Sunday, February 28, 2010

Some Present Thoughts...

Reading Deleuze's texts has been quite a personal experience to me (as opposed to solely intellectual or academic). Therefore, such are my present thoughts. Both a wonderful and disturbing experience. Besides the fact that I have been encountering many of my own and long cherished thoughts and ideas now expressed through mostly different metaphors and thus enhanced and deautomatized in my own perception, the disturbing has been the realization that some of those very ideas had started ossifying inside of myself without my fully being aware of that. Therefore, to me, these texts have not only been inspiring but also animating. Along such a journey, to read Bourriaud's text was an annoying astray that turned into a fortunate touchstone for the hitherto developed or awakened thoughts, finally into a peculiar affirmation of them.

Being an art critic (and I suppose, an art historian, as well), therefore aware of the importance of the change, shift and novelty, Bourriaud naturally aspires to bring some of these himself. What in my view his text actually offers is a manifestation of an impotent and more importantly, destructive sort of both art practice and social thought.

His "democratic" art suggested through this cheesy and ridiculous notion of "giving everybody a chance" to the point of disgust, is what I see as a manifestation of the highest level of arrogance, which is itself nothing but an embodiment of a deepest although the most perfidious kind of racism, or fascism (to use this so dear contrasting word to all these democracy promoters). This racism is utterly unaware of itself for it never questions itself as such. It however, leaks through personal attitudes, notions and actions. What is an artist to give everybody a chance?! Is he a god? The one who gives and takes away? Or is he the omniscient? My point here is neither to affirm nor to deny the artist as a divine creature, but to focus on Bourriaud's axiomatic maintenance of the artist as such. This is important because this notion "naturally" becomes applied to the admirers and those who understand and appreciate these artists and their work. Consequently, we have a consecrated group that gives a chance to everybody who thinks the way they do.

And chance for what? To justify your own thoughts, beliefs, ways of leading your life? To soothe your pains, dilemmas or fears? Or to hear that you are ok, I am ok and everything will be just fine – we'll have a democratic dialogue. Although I haven't read Bishop's article yet, from what I've heard about it, I believe we'd agree that a democratic society is not the cohabitation of bunch of zombies producing "a specific sociability" while "harmoniously" exchanging frozen smiles, whereas any potential wondering face whose muscles might be moving toward an expression that would suggest a criticism of any kind is treated as intolerance. The two-clocks-put-next-to-each-other endlessly and pointlessly (but democratically!) striking their seconds, to me is a marvelous plastic example of the utterly vulgarized notion of democracy – a society where any genuine (re)questioning is a taboo, where contractions are anesthetized, shifts in dynamics banished and differences …well, this is the Houdini level of illusion! Differences, today, have been existing and are cherished only within the "communication" – the one Deleuze is talking about.

Opposed to this Bourriaud's ever-giving art is the "authoritarian" art of all those obsessed megalomaniacs who used to fight and sweat while persisting in the process of conceiving and creating their "private symbolic spaces". I must say that I am very mistrustful about this "invisible glue" that Bourriaud's artists are using… Maybe because I usually miss to see parts and layers that can be glued at first place. The importance of the process that precedes a finished piece of art is not in the effort itself – an artistic value certainly has nothing to do with the amount of effort that is put into creating a piece. The basic problem that most of such pieces have in common is that they are single-layered. They tend to remain on the level of a more or less (and less than more) witty, interesting or lucid idea (in the sense of a "lucky" thought, pun and the like), which they then hurry on to present to the rest of the world. But there was no journey along which "witty ideas" become questioned and re-questioned, where personal feelings and experiences become exceeded, thus preventing an artist to make a piece that is nothing but an "imagination and projection of his own ego". Again, it is not about the amount of time, tools, materials or money invested and spent, it is about a multiplicity of layers existing within a piece. For, this multiplicity is what allows me to enter a piece, forget my former self and become another, and another, and another… It is the single-layered pieces that are inevitably authoritarian, or better – totalitarian, for they always offer one – a self-sufficient, flat one. Consequently, they disable me entering them unless I agree (with whatever is the content of the layer). And if I agree, I can rejoice in the recognition of my own self. Thus undisturbed, I go home, back to my harmonious democratic life.

This is why such pieces, besides their very questionable artistic value, have some seriously problematic political implications. Even more so, for the fact that the artists themselves usually designate their works as socially engaged, political and so on. This again brings me to the one of the biggest scams of our contemporary society – the notion of democracy that safely keeps under control any unanticipated movements behind the two-clocks mask, under the pretext of a banal and vulgar, yet deeply indoctrinated understanding of harmony and tolerance as static and limb states of mind. The Middle Ages had their rich subculture that emphasized the body sometimes to the extreme, thus creating a contra balance to the dominant Christian culture. Former totalitarian systems had their underground formations that in their own ways kept persisting in subverting them. But they had iron boundaries to deal with – when they hit against them, their bodies were bleeding. Our boundaries are elastic, made of silicone. Not only that they are indiscernible, but also smooth and soothing – when you hit, you get anesthetized.

