist as much as the public is testing the borders of the work.

4 Bourriaud, Nicolas, Relational Aesthetics, Les presses du reel, 2002: 54

5 Ibid: 19-20

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

Wittgenstein standpoint as it proclaims the power of content over context. Bourriaud writes, “The artwork is no longer an end point but a simple moment in an infinite chain of contributions”. 6 In other words, there is no finite space or a context but rather an endless succession of actions, which Bourraud calls ‘space-time elements’. The next logical question to ask is who actually contributes to this chain of meaning-via-use, how and why?

Temporal Collectives by means of Free Association

Relational art sets up situations in which audiences form temporal communities, “a momentary grouping of participating viewers”, as Bourriaud puts it. That is to say that ‘temporary collective’ constructed during the process of performance contributes to the establishment of a meaning. To make this point clearer, Bourriaud gives an example. Jens Haaning broadcasts amusing stories in Turkish through a loudspeaker in the middle of Copenhagen. This produces a sense of community among immigrants, upset by collective laughter at their exile situation. Thus, relational art creates a micro-community, a group of individuals who advocate their response to the exile situation and this is a meaning of the work. Bourriaud writes, “It is in this sense [momentary community] that we can talk of a community effect in contemporary art”. 7 However, what happens to this collective after performance ends? Furthermore, how one can verify the formation of some kind of grouping, even though momentary, in the first place? I am amongst the ranks of those that reject the notion of community and the collective 8 when it comes to acts of interpretation or perception. The transition from purely formal perception to subject matter or meaning is an open-ended and complex process, which deals with multiple codes that govern the collective consciousness. When the viewer attends an artistic event, he or she is not necessarily open to embrace in free floating meaning creation. In his “Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste” 9 , Pierre

6 Bourriaud, Nicolas, Postproduction, Lukas & Sternberg, New York, 2005: 20

7 Bourriaud, Nicolas, Relational Aesthetics, Les presses du reel, 2002: 61 8 It also must be said that we have seen truly disheartening agendas produced in the name of collectivity. Walter Benjamin criticised modernism on the basis that “painting simply is in no position to present an object for simultaneous collective experience”. He assumed that this ‘simultaneous collective experience’ is an unqualified good, and under the impact of Bolshevism in general and Brecht’s theatre in particular this may well have seemed so. However, would such a belief qualify to survive Hitlerism, Stalinism and Maoism? Benjamin, Walter, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” [1936] in Illuminations, New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1968: 236

9 Bourdieu, Pierre, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

Bourdieu points out that joining museums, contributing to exhibitions, serving on boards of directors is a means for acquiring ‘symbolic capital’ and therefore gaining stature in a social group. Bourriaud, however, denounces Bourdieu’s understanding as outdated. For him, the aura of artworks has long ago shifted towards their public: “The public is taken into account more and more”. 10 This is because the audiences nowadays not just getting together but doing things together. However, how legitimate is Bourriaud’s claim of increasing ‘publicness’ of the audiences? Rosalyn Deutsche has repeatedly called to distinguish between ‘public’ and an ‘audience’. In her view, gathering together and doing things together does not contribute to the creation of a public. In her seminar “Making Public” at Tate Modern in London (March 2005) she stated that “audience is a consumer while public is always a debating public. It comes into existence through a feedback on the work and the contest of the audiences between themselves” 11 . Moreover, the role of the artist is to provoke the debate, that is to say, to initiate the ‘publicness’. In Deutsche’s view, an artist never deals with the public; it deals with audiences, who, in turn, can be transformed into the public. Deutsche also points out that what characterises the public and public spaces are gaps and discontinuities rather than an ongoing dialogue. It seems that Bourriaud does not have much of a problem with making generalisations about the body in a public space, for him audiences are the public, although, he admits its illusive nature. Addressing this problem, Bourriaud writes, “The artists seek interlocutors: since the public remains a rather unreal entity, they include the interlocutor in the production process”. 12 However, who exactly are these interlocutors? They are a limited circle of artists and curators who direct the process of meaning construction in one way or another. Thus, it can be said that Bourriaud’s view that ‘micro-communities’ or publics contribute to the creation of the meaning is highly problematic since the very conception of a public is not a self- evident. Rather, it depends thoroughly on an artist as he or she, as Rosalyn Deutsche states, “is responsible for developing an experience of being public”. I will come back to this point later on in this paper but in the meantime, let us now turn to the second question of how, in which ways audiences actually participate in the process of meaning creation?

Bourriaud explains, “by means of free association” 13 because no meaning is imposed on the viewer via objects or sites but, rather, the aura is created by accidental connection between the situation

10 Bourriaud, Nicolas, Relational Aesthetics, Les presses du reel, 2002: 61

11

Deutsche,

Rosalyn,

“Making

Public”

seminar,

Tate

Modern,

London,

March

2005,

http://www.tate.org.uk/onlineevents/

12 Bourriaud, Nicolas, Relational Aesthetics, Les presses du reel, 2002

13 Ibid: 61

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

and the participants, - this aura is one of random subjectivity. Bourriaud claims that, according to Felix Guattari’s theory, subjectivity is the network of relations between the individuals and other models of subjectivity, which construction process proceed wherever the social prevails. Hence, subjectivity is random as it splits, connects, re-connects and re-distributes; it never is subsumed under a homogenic self. 14 Bourriaud connects random subjectivity with ‘random materialism’.

He explains that philosophical tradition which underpins relational aesthetics was defined by Louis Althusser as a ‘materialism of encounter’ or random materialism: “This particular materialism takes as its point of departure the world contingency, which has no pre-existing origin or sense, nor Reason, which might allot it a purpose”. 15 Here Bourriaud comes to the central argument, which, in his view, radically divorce Relational Aesthetics from any previous artistic movements.

