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


  1. Lukas, your comments are interesting and the "Revisiting Solaris" piece, which I am not familiar with, sounds fantastic. (Is there any way to actually see it?) The points you raise about the virtual, or the unthought in thought, are certainly important ones, but I'm not sure why the recycling of material would necessarily preclude this possibility of thinking the new. Because while the images are "recycled" (although not all of them, in your example), they are also being put into new relations with other images, and with other sounds, and this new relation itself can, potentially, yield something new and unforeseen. What is new here – what isn't recycled – is the relation itself. As Eisenstein would say (and Deleuze would agree, albeit in his own way), the juxtaposition of two images in cinema produces/stimulates a third shot which is not literal (or representational) but abstract (or virtual).

  2. One more thing: let's not overlook that Tarkovsky himself "recycles" footage in The Mirror, where he inserts archival footage of Russian soldiers during the Second World War into his film. By doing so, by placing it in a new context, by putting it into a new relation, the material has the ability to stimulate fresh insights or ideas. Indeed, Tarkovsky says as much himself. The fact that cinema allows us to archive "moments of time" means that it also has the ability to re-active these (past) moments for the present and a future to come.

  3. Thank you, Sam, for an explanation. Yes, now I understand the affect of a third shot, which is not representational. But still I have a question about difference of it in terms of its manipulative nature comparing with the not edited (not "postproductive" shot)... But I guess we'll have a disscussion about these questions during the analysis of Deleuzian approach to cinema.
    Unfortunately, I don't know how it is possible to see "Revisiting Solaris"... You cant find it in Youtube, because it was not published as a film. I visited the instalation in Vilnius Contemporary Art Centre two years ago, but then it was removed and was presented in other galleries around the world. Hopefully, it will come to New York some day...