… Maybe it is not about hitting anymore – about attacking and aggression, but about acknowledging and creation. Deleuze says: Good destruction requires love. I am sure he did not have in mind some kind of post-modern flower children (of which above discussed artists actually remind me). So what does it mean? To me, it is a very deep, multi-layered and difficult thought. The one I used to find only in texts of some Eastern artists, thinkers, healers. One of the ways I interpret it: to be able to create is to forget. But, forgetting here is not rejecting, starting off as some kind of a tabula rasa (which we never are), but rather allowing oneself to be deeply involved with the world, to look and see, to observe and learn, to accept it in a way of acknowledging it, thus to know it and, to use Deleuze's thoughts, to see what is missing in the existing in order to extract something that still belongs to it, though you also turn it against it. By having accepted your past, you liberate yourself from dependence upon it – you forget, and enable yourself for the future. Like one of the layers in Nietzsche's aphorism suggests:

· Was I ill? Have I recovered?

Has my doctor been discovered?

How have I forgotten all?

· Now I know you have recovered.

Healthy is who can't recall. (Gay Science)

And then, you create.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Aesthetics of Relational Art and Ethical Criticism

In her October paper "Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics," Claire Bishop critically reexamines Nicolas Bourriaud's analysis of the works of contemporary artists that he associates with "relational art". For Bourriaud, the focus of the relational aesthetics that emerged in 1990s is "the realm of human interactions and its social context, rather than the assertion of an independent and private symbolic space" [Relational Aesthetics (hereafter cited as RA), 14]. The works of the artists involved in the project of relational art, he believes, are formed by inter-subjectivity and through the encounter between the artwork and the viewers, with the meaning of an artwork elaborated in a collective effort. Bishop's criticism toward Bourriaud's text and the work of artists he supports raises the question of the character and the quality of the inter-subjective relationships that arise in the work of these artists – the issues essentially ignored by Bourriaud. Aesthetic judgment, Bishop claims, for Bourriaud is equated with an "ethicopolitical judgment of the relationships produced by a work of art". ["Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics" (hereafter cited as ARA), 65] By means of its "social form", relational art work is assumed automatically capable of producing positive human relationships, which immediately makes it political and emancipatory. Bishop argues that the mere social form of an artwork encouraging social interaction often leads to trivial, self-satifsfied art, which circumvents truly political issues. She uses the examples of Rirkrit Tiravanija and Liam Gillick to highlight the problematics of Bourriaud's analysis and the danger of "simple Nokia art - producing interpersonal relations for their own sake and never addressing their political aspects" [Bourriaud's quote in "Public relations: Bennett Simpson Talks with Nicolas B.", p. 48, cited in ARA, 68].

Bishop proposes two other artists which, in her view, "provide a more concrete and polemical grounds for rethinking our relationship to the world and to one other" than some of the artists championed by Bourriaud. In particular, she uses the example of Thomas Hirschhorn's work Bataiile Monument (2002) as a work which raises serious political issues. This work does not just lure the viewer into interactive and inter-sibjective relationships, it provokes a range of emotional and ambivalent responses among the visitors of the Monument thus leading to the emergence of an independent thought, "which is the essential prerequisite of political action" [ARA, 77].

Despite her whole-hearted support of Hirschhorn's work, Bishop admits a certain moral ambivalence surrounding Bataille Monument. In particular, she mentions "accusations that Hirschhorn's gesture was inappropriate and patronizing" [ARA, 26]. Indeed, Martha Rosler compares Bataille Monument with "company towns" such as Pullman, Illinois or Hershey, Pennsylvania. She resents the project because the seemingly harmonious relationships between the artist and the Turkish workers in Nordstadt were in fact the result of substantial efforts: for one thing, Hirschhorn had the workers bound by a contract to build the monument for several euros per hour; moreover, he was compelled to move into the area to prevent the project from being vandalized. Instead of being an interactive social project, Hirschhorn's work then becomes another example of exploitation of lower-class Turkish workers with the goal of exhibiting this marginalized group for "the delectation of the international art appreciation crowd". [e.g. see the transcripted conversation between 37 artists, curators and scholars, November 14, 2005, in: "Who Cares", Published by Creative Time Books, 2006].

This and similar critiques apparently motivated Claire Bishop to publish another text on social and relational art, this time in Artforum, in February 2006 [The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents, (hereafter cited as STCD)]. In this paper she claims that the "social turn" in contemporary art led to the "ethical turn" in art criticism that addresses the works of artists making interactive and collaborative works [STCD, 180]. For the supporters of socially engaged art, social effect of the artwork is prioritized over consideration of its artistic quality: "collaborative practices are automatically perceived to be equally important artistic gestures of resistance: There can be no failed, unsuccessful, unresolved, or boring works of collaborative art because all are equally essential to the task of strengthening the social bond" [STCD, 180]. In the absence of articulated aesthetics of social art, the interactive and collaborative projects are increasingly judged by the artists' working process - the way a collaboration is undertaken, the level of political correctness among the participants, the degree to which the collaborators are acknowledged as co-authors of the artist and are represented through the artwork [STCD, 181]. Bishop compares the ethical criteria for assessing socially engaged art with the Christian ideal of "good soul", which exalts the self-sacrifice of the artist - his or her renunciation of their authorial presence "in favor of allowing participants to speak through him or her" [STCD, 183]. In her view, such ethic-based criticism falls short of providing useful criteria for assessing social art. She believes that aesthetic judgment and the idea of the autonomy of art (its independence of functionality and rationalism) should not be abandoned in the name of social change, because "the productive contradiction of art's relationship to social change [is] characterized precisely by the tension between faith in art's autonomy and belief in art as inextricably bound to the promise of a better world to come".