Departing from the theory of ‘random materialism’, Bourriaud declares that “The essence of humankind is purely trans-individual, made up of bonds that link individuals together in social forms which are invariably historical”. 16 In this way, the essence of art is to offer a situation in which human relations could be catalysed and thus produce affective resonances and social connection. Although art, no doubt, has always been relational - meaning that the ultimate art’s goal was to

communicate ideas to the world - it did not take its theoretical h

interactions. This radically new grounding, argues Bourriaud, reflects society’s overall shift from a traditional, more real form of human interaction to a virtual mode of Global Capitalist Society, which turns social bond into a standardised artefact or, to put it simply, mechanises human relations. “Automatic public toilets”, writes Bourriaud, “were invented to keep streets clean, the same spirit underpins the development of communications tools…” 17 In other words; Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics stand for more human, less mechanised relations, “a culture of friendship” 18 , as he puts it. While human relations in communication society are simplified to the forms of capitalist exchange, Relational Aesthetics stand for emancipation of human exchanges. In Bourriaud’s view, the real challenges of contemporary art lies within “the freeing up of inter-human communications”

zon from the realm of human

ori
ori

14 Bourriaud describes the programmatic Guattari’s construction of the "Three Ecologies" (mental, environmental, social) under an aesthetic paradigm, art being the model for thought by its ability to create possibilities without referring to the given order

15 Ibid: 18

16 Ibid

17 Bourriaud, Nicolas, Relational Aesthetics, Les presses du reel, 2002:16

18 Ibid:32

19 Ibid: 60

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

since, according to Bourriaud, the emancipation of individuals in our post-industrial society is no longer an issue. The first questions that Bourriaud prompts audiences to ask when looking at a work of art are: “Does it give me a chance to exist in front of it, or, on the contrary, does it deny me as a subject, refusing to consider the Other in its structure?” 20 This question, Bourriaud claims, does not refer to anthropomorphic vision of art but to a simply human vision and forms.

New Types of Human Relations in a Shared World

First, does such thing as a typically human form exist in nature? Our perception creates forms according to the aesthetics standards and patterns of the times. Second, how legitimate is Bourriaud’s claim of ‘simply human vision’? Unpacking Bourriaud’s models of human relations created via audiences encounter with art, it becomes clear that his vision of human affairs is limited to a combination of social practices which do not produce any adversity. Rikrit Tiravanija invited the homeless to come in and eat his soup during the artist’s New York show in 1993. This artistic

performance persuades public to accept gifts. 21

Felix Gonzalez-Torres encourages members of the

audience to try a sweet from the artist’s pile of sweets work. This is supposed to communicate the

sense of responsibility to the visitors, as taking all the sweets would eventually destroy his artistic

Alix Lambert gets married to four different people in six months and subsequentlytaking all the sweets would eventually destroy his artistic divorces them all. In this way the

divorces them all. In this way the artist undermines the institute of marriage. All these examples refer to rather weak modes of human interaction such as loving, sharing, conviviality and

friendliness, which Bourriaud takes as a platform for social bond. There are, however,

. In his Civilisation and Its Discontents,

points out a hostile nature of mankind, who “are not gentle creatures who want to be loved…are, however, . In his Civilisation and Its Discontents , they are, on the contrary, creatures

they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness”. 22 However, Bourriaud insists that hostility and conflict belong to the past. He grounds this claim in the presence of new historical conditions according to which “the imaginary of our day and age is concerned with negotiations, bonds and co-existences”. 23 In Bourriaud’s view, we are no longer communicating by means of conflict and via invention of new assemblages because “[n]obody nowadays has ideas about ushering in the golden age on Earth,

stronger
stronger

ways of relating such as aggression, fear, hate or racism

20 Ibid: 56

21 “This immediate generosity might be linked to the Thai culture in which Buddhist monks do not work but are encouraged to accept people’s gifts”, suggests Nicolas Bourriaud in Postproduction, Lukas & Sternberg, New York, 2005: 49

22 Freud is quoted by Chantal Mouffe, On the Political, Routledge, London and New York, 2005: 25

23 Bourriaud, Nicolas, Relational Aesthetics, Les presses du reel, 2002: 46

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

and we are readily prepared just to create various forms of modus vivendi permitting fairer social relations, more compact ways of living, and many different combinations of fertile existence”. 24 This

means negating the existence of antagonism, in fact

in his view hostility and conflict belong to the

past and subsequently, an artwork reflects this condition by proposing to exist in a shared world,

which gives everybody their chance to be a part of it

.

What Turn in Art History?

The idea of an art made from the social, from people participating in social interactions, descends from the Dadaists, revolutionaries, and utopians, infusing various strands of art-making in the 50’s and 60’s including John Cage’s Black Mountain events, Alan Kaprow’s happenings, Fluxus, Gutai,

the Situationist International (SI), conceptual, body and performance art, and the work of

.” Joseph Beuys defined “social

sculpture” as “how we mould and shape the world in which we live.” It is in this context that he

made his famous statement that

revolutionary, in which every human being would be participating in ‘the total artwork of the future social order’ which he imagined as a ‘free democratic socialism’. The main difference that Bourriaud points out in attempt to distance Relational Art from any previous artistic movements is

that

dream of social change by means of utopian visionary has lost its actuality, and what is central to society’s functioning are the conditions of the present rather than the future’s possibilities. While people just try to inhabit the world in a more suitable way, “[a]rt, likewise, is no longer seeking to represent utopias; rather, it is attempting to construct concrete spaces” 25 , declares Bourriaud. While Fluxus, SI believed that society can and should learn from artists to instigate permanent change, Bourriaud envisages art as temporary and only relevant to the art world solution where people can have a glimpse of freedom and relief.

. In Bourriaud’s view, the

. He envisioned an art that was literally

Joseph
Joseph
Beuys
Beuys

, who crowned the swell by coining the term “

social sculpture

‘everyone is an artist’

instead of projecting utopian ideas, artists seek temporal solutions

Bourriaud also claims that unique role of Relational Aesthetics consists of updating and reconciling Situationism 26 with the art world of today. The aim of the Situationist International movement (SI,

24 Ibid

25 Ibid

26 The Situationist International (SI), an international political and artistic movement, originated in the Italian village of Cosio d'Arroscia on 28 July 1957. The Situationists would argue against any separation between a "false" spectacle and

a "true" daily life. The movement’s leader, Guy Debord reverses Hegel by arguing that within the spectacle, "the true is

a moment of the false". The spectacle is not a conspiracy. The Situationists would argue that society reaches the level of

