to Meet You: An Introduction to Relational Art
Relational Art is an emerging movement in art identified by Nicolas Bourriaud, a French philosopher, who recognized a growing number of contemporary artists used performative and interactive techniques that rely on the responses of others: pedestrians, shoppers, browsers—the casual observer-turned-participant. As an art critic, Bourriaud has reviewed many internationally renowned exhibitions and performances. Over the course of writing editorials for the French magazine Documents sur l’Art, Bourriaud came to term what he was seeing—more accurately, experiencing—as a movement in Relational Art. Bringing together his many essays on the subject of these artists and their activities, Nicolas Bourriaud, in 1998, launched his theory and book entitled Relational Aesthetics. While art critics, theoreticians, and historians have argued whether Nicolas Bourriaud was accurate in naming what he was seeing as a new movement—or, even a movement at all—artists have been busy carrying out their relational activities.
Bourriaud observed something
different in the art practices of today. Artists across all disciplines were
collapsing the distance between their art form and the average citizen. No
longer were actors up on stages telling stories at people. Now, the stage
was gone and the actor was merging into the general public and the “story”
was theirs to tell. The artist no longer clung to making objects that were
set before an adoring gallery visitor, instead the artist merged into a cyber
world prompting an anonymous, global public to interact through telepresence.
Now, musicians are innovators, designing and creating new musical instruments,
software and compositions that prompt the random passerby to interact, conduct
and perform a musical piece that is uniquely their own. While artists have
long since challenged the constrictions of museums, stages, and performance
halls, Bourriaud observed a significant turn in context and meaning.
Below are a few links to some artists engaged in relational art activity. We encourage you to look at these examples now before we go on.
Corpos Informaticos Research Groups: http://www.corpos.org
Walk and Squawk Performance Project: http://walksquawk.org
In relational art, the
artist is no longer at the center. They are no longer the soul creator, the
master or even celebrity. The artist, instead, is the catalyst. They kick-start
a question, frame a point of consideration, or highlight an everyday moment.
And then, they wait. They wait for a response from the random stranger, the
passerby, the usual suspect—you and me. We are the missing piece and
until we react, respond or relate, the “art” lies in wait to say:
“Happy to meet you. I’ve been waiting for you.”
To Bourriaud’s mind,
and the artists who’s aesthetic is you and I, the relational aspect
of their activities is the fundamental difference between today’s art
experience and previous art activities such as Fluxist, Happenings and Performance
Art to name a few. Moreover, today’s relational art emerges from the
profound and ever-changing impact of media technologies. Technologies capable
of sending us into spaces that are inhabited by anonymous, disembodied others—the
good, bad, and ugly—but who we can nevertheless relate to through this
technology. Whether relational artists are high tech or low tech, what Bourriaud
insists they have in common is the desire and intention to relate across the
artificiality of time and space whether physical, social or institutional
Ironically, many of Bourriaud’s
examples of artists and activities from the mid-to-late 1990s were still within
the domain of traditional institutions of art (museums, performance centers,
etc.) despite their intentions to comment on and/or break through these socially
defined borders of space. Nonetheless, considerable relational arts practice
is happening all around us. Much of the activity is happening outside of the
traditional institutional channels that alert us to an event, a fashion, or
celebrity. For this reason, it is harder to report on relational arts practice
since it resists seeking the institutional channels of art presentation, but
it is out there—and it is in here!
Since relational arts practice operates in different places and spaces than what we have been trained to seek out, we encourage you to do your own investigation. Explore the internet for relational art that either uses the internet to document and report relational activity or uses the internet as its relational form for activity. It’s tricky stuff to talk about, but makes more sense when you see/experience more examples.
Here are a few more links to activities that we think are relational in practice:
"bourriaud's ... theoretical leaning, summarized as 'relational art,' gives a new interpretation of the aesthetic object. the object is no longer materially or conceptually defined, but relationally. "what do relations eventually create? relations to the artistic work, institutions and so on? - context." art magazine boiler #1, 1999" Quoted from the website: http://straddle3.net/context/03/en/2004_02_10.html on August 16, 2004.
Check out an interview with Bouriaud at http://www.boiler.odessa.net/english/raz1/n1r1s02.htm
**COMMUNITY ARTS PRACTICE - LINKS TO PROJECT EXAMPLES
(some international websites may take longer to load)
BLOG & VIRTUAL ART ENCOUNTERS:
*Blessing Conspiracy - Individual artist project
*Post Secrets - Curatorial Project
*Art & Society - French community arts initiative
*Art Factories - autonomous creative spaces
*Rebar Group - Traveling urban environmental Installation
*Sea Memories - Environmental artist Lihidheb Mohsenhttp from Tunisia
*Boreal Art Nature
*Art, Culture & Nature Conference
*The Village of Arts & Humanities -Lily Yeh
*Kissing Doesn't Kill -Gran Fury
*Creative Time - Past Project Archive
http://www.creativetime.org/citywide/past_proj/index.html#1989 *Interperformance Review: Crystal Quilt - Suzanne Lacy
*Performance Research Project
*The Center for Performance Research
*Reap What You Sew - Michael Swaine
SPONTANEOUS POLITICAL WEB EVENT:
reviewed by the BBC at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4012621.stm
*Music Behind Walls - R. Murray Schafer
*Princess of the Stars - R. Murray Schafer
*Burning Man Festival
*Confluence: New Music For the River Stour
*Licking Curators Ass” - by Ondrej Brody & Kristofer Paetau within the experimental exhibition format "ExtraFeatures Series (1)", curated by Jan Van Woensel who invited us to do a surprise intervention in this exhibition project at the Higher Institute for Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium.:
To the best of our knowledge,
no university fine arts college is linking arts-based service learning with
Relational Aesthetics. Three years ago the PLACE Program did an environmental
scan of UNM’s sixteen peer universities as well as researched nationally
recognized fine arts institutions and programs looking for examples of arts-based
service learning, especially any linking to relational arts practice. In the
transpiring three years, we have continued to seek such programs. The PLACE
Program is interested in supporting a community effort to explore what these
two approaches to art have in common; who is interested in exploring these
issues and practices; how we can teach it; where we can do it; what is the
significance and value of relational arts practice.
The PLACE Program already asserts that arts-based service learning belongs in the curriculum of fine higher education of a 21st C public university. We think it is not only socially responsible to give fine arts students experiential and pre-professional learning opportunities in the service of our communities, we also think it has academic and research value to pursue new approaches to fine arts teaching and activity that is keeping with contemporary issues of identity, society, and technology.
Together, we think Arts-Based Service Learning and Relational Art are uniquely complimentary in their theory and approach to contextual meaning—to the unpredictable and ever-changing nature of people, places and situations. Both are unrestricted by any discipline of study or by the artificial barriers of institutions. Finally, both are highly flexible and adaptable frameworks to carry out interactive relationships.