Claire Bishop, 2004. "Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics," October 110, Fall 2004, p. 51-79.
Claire Bishop, 2006. "The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents," Artforum, February 2006, p. 178-183.
Nicolas Bourriaud, 2002. Relational Aesthetics, Paris: Less Presses du reel, 2002.


Fluxus Movement as Precursor to Relational Aesthetics

In the last class we had a short discussion about the Fluxus movement and its accordance with Bourriaud‘s ideas about the contemporary aesthetics. Therefore, in order to continue discussion online, I decided to post a few facts that clearly describe the Fluxus movement and also accentuate its similarities to the contemporary relational art practices.

The Fluxus movement, which was influenced by Lithuanian-born artist George (Jurgis) Maciunas, emerged in New York in the 60's, moving to Europe, and eventually to Japan. The movement encompassed a new aesthetic that had already appeared on three continents. That Fluxus aesthetic includes part Dada, part Bauhaus and part Zen, and presumes that all media and all artistic disciplines are fair game for combination and fusion. Fluxus valued simplicity over complexity. This movement of art included a strong current of anti-commercialism and an anti-art sensibility, disparaging the conventional market-driven art world in favor of an artist-centered creative practice. Creative forms that have been adopted by Fluxus practitioners include fluxus performances (events), collage, sound art, music, video, and poetry. In terms of an artistic approach, Fluxus artists preferred to work with whatever materials were at hand, and either created their own work or collaborated in the creation process with their colleagues.

The main features of Fluxus movement include:

1. The Unity of Art and Life
The unity of art and life is central to Fluxism. When Fluxus was established, the conscious goal was to erase the boundaries between art and life. That was the sort of language appropriate to the time of pop art and of happenings. The founding Fluxus circle sought to resolve what was then seen as a dichotomy between art and life. For instance, some Fluxus performances were intended to blur the line between performer and audience.

2. Chance
One key aspect of Fluxus experimentation is chance. The methods and results of chance occur repeatedly in the work of Fluxus artists.

3. Playfulness
Playfulness has been part of Fluxus since the beginning. Part of the concept of playfulness has been represented by terms such as jokes, games, puzzles and gags.
When Fluxus emerged, art was so heavily influenced by rigidities of conception, form and style that the irreverent Fluxus attitude could be understandable. The most visible aspect of the irreverent style was the emphasis on the humor.

4. Simplicity
Simplicity of means and perfect attention distinguish this concept in the work of the Fluxus artists.

5. Presence in Time
Many Fluxus works take place in time. The ephemeral quality is obvious in the brief Fluxus performance works, where the term ephemeral is appropriate, and in the production of ephemera, fleeting objects and publications with which Fluxus has always marked itself. Fluxus performances were usually brief and simple. The Event performances sought to elevate the banal, to be mindful of the mundane, and to frustrate the high culture of academic and market-driven music and art.

In my opinion, the aforementioned features of Fluxus movement (especially, a time based non-formalistic approach to the artworks, a critique of the institutional market-based art system and a participatory character of the Fluxus events) let us question the novelty of contemporary relational art practices described by Bourriaud in his book Relational Aesthetics. On the other hand, Fluxus movement was very broad and diverse (the discussion about its time and geographic limits is still viable among the art critics), so its description is relative and can hardly be terminative.

Lukas Brasiskis


1. Friedman K. Forty Years of Fluxus, The Fluxus Reader, 1998



4. Williams E., Noel A., Ay-O (eds.) Mr. Fluxus: A Collective Portrait of George Maciunas 1931-1978, 1998

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Issue of Form in Bourriaud’s Texts

When I first had read both Bourriaud’s texts I felt slightly confused because of difficulties to understand why the author in each text proposes different approach to contemporary art. For instance, in his first book Bourriaud advocates that contemporary artwork does not have a static form anymore. He states that it is in the constant state of fluidity now. According to Bourriaud, contemporary artwork gets a temporal form only in relation to other human. But then, in Postproduction the author claims that “all observed artistic practices […] have in common the recourse to already produced forms” (Bourriaud 2001, 16) and so, in my opinion, have a formalist nature.

But then I decided do not take into account these probably natural differences (because of slightly different art examples he gives in each text or slightly different time he observes) and, instead, I tried to find the significant similarities in Bourriaud’s approach to contemporary art.

“The new is no longer a criterion”, Nicolas Bourriard writes about the significant changes in the contemporary art in the introduction of his Relational Aesthetics (Bourriaud 1996, 13). Later in Postproduction Culture as Screenplay: How Art Reprograms the World, French art critic goes further and points out that contemporary artist is not obliged anymore to create something originally new in terms of the raw material or system of signs, but, rather, works as editor or DJ who mixes pieces from the old artworks puts them in the new contexts and, finally, gets the new meanings. Both, in his earlier book Relational Aesthetics and in Postproduction Bourriaud quotes Deleuze in Negotiations: “grass does not grow from the roots or from the top, but from the middle” (Bourriaud 1996, 14 and Bourriaud 2001, 17) and explains that this describes the situation in which contemporary artist is. This means to Bourriaud that artist is not able to make something new anymore, he can only deal with forms that surround him in the present moment.