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

1957-1972), anarchist who saw themselves as Marxists with populist ideological foundations, was to intervene directly in everyday life, creating situations that confuse both: a spectator’s and an artist’s ability to define reality. The SI, led by artist and theorist Guy Debord, offered a sustained critique of many forms of domination including the capitalist forms of exchange. Bourriaud, however, insists that Debord is wrong identifying inter-human exchanges as the capitalist forms of encounter. Instead of an opposition between art and everyday life, Bourriaud portray art as a ‘social interstice’, the term he borrows from Marx who used it to describe exchange spaces that elude the capitalist economic context (barter, autarkic type of production are Bourriaud’s examples). Thus, claims Bourriaud, Relational Art is exactly this ‘social interstice’, which he describes as “a space in human relations which fits more or less harmoniously and openly into the overall system, but suggests other trading possibilities”. 27 For instance, Bourriaud perceives Tiravanija’s work as generous offering, which provides an alternative logic to commodity fetishism. However, in his “The Fetishism of Commodities”, Marx points out that exchange value is bound up with use value. The use value is precisely what makes “…[s]ocial relation between men” to assume “…the fantastic form of relation between things”. 28 In other words, relations between people themselves become objectified and thinglike. Developing Marx’s point, Jean Baudrillard declared use value to be itself a fetish. He argued that the fetish was above all a “fabrication, an artefact, a labor of appearances” substituting the “manipulation of forces for the manipulation of signs”. 29 Economics therefore fell under the purview of semiotics. The production, exchange and consumption was no longer a science of abstract values measured as price, but had become a signifying practice no more rational or stable than art. To concentrate, as Bourriaud does, on the use value rather than exchange value is to render to the fabric of hegemony rather than being critical of it. Janet Kraynak 30 has repeatedly criticised the use orientation of Bourriaud’s theory. In her view, Tiravanija’s work embraces the shift in the new globalised economy from the production and exchange of material objects to that of equally alienating ‘symbolic capital’, which reveals the increased homogenisation of cultures as they enter the new symbolic order of global capitalism. While participatory artistic practices of the 60s could still dream of a de-commodified reality,

Relational Art in the 1990s celebrated an embrace rather than a rejection of the museum as well as

the spectacle when nearly all aspects of culture and experience have become mediated by capitalist social relation. This concept of modern life being a step removed from reality shares common ground with Jean Baudrillard's ideas of Hyperreality, which examines societies that replace real experience with spectacle

27 Bourriaud, Nicolas, Relational Aesthetics, Les presses du reel, 2002: 16

28 Marx, Karl, “The Fetishism of Commodities” (1867) in Capital, Volume 1, London: Dent, 1974: 77

29 Baudrillard, Jean, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, Saint Louis: Telos, 1981

30 Janet Kraynak, “Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Liability”, Documents # 13, 26-40

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

a

return to traditional modes of authorship because the presence of the author is always a

necessary aspect of Relational Aesthetics.

Thus, Relational Art rather betrays than updates

Situationists who valued precise intervention in human affairs, which they perceived as intrinsically based on logic of use and exchange. Nicolas Bourriaud also incorrect when he states that “the relational sphere… is to art today what mass production was to pop art and minimalism” 31 Andy Warhol’s relationship with the object was the crux of the matter. Baudrillard writes, “He is someone who, with utter cynicism and agnosticism, brought about a manipulation, a transfusion of the image into reality, into the absent referent of star-making banality”. 32 In some way Warhol freed us from aesthetics via his mechanical snobbism, he introduced nothingness into the heart of the image. Pop art and minimalism critically engaged with the world of consumer by producing objects manifested by irony, distance and banality, while Relational Art celebrates freedom from objects as

sufficient grounds for producing and enhancing positive human relations.

Relational Art has

managed to demystify ‘objects’ only to mystify more the figure of the artist-curator

.

Modern art’s autonomous and specialist status was treated as a hindrance to be overcome; art should not be limited to its own small sphere, it should revolutionize society. The ultimate aim of Dada, Surrealism and the ‘historical avant-garde’ in general had been to integrate art into the Lebenswelt, into society and everyday life. What Relational Art attempts to do is to integrate everyday life into art. Bourriaud confirms this by saying “The subversive and critical function of contemporary art is now achieved in the invention of individual and collective vanishing lines”. 33

Relational Paradise as Dialogic Democracy

Bourriad’s call for blurring individual and collective might seem paradoxical when art value, as argued by Bourdieu, precisely derives from the play between private subjectivity and social reality. However, Bourriaud’s understanding of subjectivity, grounded as we have already said earlier in Guattari’s theory, corresponds to the network of relations. We can understand Bourriaud's conception of the self as a constant networking activity, which purpose is to create a constellation

of

local and temporary encounters, called subjectivity. The self of the artist is particularly adapted

to

this activity and therefore is able to organise possible places and times for others to encounter

together. This gives others more opportunity to distribute their selves, thus producing mutual

31 Bourriaud, Nicolas, Relational Aesthetics, Les presses du reel, 2002: 24

32 Baudrillard, Jean, The Conspiracy of Art, Semiotext(e), New York, 2005: 44

33 Bourriaud, Nicolas, Relational Aesthetics, Les presses du reel, 2002: 31

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

common subjectivity as a trajectory through the society. Hence, subjectivity here is understood as inter-human relations. The value of a relation is central to Bourriaud’s understanding of critical functions of contemporary art. He claims that while our society is badly affected by capitalist relations of exchange (mechanisation of human affairs), Relational Art offers “genuine relationships with the world” based on ongoing dialogue and openness. This conception resembles Anthony Giddens’ understanding of democracy as ‘pure relationship’, “i.e. a relationship into which one enters and remains for its own sake because of the rewards that associating with others brings”. 34 Relational art, where collaboration and communication regarded as a good in itself and ‘people meeting people’, in Tiravanija's words, as an end in itself, is a perfect visualisation of Giddens’ dialogical democracy. Giddens writes, “Globalisation, reflexivity and de-traditionalisation creates ‘dialogical spaces’ that must in some way be filled. These are spaces which can be engaged dialogically, invoking mechanisms of active trust…” 35 Although, these spaces described by Giddens as ‘dialogical’ is, in fact, spaces of void, exclusion and resistance to the very globalisation and reflexivity, Relational Aesthetics is exactly what can turn these gaps into a ‘dialogical’ space by providing everyone (marginalised and excluded) with tools to adopt to the current situation by promoting flexibility, connectivity, adaptability, fluidity, responsibility and, of course, trust. Let me

give you an example. In 1991 Michael Clegg and Martin Guttmann have installed

Open Public

Library, - "A library without librarians and without surveillance, the stock of which is determined by

the users themselves through a system of exchange, according to which every borrowed book is to

be replaced by another chosen at will by the user”.

36

This project, which supposed to invoke trust

and responsibility as self-definition of a community, was described by authors as “an experiment

with a radically democratic institution”

37

. The political dimension of this ‘experimental arrangement’

is found in the challenge of self-determined collective action, although the absence of rules and

Despite

about

its future as it takes

Aesthetics convinced that ‘

belong to the past, and in the meantime all we have to do is, according to Bourriaud, “inhabit the world in a more suitable way”.