After I had read Bourriaud’s works I remembered a short video project “Revisiting Solaris” by well-known contemporary Lithuanian video artist Deimantas Narkevicius. Following the narrative of Stanislaw’s Lem’s book Solaris, Lithuanian artist shot the additional scene which was excluded during the book’s adaption in the famous Andrej Tarkovsky’s film. The scene is based on the last chapter of Lems’ book, which had been left out of Tarkovskij’s version. In this scene, the main protagonist Kris Kelvin reflects on his short visit to the planet Solaris shortly before his return from the space mission. In Narkevicius project Kelvin is acted by the same Lithuanian actor Donatas Banionis, who is 30 years older now. Furhermore, the setting of the planet Solaris is created using the photos and paintings of the most known Lithuanian painter and composer Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis. Ciurlionis was a modern symbolist who in his paintings usually was dealing with the topic of the mysterious relation between space and nature.

In my opinion, “Revisiting Solaris” confirms Bouriard’s argument elaborated in his book Postproduction. Deimantas Narkevicius really makes use of three different existing narratives or mediums (using the words of Bourriard): existing paintings and photos, existing book and existing film, mixing them together and creating new artwork, which is also is extension of the previous. Citing Bouriard: “In this new form of culture […] each exhibition encloses within the script of another; each work may be inserted into different programs and used for multiple scenarios. The artwork is no longer an end point but a simple moment in an infinite chain of contributions” (Bourriaud 2001, 20). Narkevicius in his video installation “Revisiting Solaris” did exactly that.

Though Narkevicius video installation was really impressive, on the other hand, while reading Bourriaud I was thinking how we can talk about the perception of the artworks from the standpoint of Bourriaud? And how we can define a quality (both in terms of form and content whose are interchangeable) of the contemporary artworks? For instance, if we are taking into account the aforementioned video instalation by Narkevicius, despite that it is extends the narrative of Tarkovsky’s film, this video work is certainly becomes more representational than Tarkovsky’s film was. The author of “Revisiting Solaris” uses already known story (the narrative of the film) and already seen images (the main actor, similar setting, known photos and paintings) in order to create an extension of the Tarkovsky’s story. Thus, my following question is: could a post-produced artwork still move us towards the realm of the un-thought, which leads to a new image of thought (as Tarkovsky’s time-images definitely do)?

Lukas Brasiskis

A Reappraisal of Relational Aesthetics

In Relational Aesthetics, Nicolas Bourriaud outlines a theory of contemporary art, paying particular attention to the ways that present-day artists break with the traditions of Modernism, or perhaps more accurately, adopt, shift, distort and transform the goals and ideas of modern art. As Bourriaud writes, “Social utopias have given way to everyday micro-utopias and imitative strategies, any stance that is ‘directly’ critical of society is futile, if based on the illusion of a marginality that is nowadays impossible if not to say regressive” (31). Thus, art proceeds within the world of lived relationships and circumstances, creating new conditions –what he calls “relational devices” – out of the set of existing forms, objects and relations. It does this by taking up and transforming existing conditions and relations, such as those that persist in the art world: “The exploration of relations existing between, for instance, the artist and his/her gallery owner may determine forms and a project” (33). In such projects the art object, however immaterial it may be, now becomes “a relationship with the world rendered concrete by an object” (48).

In her two exhibitions “The Appraisal” at Steffany Martz Gallery and “The Reappraisal” (pictured above) at Winkleman Gallery, the first in 1999 and the second in 2009, artist and former Christie’s auction house employee Jennifer Dalton auctioned off objects from her home. In “The Appraisal” she had the possessions in her apartment valued by Christies and then sold some of them on Ebay, comparing the estimates from the former to the money obtained via the latter. Some of these works were her own paintings and sculptures, or those of friends, but the auction also included found furniture and household belongings.

In “The Reappraisal”, she made an inventory of every item in her home on index cards with photos, descriptions and initial bids based on their emotional value to Dalton, her husband and their four-year-old son. For the five weeks that the exhibition lasted – the materials in the gallery consisting of shelves full of multicolored index cards – visitors could bid on any and every object from Dalton’s home. Here, Dalton collapses not only the utilitarian value of an object and its aesthetic qualities – a manipulation at work in the readymade artworks of Marcel Duchamp – but she adds the additional economic wrinkle of translating emotional attachment into economic terms. In so doing she underlines the fundamental equality between the objects in her private home and those shown in an art gallery. As Bourriaud might write, both classes of objects are valuable as material records of immaterial relations between people, whether they be Dalton and her family and friends, or the gallery-goers who appraise and, in some cases, buy her belongings.

Dalton's installations and performances address some of the questions that were raised in our conversations in class tonight, about whether or not such events, situations and relations have some inherent value (whether we call it democracy or discussion, or something else), or if they need to be qualified by some additional criteria like those suggested in Claire Bishop's constructive criticisms of Bourriaud's work. Being in an art gallery certainly limited Dalton's audience: even though admission to the space is free there are certain cultural boundaries implicit in the gallery space, certain inherent values to the way art is presented that allow some people in and not others. That being said, Dalton's work also acknowledged its status as art that has the benefit of certain privileges based on differences of class, race, sexuality and gender. The work she presented, the life being appraised, was very clearly that of a middle-class white woman living in a suburban home with a husband and child. In making these cultural circumstances apparent, Dalton's "Reappraisal" at least acknowledged and addressed the problems of homogeneous spectatorship that Bourriaud's work tends to ignore, even if she didn't necessarily posit a solution to those issues – as if one existed!

Below is a more or less helpful video of the installation, with commentary that isn't always valuable but provides good context. There are also more images of Dalton's exhibition here.

- Ben Sutton

On "Postproduction"

In reading Postproduction I find that a major concern with the artists of the nineties was the overabundance of preconditioned cultural information and its malignance in the public consciousness. In the information age, much of our interactions have become abstracted where it becomes easier for people to be apathetic to their fellow citizens, domestic and abroad. Cinema is a prime example of how such an artifact retains its solidity from copyright protection and the aura that Hollywood injects it. Consequently, many of such products continue to present society in distinct categories. How else can we still think that blacks are funnier than whites? Blondes are stupider by the dozen? Despite the "independent" films that abound, Hollywood appropriated that label to catch a certain audience of "sophisticated" film viewers. All still polarized.

Perhaps this is a broad stroke of a linguistic brush here, but upon reading, I was inspired by the artists' endeavors to reinvent art definitions. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to abolish the author, as what is implied in Postproduction. Roland Barthes was too reactive to embrace the autonomy of readers. Foucault's assessment of writing as a form of immortality (although altered in the 20th century to the sacrifice of the author) I believe still holds true with authorship and art. Is art an artifact of the human species that the species wants to remain, after possible extinction? Moreover, although I praise the artists mentioned in the book, there were some practices I found questionable, perhaps because it is absurd in writing.

I may modify this post. I think I need to develop this more coherently. Consider it a flash of light to emit a little longer.

Raul Garcia

Accessing Relational Art

Bourriard notes that the role of art is no longer based in finite use of forms or in representation of utopian ideals about the world. Rather, its role is to provide interactive modes of living and experience within the world as it exists, and therefore to apply a kind of process ontology to the encounter between artist, artwork and viewer/participant.

In the theory of process ontology, becoming is more important than being. All reality – all being – is itself constantly in process of becoming something else. This is another way of understanding the Deleuzian concept of 'immanence' – in which, among other things, identity is formed by relation, not by contained, static attributes. Relational art, according to Bourriard, follows this same idea by focusing on intersubjectivity as the "substrate" of the art form.

The work that falls under the rubric of 'relational art' is fascinating for its newness and its expressive models of globalized/interconnected culture. What I would like to know is if someone finds this work "moving" in the traditional sense of having an affective response to an artwork. (e.g., being moved to tears by an incredible painting or film). From Douglas Gordon's "24 Hour Psycho" to Jenny Holzer's LED displays to Orozco's reconstructed car – do those works become activated through the emotions or the intellect? I would venture to say it's always the intellect with relational art, as it has this characteristic of doing away with all sentimentality. For all its focus on 'intersubjectivity' and 'connection' between people, it seems to want no emotional entanglements; in other words, the connection between viewer and artwork is sterilized, rationalized, forcing the viewer into meaningless participation with the work, leading at best to some sort of "a-ha! I get it!" moment.


Max Neuhaus and Sound Installation

When dealing with Relational Art and Relational Form one artist that immediately comes to mind is the American composer, and later sound artist, Max Neuhaus. Neuhaus was a pioneer in the realm of contemporary art and his innovative Sound Installations echo many of Bourriaud's theories on form and aesthetics. In Relational Art the viewer (or listener in this case) is a collaborator in the artist's creative process. The ongoing collective response of the audience is necessary for the artwork to exist. It's meaning is achieved through the new social environment that is manufactured by the dynamic between the artwork and the receiver.

Neauhaus' Sound Installations were designed to perpetually produce sound in public spaces without a visual component to draw attention to it. There were no commemorative plaques or labels; even the source of the sound was often hidden to public view. By doing this Neuhaus created artwork that is not only extremely accessible to the average citizen, but also accessible in most cases oblivious to the viewer.

A great example is Neuhaus’ Sound Installation piece in the heart of Times Square, New York City. A series of bell-like drones is emitted from a large speaker underneath a grid of subway grating. In the midst of the frenzy that is Times Square, one will seldom see a bystander stop to enjoy or even acknowledge the work. To Bourriaud’s point, the piece literally does not exist until someone responds to it. The sound is produced 24 hours a day and is always accessible to those willing to hear it. It is also a true social artwork in that its effect immeasurably changes with the changing environment surrounding it.

– Jonathan Masino

12 Steps and Bourriaud

I tried to step around Bourriaud’s comments on cinema and tweak it to discuss a low brow cinema of sorts. This may be a stretch.

12 steps by Alex Kopps answers the issues of relational aesthetics as posited by Bourriaud. Considering the transitivity of the work itself and the manner in which the film directly interacts with the viewer, the defined assemblage of artist, object, action and beholder creates a ‘specific sociability’ providing an immanent “conviviality” (p28). The work provides a mirror for artist and beholder, creating an internal dialogue, a reflection on practice within a social network, as well as a guide for the beholder towards further invention.