’ will eventually win because hostility and conflict

. Again, akin to Gidden’s approach, supporters of Relational

the fact that Open Public Library has repeteadly became vandalised,

regulations cannot be found anywhere in an institutionally administered repressive society.

time
time

to build

trust
trust

forces of progress

authors
authors

are

optimistic
optimistic

34 On the Political, Routledge, London and New York, 2005: 47

35 Giddens quoted by Mouffe, Chantal, On the Political, Routledge, London and New York, 2005: 47

36 Clegg & Guttmann, The Open Public Library, Distributed Art Pub Inc, 1995: 120

37 Ibid

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

Thus, relational artists provide the viewer with an operational concept of art as a producer of a better society, by means of building experimental social grounds where renewed relationships can be imagined. Relational Aesthetics is a good art which is prepared to improve a bad world and it has all necessary elements to humanise capitalism such as principles of openness and dialogue, responsibility and trust, participation, fluidity and temporality, - creation of micro-utopias, which fit entirely into Gidden’s vision of democracy. This, however, is not the only one understanding of democracy.

Agonistic Democracy

Rosalyn Deutsche states that “"[h]owever much the democratic public sphere promises openness and accessibility, it can never be a fully inclusive or fully constituted political community. … Conflict, division, and instability, then, do not ruin the democratic public sphere; they are the conditions of its existence.” 38 Deutsche takes this bearing from Chantal Mouffe, who repeatedly argued that antagonistc dimension of the social is the very condition for its existence. Every society is the the temporary and unstable articulation of contingent practices, which cover their political construction as if they were self-founded. Chantal Mouffe writes, “Things could always be otherwise and therefore every order is predicated on the exclusion of other possibilities. It is in that sense that it can be called “political” since it is the expression of a particular structure of power relations”. 39 As the very existence of this social order implies exclusion, it is impossible to overcome we/them distinction and reach a final consensus. Mouffe states, “What is crucial in the hegemonic struggle is to be able to think in a political way and this requires relinquishing a lot of illusions, for instance the idea that there is a necessary direction to history, which would lead to a final reconciliation, or the idea that we could reach a stage beyond politics, where antagonism would be eliminated and a perfect democracy realised.” 40 While a perfect democracy is simply unforseebale, the aim of democratic politics consists in transformation of the existing power relations and susequently establishing a new hegemony. In “On the Political”, Chantal Mouffe points out inability of ‘centre-left’ to grasp the impossibility of overcoming dialectical opposition which drives the social. While “[a] democratic society requires a debate about possible alternatives and it must privide political forms of collective identivications around clearly differentiated

38 Rosalyn Deutsche, Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics, Cambridge, London, The MIT Press, 1996: 329 39 Mouffe, Chantal, The Public in Question: What is at Stake? 40 Mouffe, Chantal, “Which Democracy in a Post-Political Age”, available on line at

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

democratic positions” 41 , what we are witnessing now is an unchallenged triumph of neo-liberalism offering no alternatives. Capitalist modes of relations and, as a consequence globalisation and deepening individualisation are taken for granted. Therefore, all we have to do is to discuss and

negotiate, presvade others to share this vision and if they refuse to do so, cast them as the ‘enemy

is not an exchange of opinions” where ‘right’ and

‘wrong’ are established, “but a contest for power”, which implies thinking in terms of ‘left’ and ‘right’. She states that “[t]he fundamental difference between the ‘dialogical’ and the ‘agonistic’ (realtions between adversaries but not enemies) perspectives (of democracy) is that the aim of the latter is a profound transformation of the existing power relations and the establishment of a new hegemony”. 42 In this way, the question of democratic potentials of Relational Aesthetics could be posed in different terms: in which ways if any Relational Art participate or resist the dominant social order. Does it address we/them opposition agonistically? Does it accept dialectical opposition as the very basis of society and therefore revaluate and re-work art’s tactics so that the oppositional tension is sustained and not removed?

of democracy’. Mouffe warns that “politics

Critique

The purpose of Bourriaud’s theory is to address how can we sustain or resist the current capitalism with cultural practices. In his view, there are two main features that characterised Relational Art’s struggle with the dominant social order: immateriality and establishing a relation. Bourriaud writes, “The contemporary artwork’s form is spreading out from its material form: it is a linking element, a principle of dynamic agglutination”. 43 Regarding a relation, it is understood as an everlasting sequence of ‘relational space-time elements’, a network of artist-viewer subject-positions: “the artwork is no longer an end point but a simple moment in an infinite chain of contributions”. 44 Relational Art desires to put things in motion rather than consolidate any possible positions. That is why its core notions are connectivity, flexibility, adaptability, mobility and openness.

In their The New Spirit of Capitalism Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello point out the emergence of new paradigm of social order, which they identify as the third spirit of capitalism. While the first and the second spirits were build on the industrial model where proprietors were seen as main holders

41 Mouffe, Chantal, On the Political, Routledge, London and New York, 2005: 31

42 Ibid: 52

43 Bourriaud, Nicolas, Relational Aesthetics, Les presses du reel, 200: 21

44 Bourriaud, Nicolas, Postproduction, Lukas & Sternberg, New York, 2005: 20

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

of modern values such as family, state, wealth, the third spirit transforms the definition of a value. Boltanski and Chiapello meticulously explain a shift from the value of objects, work and people (efficiency and professionalism) towards the value of relations. They state that capitalism, which is characterised by endless abstract accumulation process and wage earning inevitably produces aggravation and exclusion because neither executives nor workers cannot be satisfied with the financial abstract or practical reasoning, therefore they ask for meaning. Following socialist movements in 60s and 70s, capitalism searched how to create new working conditions that satisfy artistic and social critic of the state apparatus as main force of domination and oppression, longing for autonomy and the flexibility. The third stage of capitalism or connexionist capitalism rejects hierarchy, planning, discipline and embraces mobility and flexibility. Words such openness, team- working, dynamics and mobilisation, networking have become the new motto of human resources departments. Previously linked to the product, the value now integrates the relation and its effects. Boltanski and Chiapello write,” Whereas, in a commercial world, the product is separated from persons and stabilized by conventions or standards guaranteeing its quality – this, in particular, is the role of brands – in a connexionist world the product, which circulates with difficulty when separated from persons, is transformed by the relation”. 45 While in the trade world, the transaction does not modify the product quality or the suppliers and demanders down the chain, “[i]n a connexionnist world, by contrast, links are useful and enriching when they have the power to change the beings who enter into relations”. 46 The opportunity to produce links or mobility thus

becomes a source of profit. At this point oppression is easy and natural, - “

”. 47

48 is what Boltanski and

Chiapello identify as a new form of oppression, which is more severe. Whereas in the past a man was secure in poverty and it was understood that to escape it, one must risk everything, but if one did not gamble, he/she could not lose, now, “…those who do not gamble lose all the time, even more assuredly than those who do”. 49

these who do not move

around (or move less) contribute to the formation of the value added of those who do (more)