Kopp’s own practice is defined through the film itself – outlining a simple manner of creating yet another piece of art. If “An artist’s artwork thus acquires the status of an ensemble of units to be re-activated by the beholder-manipulator […] The principle act(s) as a trajectory evolving through signs objects, forms, gestures” (P20) then the construction of the art suggested by the film is actually threefold: the construction of an animation, the construction of the film itself, and the assumed production/construction by the beholder.

Culturally, the film speaks to the ability of the everyman to create art. Couched in a 12 step program, popularized by groups such as AA in order to deal with addictions, the resources used by Kopps are accessible to the everyday person. This provides for the beholder the possibility of artist production — a sense of immanent art. Each step is laid out in its own simplicity — riding the bicycle to the store, the deconstruction of the screen, the banal commentary, the fact that the film is a tracing on multiple levels.

The relations of the artist (and assumingly the beholder) to the consumer society within which we operate are present on the surface, as well are various simple ways of subverting that same system. The superficiality and simplicity lend themselves to a cultural criticism that evokes social networking and a collective intelligence. Kopps use of the bicycle to procure the monitor is an example of this subversion: it is a simple alternative to the car, accessible even to the underprivileged; the deconstruction of the monitor lends itself to the deconstruction of the computer and technology saturated society — or alludes to the strength of usage versus nascent consumption.

Bourriaud states that, “It seems possible, in our view, to describe the specific nature of present-day art with the help of the concept of creating relations outside the field of art (in contrast to relations inside it, offering its socio-economic underlay): relations between individuals and groups, between the artist and the world, and by way of transitivity, between the beholder and the world" (p26). The DIY culture of the Internet, and the collective intelligence of it’s arts and crafts community where this video has been posted and reposted across the blogosphere, is made deeper through this commentary. It’s reposting adds to its cultural capital and reinforces the production and consumption cycle. This is further anchored in the use of grayscale, which adds a feigned “historicity” to the film image; and the use of the computer generated voice – taking away, in essence, the artist’s own voice, relying on the beholder to fabricate their own interpretation of what is actually being said and what they are being instructed to do. Kopps accomplished this in a low-brow instructional film that both deconstructs and constructs, providing for what might be made to be a plane of immanence.

--Mike vW

Andrea Zittel and Relational Aesthetics

Andrea Zittel is a contemporary sculptor and installation artist whose work bleeds into the realms of both art and life. A quote from the New York Times article "Rethinking the World by Cutting it Down to Size" describes the majority of her oeuvre:
Her one-woman lifestyle company, A-Z Administrative Services, has created personal uniforms to alleviate the daily angst of "What should I wear?"; carpeting that can be used as furniture; dehydrated food for eating dry or cooked; elegant chamber pots; small habitats that can be built without permits and easily transported; and "escape vehicles" for inside the home that help the user tune out the external world. [1]
Her habitats, such as the "A-Z Management and Maintenance Unit" (1992), were her attempt to create pre-fabricated spaces that could function as everything she needed in her living quarters. In his text Relational Aesthetics (English, 2002) Bourriaud mentions Zittel as one contemporary artist who encompasses his concepts surrounding the new realm in which contemporary art exists: it is no longer "a space to be walked through...It is henceforth presented as a period of time to be lived through" (15). This notion of "a period of time" is exemplified in her personal uniforms that she wears during a four-month period as well as in her floating personal island project depicted in her film Gollywobbler.

Andrea Zittel
A-Z Personal Uniforms

In constructing the first of her home units, Zittel believed "that when I made that piece and I had everything perfected that [would] solve all of my problems" [2] of living in the confined space of a storefront in Brooklyn. However, once she was done with the first unit she discovered that " was perfect and there was nothing left to do to it, I felt completely despondent, very listless and depressed. At that point...I had this revelation that no one really wants perfection; that we're obsessed with perfection, we're obsessed with innovation and moving forwards, but what we really want is the hope of some sort of new and improved or a better tomorrow." [3] In this way, Zittel's home units encompass Bourriaud's concept of "learning to inhabit the world in a better way"; that the goal of contemporary art "is no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within the existing real" (13). The fact that Zittel actually lives within her creations and encourages others to share in the experience of developing a relationship with her pieces makes her method of creation one that can easily exist in the contemporary art world defined by relations and conversations spoken of by Bourriaud.

Photo credit: Andrea Zittel/Andrea Rosen Gallery
"A-Z Management and Maintenance Unit, Model 003," a 60-square-foot living space.

It is no wonder that Bourriaud mentions her in his section entitled "The aura of artworks has shifted toward the public": her work includes "the presence of the micro-community which will accommodate it" (58) as well as his notions that contemporary art forms should have a conversation with the viewer by means of a bodily commitment, or at least the work's recognition of the viewer as subject. Zittel asserts that one of the main purposes of her work is to relate to other peoples' experiences with the world, which keenly aligns with Bourriaud's ideas that "art has always been relational to varying degrees" (15).

I feel as though my thoughts can be made more clear by actually seeing her work in person, but in any event I found Zittel's personification of Bourriaud's work absolutely uncanny.

..Katharine Relth

[2] ART:21, Consumption. Start video at 27:00.
[3] Ibid.