“Some people’s immobility is necessary for other people’s mobility”

This reveals how Relational Aesthetic is part of the transformation shift from the second spirit of capitalism to the third, by focusing on and installing relationship as the main value. The figure of

45 Boltanski Luc, Chiapello, Eve, The New Spirit of Capitalism, Verso, 2005: 130-131

46 Ibid: 131

47 Ibid: 362

48 Ibid: 362

49 Peguy, Charles quoted by Boltanski Luc, Chiapello, Eve, The New Spirit of Capitalism, Verso, 2005, Prologue

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

the artist has become the exact model for a new leadership, - an operator, strong at networking, mobile and flexible. The consequence is that promoting network and its values such as connectivity, flexibility, mobility, openness now emerges as promoting the core ideology of the third capitalism which Relational Aesthetic in fact claims it fighting.

In Bourriaud’s view, postcolonialism and globalisation have provided a framework for identifying new kinds of transcultural relationships in the arts. He writes, “Artists are looking for a new modernity that would be based on translation : what matters today is to translate the cultural values of cultural groups and to connect them to the world network.” 50 Thus, Bourriaud accepts globolised and networked society as the only possible basis for the future of art. While democratic politics, following Chantal Mouffe’s understanding of democracy resist the dominant social order and offers alternatives, Bourriaud’s vision of globalisation as multitudes and flows embraces current hegemony of neo-liberalism. Here Bourriaud contradicts himself. On the one hand, he welcomes globalisation as a ‘dialogical space’ and on the other hand he offers to translate and connect the results of these dialogues into the world’s network, which lead to the homogenisation of artistic practices. What kind of dialogue could take place in a homogenic space? Boris Groys argues that the homogenisation of art practices leads to the stabilised regime of art which implies the death of the discussion. Criticising the straightforward openness and transitivity of contemporary art practices he points out that “one must create an ‘outside’ to talk to” otherwise art becomes a “machine of ongoing expansion and inclusion”. 51 In fact, Thomas Hirschhorn sees his projects as 'never-ending construction sites’; Tiravanija rejects 'the need to fix a moment where everything is complete'. The key relational artists such as Liam Gillick or Vanessa Beecroft insist that they cannot make any decisions regarding the meaning of their work without audiences. In his seminar on “Spheres of Action: Art and Politics” in December this year Boris Groys 52 stressed that an artist deals with a finite word rather the infinite one and therefore he or she is obliged to make a

decision. 53 This decision would obviously

. For example, Thomas Hirschhorn portrays art as a game

“where is nothing to gain and nothing to lose”. He claims that “the artwork is never a success and

lead to exclusion and this is precisely, what relational

artists do not wish to acknowledge

50 Bourriaud, Nicolas, “Modern, Postmodern, Aftermodern”, http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/aaanz/abstracts/nicolas_bourriaud

51 Groys, Boris, “Spheres of Action: Art and Politics” seminar at Tate Modern, 10 December, 2005, http://www.tate.org.uk/onlineevents/

52 Boris Groys, Professor at the School of Fine Arts, Karlsruhe, author of The Total Art of Stalinism, (Hanser, 1988) and Ilya Kabakov (Phaidon Press, 1998).

53 Ibid

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

never a failure” 54 . Rather, it is, in Hirschhorn view, a middle ground for exchange of subjectivities (or inter-human relations). Chantal Mouffe writes, “Every order is political and based on some form of exclusion”. She points out that the aim of democratic politics is not to overcome we/they distinction (every consensus is founded on acts of exclusion) but to construct it agonistically, which means “acknowledging that there is no rational solution to their conflict, nevertheless, recognising the legitimacy of their opponents”. Relational Art is not able to grasp the necessity of we/they

difference because it perceives the Other in terms of morality.

(homeless, old people,

homosexuals) therefore it would be wrong to exclude these groups. However, as Mouffe argues, politics deals not with ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ but with ‘left ‘and ‘right’. Exclusions therefore cannot be perceived in moral terms. Mouffe writes, “Some demands are excluded, not because they are declared to be ‘evil’, but because they challenge the institutions constitutive of the democratic political association”. 55 Thus it can be said that Relational Art does not address we/them distinction agonistically simply because, in the best tradition of current new-liberalism, such division should not exist in the first place. While New Labour party’s slogan has now turned into offering ‘choices’, the motto of Relational Aesthetics is to provide ‘chances’, - to participate, to communicate, to become a part, although it is not clarified what jigsaw one is actually a piece of?

Following Bourriaud’s discourse, it

becomes clear that the Other is envisioned as poor and disadvantaged

Full of Possibilities, a Life According to Gillick

An exclusive

work as a

and non-fundamental adjustments to the social fabric, Gillick’s ambition is to animate the present, - “rather than resolve things the idea is to re-animate things…” 56 explains the artist in his talk with the curator Jeremy Millar at Tate Britain in November 2002. However, what exactly is Gillick re- activating? "A Brief Text on the Possibility of Creating an Economy of Equivalence", the show Gillick has prepared for the Palais de Tokyo refers the adventures of a group of workers who were to run their factory themselves. Explaining his project, which also is a written work, Gillick states, “The former "producers" chose to return to their place of work and take up the building of ideas rather than automobile objects. One of their first tasks involves remodelling the building itself by

envisages his

, with no starting and no ending points. Interested in negotiations

child of Relational Aesthetics’ philosophy, British born artist Liam Gillick

matrix of possibilities

54 Hirschhorn, Thomas, talk at Tate Modern, 13 November 2003, http://www.tate.org.uk/onlineevents/

55 Mouffe, Chantal, On the Political, Routledge, London and New York, 2005: 120-121

56 Liam Gillick, an artist talk with Jeremy Millar, Tate Britain, 20 November 2002, http://www.tate.org.uk/onlineevents/archive/gillick.htm

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

cutting new windows in the façade. Another entails putting together a mountain landscape to be seen from those windows and from the long path that runs between the bar and their firm. They spend their days testing new production models with the idea of setting up an economy of equivalence, according to which one input unit would equal one output unit, i.e., an economy in which everything that is invested (physically or intellectually) would be paid back without loss or change”. 57 While workers recognise that they have become the material of this process, “their desire to turn focus upon the question of how to fundamentally reorganise the way things are put together will have a lasting influence on others even while they eventually dissipate and dissolve into their former, now unrecognisable workplace”. 58 There are two aspects of this work that I wish to address: first, the idea that the worker’s identities are dissolving into their workplace. Economy and subjectivity are merging into one stream as if there were no authority and no order constructed by these economic powers. Economy, thus, is presented as a given situation, the necessary background for workers to actualise themselves. Economy is the only context where the process of self-realisation can actually take place. This fits entirely into Gidden’s notion of a ‘reflexive modernity’ according to which “[l]ife politics concerns political issues which flow from process of self-actualisation in post-traditional contexts, where globalizing tendencies intrude deeply into the reflexive project of the self, and conversely where processes of self-realisation influence global strategies”. 59 What Gillick’s project is really saying is that the workers are emancipated enough to make life decisions i.e. to improve economy so that everything is invested returns without loss or change.

The second aspect of the Gillick’s that I wish to address is the implications of a constant ”

reorganisation or an improvement. “I'm offering an adjustment of things

never stops recuperating and re-activating whether a public housing estate, airport, London’s metro or a gallery. “I absolutely believe that visual environments change behaviours and the way people act” 61 , says Gillick. Does this change the way people think? However, Gillick is not interested in what might be thought as one cannot possibly know what he really thinks. 62 “I am

60 , states the artist who

57 Liam Gillick, “A Brief Text on the Possibility of Creating an Economy of Equivalence”, 2004, http://www.palaisdetokyo.com/fr/presse/artistes/gillick/comgillick.htm

58 Ibid

59 Anthony Giddens is quoted by Mouffe, Chantal, On the Political, Routledge, London and New York, 2005: 43

60 Liam Gillick is quoted in Tate’s website, http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/turnerprize/history/gillick.htm

61 Ibid

62 Referring to Liam Gillick’s talk with Jeremy Millar, Tate Britain, 20 November 2002, http://www.tate.org.uk/onlineevents/archive/gillick.htm

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

interested in these Deleuzian visions…”, explains Gillick, who perceives the Self as a constant networking activity. The value of art of the modern period has always consisted in its exemplary relativity, its ability to express the most subjective within the subject. Perhaps, only art, the most

subjective of values, can express the concealed subjectivity of all values?

The danger of

understanding the Self as a network, the inter-subjectivity so to speak lies in imposing a universal

model, which limits the very essence of subjectivity. In this way Deleuzian inspiration of liberating

powers of a multitudes beyond sovereignty, nation, the state and the Self, serves as a platform to

utilize audiences, languages, time and space frames. If art to achieve inter-subjectivity, it would no

longer be art but controlled, managed and neutralized aesthetic practices.

Tate’s website claims that “Gillick's work often investigates the relationships of power found within the world of politics and decision-making. Using a combination of text and installations, Gillick provides documentation of the way social and economic realities are shaped and manipulated”. 63 The artist himself confirms his status of a Deleuzian documentalist, who, answering how art has changed in the last decade stating that that the characteristics of a contemporary art are “the rise of super-subjectivity” and “…”the documentary tendency in art”. 64 The whole idea about documentation refers to a protocoling without a judgment. Artistic activities as any other have always been documented and represented in whether it is a gallery or a TV series. However, while providing information about the artworks and the artists, documentation itself cannot possibly engage with the realm of power. Boris Groys states that “This type of documentation simply refers to art without itself being art. This type of documentation is often presented in the framework of an art-installation for the purpose of narrating a certain project…” 65 Here the full force of contradiction between Gillick being a contemporary documentalist and his claim of being engaged in power relations comes clear. Art has a lot in common with politics as it creates power from nothing. It fights for the right to exist and make this existence known, in other words, it struggles to establish its own hegemony. Boris Groys writes that “Art and politics are connected in one fundamental respect: both are realms in which struggle for recognition is being waged”. 66 What is at stake here is not simply gaining a status of a successful contemporary artist but struggling for an aesthetical equality and to do so one must have his or her own subjectivity to start with. In his talk with Jeremy

63 Announcement of Liam Gillick’s work: Annlee You Proposes, September 2001 – April 2002, http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/gillick.htm

64 “How Has Art Changed? Part two”, http://www.frieze.com/archive

65 Groys, Boris, “The Politics of Equal Aesthetic Rights”, Spheres of Action: Art and Politics seminar, Tate Modern, 10 December 2005, http://www.tate.org.uk/onlineevents/webcasts/spheres_of_action/

66 Ibid

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

Millar Gillick reflects on how a suburban product can be involved in art without having any visions. Gillick’s answer is a correct description of a current situation in art: put things in motion, do not resolve and never stop discussing. It is just that Habermasian notion of communication without constraints is somehow transforming into a machine of constant expansion and inclusion.

Claire Bishop states that “Rather than determining a specific outcome, Gillick is keen to trigger open-ended alternatives to which other may contribute. The middle ground, the compromise, is what interests him most” 67 . Gillick is not interested in compromise; he is a product of this compromise. In the context of reflexive modernity with its dialogical approach to social relations and the idea of constant adjustment to the existing hegemony, relational artist serves as a good model of fine-tuning individual. The impossibility of resolving a singular art discourse becomes a positive quality. In fact relational artists do not envisage themselves as an artistic movement in the first place. When writer and director Ben Lewis goes in search of what he hopes might be a new ‘ism’, many of the artists whose reputations were advanced by Bourriaud's exhibitions and writings, refuse to be interviewed, deny they are relational, or once interviewed, try to ban Art Safari (BBC Four) from showing their work. Ben Lewis comments “I was completely amazed that that was a very off-putting question (whether they belong to Relational Aesthetics movement) for many artists. A lot of them refused point blank to be in the film and British artist Liam Gillick was absolutely livid with me. He was furious about that line of questioning. He thought it was superficial and trivial. Quite frankly it wasn't, but the trouble with art theory is that it's fine as long as it stays within the sanctified realm of art critics sitting in galleries having complex discussions with long words that nobody understands but if somebody comes along from the outside and asks "Well, actually, why

are you all in this book together?", it becomes a very threatening scenario for them”. 68

Rejecting
Rejecting

any collective identity is not surprising; - an absence of identity perceived as a positive quality of

reflexive modernity.