Tino Sehgal – "This Immanence"

In thinking about Nicolas Bourriaud's "Relational Aesthetics" an artist by the name of Tino Sehgal comes to mind. Tino is currently showing an exhibit called "This Progress" (along with "Kiss") at the Guggenheim in New York. While I am no art historian (nor do i know very much about the contemporary art world), I do know that Tino is particularly apt when discussing the transitory, the interactive, the relational, and the immaterial within the traditional museum and gallery space. Tino's goal with his pieces is to "free art from the material of overproduction." [1] It is for this reason that his pieces are all immaterial and in fact he himself, even in his business dealings, does not deal in the material (accept for receiving the money of course). He does not actually frabicate any tangible thing, but that does not stop his pieces from being sold- in fact the MOMA owns "The kiss" (they own the performance, they own the event). [2] The kiss is a choreographed make-out session of sorts that lasts the entire time frame that the museum is open and the couple often pause for moments to reinact poses from famous scenes throughout the history of art.

"This progress" on the other hand is a much less condensed piece and, as explicated in the New York Times article below [2] leaves you with no formal conclusions or answers of any sort- simply relations (?). I should point out that I have not actually been to the exhibit- I saw "The Kiss" from outside and I couldn't bring myself to spend 18$ to go in or to wait in line for 45 minutes in order to get in for free (what this demonstrates I am not sure). I have, on the other hand, had several conversations with a person who is an "interpreter" in the piece and as she explained it to me- the piece is about conversation and communication (mildly choreographed discussions and relationships). Essentially, upon entering the exhibit you are greeted by a child and from then on you are greeted by other "interpreters" all discussing things along the topic of "progress." Most importantly, THERE IS NOTHING ON THE WALLS. The museum is striped of it's material art and what is left are these transitory, fleeting, and wholly immaterial dialogues.

Much more could be said of Tino's work but suffice it to say that his goal of "administrating cultural values, and the real politics would be to work on those cultural values and to bring up new ideas of how things could be done." [1] has much in common with the kind of "relational aesthetics" discussed by Bourriaud- "[...] creating and staging devices of existence including working methods and ways of being, instead of concrete objects which hitherto bounded the realm of art, they use time as a material. The form holds sway over the thing, and movements over categories. The production of gestures wins out over the production of things." (p. 103) [3] And this is what you get (and pay for) with Tino Sehal- "Staged Situations" [1] and gesture (but what else is there?).

(p.s. I am not sure what is up with the end of the video...)

Vanessa Meyer


[1] Anne Midgette. you can't hold it But you can own it.

[2] Holland Cotter. in the naked museum: talking, thinking, encountering.

[3] Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics (Paris: Les Presses du réel, 2002)

Rirkrit Tiravanija

Profile of one of the artists who emerged in the 1990s that Nicolas Bourriaud considers exemplary in terms of the new forms of participatory art he calls "relational aesthetics."

Friday, February 12, 2010

Geometry of the Rhizome: Models for Art

A new geometry for the rhizomatic, the impossible figure. The reversible perspective cube or the Necker cube and the Penrose cube both of which are impossible figures. Louis Albert Necker, the inventor of this optical illusion was also a crystallographer. Is it more than just coincidence that Gilles Deleuze uses the metaphor of the crystal to discuss the temporality of cinema in The Time Image? There is no way to know with certainty but there does seem to be a strong affinity toward his collective assemblages of enunciation, the body without organs and the “impossible picture” (p. 7)[i]. In the Penrose cube the informative regions are apparently coherent yet are revealed to be invalid in three dimensions. Glanced at one corner at a time the figure maintains somewhat of a semi-stable identity. The artist Maurits Cornelis Escher was intrigued by these types of visual paradoxes and made them the study of many of his own works (see below).

We tolerate the inconsistency of the impossible figure because of the way our perception constructs predicative assumptions about outlying visual information. As Hochberg shows detail falls off as a function of the distance from the center of the fovea where our gaze is focused so that toward the periphery of our gaze things are not very detailed (click on figure below to enlarge) (p. 241)[ii]. Let us take the example of the Penrose cube (second from top). The illusion depends in part on the distance over which integration proceeds between one set of intersecting lines, one dihedral corner, and another. In other words our ideas about the figure require us to move our eyes from one point to the next and adjust accordingly. Thus it has a lot to do with the measurable relation between things: that state of transition, which separates one view from the next. This is what I believe Deleuze is essentially talking about when he states that, “the units of measure are what is essential” even though he is not speaking directly about perception here (p.4)[iii]. The figure is continually changing between one configuration and another depending on the movement of our eyes. There are more than two cubes present at once, their inner dynamic constituted by a centrifugal or de-centering force. Hence the method of the rhizomatic, which de-centers things onto other dimensions and registers.