Once there is no identity and subsequently no clear position, there cannot be

any political implications. However, all so called relational artists see themselves to be quite

67 Bishop, Claire, “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics”, October 110, 2004: 61

68 Lewis, Ben interview to BBC Four, following documentary “Relational Art: Is It an Ism?”, BBC Four, 8 July 2004,

http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/documentaries/features/art-safari1-int.shtml

http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/documentaries/features/art-safari1-int.shtml

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

political in their concerns, certainly anti-capitalist. 69 First, it appears that Relational Aesthetics is a style after all, and not an ideology, second, is the notion of political art legitimate at all?

There Is No Such Thing as Political Art

In her “Antagonsim and Relational Aesthetics” Claire Bishop argues that while antagonism is not clearly envisaged in works of some relational artists, it is present in works of others. Bishop writes, “By contrast, Laclau and Mouffe’s theory of democracy as antagonism can be seen in the work of two artists conspicuously ignored by Bourriaud in Relational Aesthetics and Postproduction: the

Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn and the Spanish artist

view, are compatible with the political project as “the relations produced by their performances and installations are marked by sensations of unease and discomfort rather than belonging because the work acknowledges the impossibility of a “micro-utopia” and instead sustains a tension among viewers, participants, and context”. This is a simplistic understanding of Chantal Mouffe’s theory of agonistic democracy and never possible reconciliation of a society as a whole. Following Claire Bishop’s agrument, one can arrive to a conclusion that art which upsets more or more discomforting and shoking, thus, more democratic. Boris Grooys, however, points out that while “one [artist] can stabilise order, he or she can also stabilise disorder”, for instance make scandalous art; this cannot be used as a paradigm to draw a difference between democratic and non-democratic art. Chantal Mouffe writes, “I want to stress at the outset that when I think about the relation between art and politics, I do not see it in terms of two separately constituted fields, art on one side and politics on the other, between which a relation would need to be established.

”. These artists, in Bishop’s

Santiago Sierra

There is an aesthetic dimension in the political and there is a political dimension in art.

This is why I

am never speaking of political art because I consider that one cannot make a distinction between

political and non-political art”

. 70 The political dimension of art is realized not in simply creating more

upsetting work but in accepting antagonism and impossibility of final reconciliation as the very

condition for society’s existence. Thus,

by means of continious revaluating and reworking art’s tactics. In other

the role of the artist is not to stabilise any order or disorder

but to sustain this tension

69 Responding to the question of political claims of relational artists, Ben Lewis says “Yeah, I'd say all their work was informed by a crushingly naïve political viewpoint that could only have been nurtured in the bubble of an art school. I think the misfortune of that kind of art is that it's politically imbecilic, and on an intellectual level they're still living off the arguments of the Frankfurt school - Adorno and Horkheimer - from the Sixties. They argued that we are all slaves to something called dominant ideology; this bourgeois thing that was constructing our way of thinking for us, our politics and our society”, http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/documentaries/features/art-safari1-int.shtml

70 Mouffe, Chantal, “The Public in Question: What is at Stake?”

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

words, there cannot be a clear cut strategy such as Relational Art with its claims to inclusivity and transparency but rather constant exploring the ways in which the current dominant order can be resisted and how the new hegemony could be constructed.

Conclusion

Bourriaud’s theory of Relational Aesthetics claims to offer a new territory of art in relation to the capitalist society. However, by installing relationship as the main value and promoting the network and its core references such as connectivity, flexibility, mobility and openness, Relational Aesthetics appear promoting rather than resisting the core ideology of the third spirit capitalism. In the society where flexibility and mobility are rated as ultimate merits, the substance of art is reduced to serve as a flexible facilitator of active utilisation of so called relations rather than passive consumption of objects. Bourriaud’s idea of the Self as a network implies that any judgement is dissolved in random subjectivity of all. Not just Bourriaud accepts globolised and networked society as the only possible basis for the future of art, he also argues that these conditions provide a framework for identifying new kinds of transcultural relationships where all cultural values could be translated and connected via this network. One can understand Relational Aesthetics as a perfect description of the problem that we have to seriously address rather than a possible solution to it.

Answering to Bourriaud’s claim that the most striking feature of Relational Art is “first and foremost, the democratic concern that informs it”, 71 one can say that the only type of democracy it enables to

foster is a Deleuzian one. Deleuze and Guattari write,

“The unconscious poses no problem of

meaning, solely problems of use. The question posed by desire is not “What does it mean but

rather “How does it work…”

72 This is precisely what Bourriaud refers to when he quotes

Wittgenstein: “Don’t look for the meaning, look for the use.” However, in reality, such an approach merely serves for the creation of a false conscious so to speak. Can desire win over order? Boris Groys writes, “The privilege of the context over the text, the unconscious over consciousness, the “other” over subjective, or all that is known as the “unsaid” (non-dit) and “unthought: (impense) over the individual human being merely means the dominance of the person who speaks about, or

71 Bourriaud, Nicolas, Relational Aesthetics, Les presses du reel, 2002: 57

72 Deleuze, Gilles, Guattari, Felix, The Anti-Oedipus, New York, 1977: 109

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

even more precisely, the person who actually works on, this context, this unconscious, this other, this unsaid” 73 . The fact that nearly all relational artists are highly successful in the art world does prove that Bourriaud has chosen the right horse to ride.

Bourriaud’s claim that

The fact that it does not imply the statement of an origin or a destination simply means the

absence of any will to power, distinctive of any artistic movement. In fact, relational artists envisage themselves as something external and distant from the existing power relations because they perceive power in terms of desire and not an order around which a given society is constructed. How one can declare any political relevance without first acknowledging an antagonistic dimension of any present hegemony and second, taking a clear position towards it. Supporting a myth of a dialogical democracy longing for a final reconciliation and total inclusion, relational art contributes to the imaginary of the third spirit of capitalism, - “a world where desire would have triumphed against order, where the immanent constituent power of multitude would have defeated the transcendent constituted power of the state, and where the political would have been eliminated”. 74

Relational Aesthetics is a theory of form rather than a theory of art is a fake

excuse.
excuse.

Claiming democratic relevance, one should look at how particular art resist or fight the dominant

social order and whether it addresses we/them distinction agonistically.

However, antagonsim

should not be understood as simply creating scandalous and shoking works of art, rather it should

be invisaged transcending conflict, negativity and will to power.