Even when we are told in advance that the figure is impossible we persist in seeing the Penrose cube and the Necker cube as three-dimensional objects. Why is this? Hochberg conjectures that “our perceptual systems seem more tolerant of inconsistency than thy would if they mirrored faithfully the couplings found in the real world” (p. 244)[iv]. It shows that our understanding of the world is a generative act and not merely the passive state of recognizing forms in nature. This idea of perception works well with the description of the rhizomatic, “a semiotic chain-like tuber agglomerating very diverse acts, not only linguistic, but also perceptive, mimetic, gestural and cognitive.” In short we can comprehend and make sense of varying versions of reality, a testament to the flexibility of our minds and the fabric of space-time. Try to grasp the blade of grass in the middle and it is all but impossible. The impossible cubes are in a state of perpetual flux and this is how they can maintain their own inner logic (n-1) in spite of their apparent and rational impossibility. If we enumerate the traits of the rhizomatic, such as the principles of connection and heterogeneity, multiplicity, asygnifying rupture, cartography and decalcomania we find them analogous with those that constitute the perceptual illusion of the Necker and Penrose cubes, which are made possible in turn by the expanding connection between the picture and our neural apparatus, which co-exist on the plane of immanence. It constructs the unconscious and does not just trace or illustrate a representational figure or concept. What further implications might the Necker/Deleuze models have for practicing artists? Can we observe these structures in any currently existing works of art? The question remains open to investigation.

caldwell l.

[i] Deleuze, Gilles, and Guattari Felix. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. University of Minnesota, 1987.

[ii] Hochberg, Julian E. In the mind's eye Julian Hochberg on the perception of pictures, films, and the world. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006. Print.

[iii] Deleuze

[iv] Hochberg

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow Day Lectures (III): Spinoza, God and Immanence

In What Is Philosophy, Deleuze and Guattari refer to Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) as “prince of philosophers.” Spinoza, they write, “is the only philosopher never to have compromised with transcendence and to have hunted it down everywhere […] He discovered that freedom exists only within immanence” (1994, 48). Spinoza’s philosophy of immanence is the consequence of his rejection of the Judeo-Christian conception of God as a transcendent creator; a supernatural being who is cause of a world distinct from himself, created out of nothing and through an act of free will. Spinoza argues that God is not prior to or outside the world – transcendent to creation – but wholly immanent within it. God is “an extended substance composed of an infinity of attributes that is purely immanent throughout nature” (Daniel Smith 2003, 18). Divinity is fully expressed in the world and without reserve. This leads Spinoza to his scandalous formulation “God, or Nature” (Deus sive natura), which both divinizes nature and naturalizes divinity (and explains descriptions of Spinoza as both pantheist and atheist).

By rejecting the notion of God as transcendent cause, Spinoza also undermines the link between God and moral absolutes or laws. Moral judgments have no corollary in the natural world and therefore cannot be attributed to God, since what cannot be said to belong to nature cannot be said to belong to God. Moral judgments must be understood as “human creations made for our convenience and utility.” Morality as “the product of social agreement” can only be deemed legitimate or illegitimate in terms of its beneficial or harmful effects on the society that agrees to live under its rules and regulations (Smith 2003, 52 and 126). For Spinoza, there is no “imaginary supernatural realm” and no external authority to which we can refer or reference in order to determine morality, and if there is no God who pre-exists the world, then there can be no source that can be said to stand outside or beyond the world to approve or condemn it. Life cannot be explained by what transcends life.

Spinoza’s philosophy of immanence thus requires a new kind of ethics, addressed to the here and now, immersed in the sensible world, without recourse to absolute or divine authority. Spinoza goes further. He rejects the anthropomorphic fallacy that conceives God in the image of man, albeit raised to the power of infinity. “People attribute to God features borrowed from human consciousness […] and, in order, to provide for God’s essence, they merely raise those features to infinity, or say that God possess them in an infinitely perfect form” (Deleuze 1988, 63). What Spinoza makes clear is the extent to which this notion of God functions as a mirror image of the attributes man perceives or idealizes in himself: man as an intending agent, who supposedly creates, like God, through a spontaneous act of free will; man as outside, or transcendent to, nature.

Here, Spinoza’s critique can be directed not only against the philosophy of transcendence found in Plato and in Christian theology, but the modern variant found in Descartes. Thus, in opposition to the latter’s dualist ontology, Spinoza asserts the conjugation of mind and body. Both mind and body are modes of substance (i.e., God or nature). Spinoza: “Mind and body are one and the same thing, conceived now under the attribute of thought, now under the attribute of extension” (qt. in Montag 1999, 42). Spinoza renders problematic the notion that that body is controlled by “the will of the mind and the exercise of thought” (Spinoza qt. in Montag 1999, 38). Spinoza doesn’t simply reject Descartes’s dualist thought, but challenges the hierarchy that subordinates the body to the mind, which subordinates the power to be affected to the power to think, which separates the power to be affected from the power to think. Spinoza’s immanent philosophy does not allow us to set apart “mind from body, thought from action,” or man from nature: each coincides with the other (Montag 1999, xvii). Just as God is expressed in world (as world) so too is the artist, for example, expressed in their work. There is not an individual who acts but an act that individuates. And this individuation is ongoing.


Deleuze, Gilles. Spinoza: Practical Philosophy. Trans. Robert Hurley. San Francisco, CA: City Lights, 1988.
––––– and Félix Guattari. What is Philosophy? New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.
Montag, Warren. Bodies, Masses, Power: Spinoza and His Contemporaries. London: Verso, 1999.
Smith, Daniel W. “Deleuze and Derrida, Immanence and Transcendence: Two Directions in Recent French Thought.” In Paul Patton and John Protevi (eds.), Between Deleuze and Derrida. London and New York: Continuum, 2003.