While the claim for democratic potentials of Relational Aesthetics is not a legitimate preposition, it can be understood as a symptom of a trauma or an “indicator of anomie” 75 , caused by the third spirit of capitalism. It is what Durkenheim called the “indicator of anomie”, - an anxiety associated with the difficulty of identifying the origin of the problem and impossibility of projecting oneself into the future and stacking in the present (Bourriaud’s idea of the concentration on the present rather than the future’s possibilities: “[a]rt, likewise, is no longer seeking to represent utopias; rather, it is attempting to construct concrete spaces”, 76 or Gillick’s obsession with reanimating the present). In

73 Groys, Boris, The Total Art of Stalinism, Princeton University Press, 1992: 120

74 Mouffe, Chantal, On the Political, Routledge, London and New York, 2005: 115

75 An anxiety associated with the difficulty of identifying the origin of the threat and impossibility of projecting oneself into the future is what Durkenheim called the “indicator of anomie”, quoted in Boltanski Luc, Chiapello, Eve, The New Spirit of Capitalism, Verso, 2005: 533

76 Ibid

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

his recent talk at Tate Britain Peter Weibel 77 has pointed out how the Neo-avant-garde after 1945 78 , which traditionally was discredited as a purely formalist movement, betraying the political content of the avant-garde of the 1920s, in fact, “operated on the level of the display, the dispositiv, the tool, negating our traditional media of memory and representation, because after Stalinism, Fascism, and Hitlerism it became difficult to believe in the means of traditional culture” 79 . The Neo- Avant-Garde’s urge to destroy the means of representation, its inability to speak 80 was an expression of trauma occured as a consequence of the second World War. While the Neo-Avant- Garde’s response to this trauma had a negative module, - an inability to start speaking, Relational Aesthetics is a positive expression of the trauma, - an impossibility to stop. Liam Gillick explains,

“the idea (of Relational Aesthetics) is about who stops first?” 81 In this way

Relational Aesthetics,

which appears nothing more than an amateur sociology paying lip-service to a woolly notion of

dialogical democracy, at the same time can offer deep insights into a current hegemonic order or,

to be precise, into its deepest crisis

.”Accordingly, the artistic critique is today caught in a dilemma

both of whose horns reveal its impotence”. 82

77 Peter Weibel, Director of the Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, and author of Fast Forward: Media Art (Ingvild Goetz, 2004) and The Open Work, 1964–1979 (Hatje Cantz, 2005)

78 Neo-Avant-Garde, an artistic movement (1950-1970s), best known for its deconstructive formalism. While Avant Garde declared the “death of the painting”, Neo-Avant-Garde tends to destroy this painting as means of representation such as destroying the canvas; artists: Yves Klein, Piero Manzoni (The Italian-German Zero Group), Zoran Music, Arnulf Rainer (Rainer’s style evolved towards Destruction of Forms, with blackening, over-paintings and maskings of illustrations and photographs, close to the Vienna Actionism, featuring body art and painting under drug influence), Herman Nitsch, Otto Muehl (founder of the Institute for Direct Art and participation in the Destruction in Art Symposium in London), Robert Rauschenberg

79 Weibel, Peter, “The Political Revolution of the Neo-Avant-Garde”, Spheres of Action: Art and Politics seminar, Tate Modern, 10 December 2005, http://www.tate.org.uk/onlineevents/webcasts/spheres_of_action/

80 In his manifesto “Perspective of annihilation”, 1952, Neo-Avant-Garde artist Arnulf Ralner writes, “Absence against yourself, death against life, the other against the world, nothing against everything”, mentioned in Peter Weibel’s presentation

81 Liam Gillick’s talk with Jeremy Millar, Tate Britain, 20 November 2002, http://www.tate.org.uk/onlineevents/archive/gillick.htm

82 Boltanski Luc, Chiapello, Eve, The New Spirit of Capitalism, Verso, 2005: 467

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

Bibliography

Baudrillard, Jean, The Conspiracy of Art, Semiotext(e), New York, 2005 Baudrillard, Jean, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, Saint Louis: Telos, 1981 Boltanski Luc, Chiapello, Eve, The New Spirit of Capitalism, Verso, 2005 Bourriaud, Nicolas, Relational Aesthetics, Les presses du reel, 2002 Bourriaud, Nicolas, Postproduction, Lukas & Sternberg, New York, 2005 Deutsche, Rosalyn, Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics, Cambridge, London, The MIT Press, 1996 Deleuze, Gilles, Guattari, Felix, The Anti-Oedipus, New York, 1977: 109 Groys, Boris, The Total Art of Stalinism, Princeton University Press, 1992 Laclau, Ernesto, Mouffe, Chantal Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, London: Verso, 2001 Laclau, Ernesto, Emancipation(s), London: Verso 1996 Mouffe, Chantal, On the Political, Routledge, London and New York, 2005

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com

Marx, Karl [1859] A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Selected Works, Moscow: Progress, 1970 Marx, Karl, “The Fetishism of Commodities” (1867) in Capital, Volume 1, London: Dent, 1974 Stiles, Kristine and Selz, Peter, Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, a Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings, University of California Press, London, 1996

Other sources & articles

Bishop, Claire, “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics”, October 110, 2004 (Fall) Bourriaud,Nicolas, “Modern, Postmodern, Aftermodern”, http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/aaanz/abstracts/nicolas_bourriaud Deutsche, Rosalyn, “Making Public” seminar, Tate Modern, London, March 2005, http://www.tate.org.uk/onlineevents/ Gillick, Liam, “Contingent Factors”, 2005 (not published yet)

2002,

http://www.tate.org.uk/onlineevents/archive/gillick.htm Holmes, Brian, “On Interaction in Contemporary Art”, “Liar Poker”, “Reflecting Museums”, www.u- tangente.org Hirschhorn, Thomas, talk at Tate Modern, 13 November 2003, http://www.tate.org.uk/onlineevents/ Janet Kraynak, “Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Liability”, Documents # 13, 26-40 Mouffe, Chantal, “The Public in Question: What is at Stake”

Gillick,

Liam’s

talk

with

Jeremy

Millar,

Tate

Britain,

20

November

“Spheres of Action: Art and Politics” seminar at Tate Modern, 10 December, 2005, http://www.tate.org.uk/onlineevents/ Verwoert, Jan, “World in Motion”, http://www.frieze.com/feature_single.asp?back=1&f=988

Julia Svetlichnaja PhD Candidate, Centre for the Study of democracy University of Westminster, 32-38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW, United Kingdom. Email: svetlichnaja@gmail.com