Ursula Nistrup 2004

In this essay I would like focus on issues in contemporary artistic practice which specificly are related to the terms Relational and Process -orientated Non-object Art. My points of entry will be through the following areas of interest, which in the text will overlap and infiltrate each other. I will not attempt to provide answeres, but will debate and investigate this area which simultaniously intriques and frustrates me.


What does it mean that an object is no longer part of the work? In what way then will it be possible for the audience to access this work? What is implied by a shifting non-stable entry point? In what way and in what form can a work exist if it has no end product? Can the form be the non-physical process of production? Of comunication?


What do these works communicate and is this comunication the essence of the work? Comunicating by means of a non-directional movement, unfolding between situaitions which is not stable or fixed.


The issue of Relational Art: the relationship between the audience and the work and to everyday-experiences through social interaction. Are these works potentially framing and/or limiting everyday occurences and utopias? What role does imagination and desire play in our way of understanding and relating to everyday events? What is the role of the artist in these works? What does the work provide which we are not already aware of?


In the review of the exhibition Touch currated by Nicolas Bourriaud, Chris Cobb introduces the agency and relevance of the works in the exhibition by relating it to the issue of globalization today.


“Nicolas Bourriaud’s TOUCH reviews many issues of 1960s and 1970s art and addresses a new type of connection between artists and their audience. Today people are being connected via e-mail, cell phones, satellite feeds, cheap video cameras, and even affordable air travel, all ways that weren’t possible or convenient thirty years ago. In response, some artists now make work that is as much social interaction as it is art.”


The work in this exhibition exists as documentation of events, live interventions, staged situations and interactive games. The exhibition was curated by the French art critic and co-director of Palais de Tokyo in Paris, Nicolas Bourriaud who is also the author of the essay collection “ Relational Aestetics“ , which will be an important point of reference through this essay . It is central to define the form these works take and to be aware of their non-object base. The form these works take are;


“Meetings, encounters, events, various types of collaborations between people, games, festivals, and places of conviviality, in a world all manner of encounter and relational inventions thus represent, today, aestetic objects likely to be looked at as such, with pictures and sculptures regarded here merely as specific cases of a production of forms with something other than a simple aestetic consumption in mind“


When Bourriaud emphasises the elemets as “other than a simple aesthetic consumption in mind“ it becomes clear that we are dealing with something other than what might be regarded as traditional object works of art. This is not a sculpture, a film or a photograph which we can relate to and which can be sold and valued in the usual sense.( even though some Relational works do get sold )
These works or projects are defined not as thoughts, in the conceptional art understanding or as objects to encounter or to look at, but as events to be part of and gestures given to the audience,


“…is a notion of art as an ephemeral offering, a precarious gift.“


“Often they exist as a place for socialization, such as a kiosk, a village market or for example, a dancefloor, by Rirkrit Tarivanija. The works are refered to as stations, studios and platforms, as ‘places that gather and then dispense,“ in order to underscore the casual comunities that they sought to create.“


They are to a large extend defined by their relation to the sourrounding elements, those being specific interaction with the social or physical enviornment. Bourriard describes one of the primary ideas behind the term Realtaional Aesthetic as the “Criterion of Coexistence“,


“..it is a way of considering the productive existence of the viewer of art, the space of the participation that art can offer.“


These works are not simply site, location or situation specific, the situations are the works, which to me makes it difficult to regard them as “...underscoring the casual comunities that they sought to create.“

In my view, the interaction between the community will not be casual. But will in each case exist in an altered and specific form. Which can seem to both conflict and agree with this statement from Bourriaud;


“It denies the place specific “place of the art”, in favour of a forever unfinished discursiveness, and a never recaptured desire for dissemination.”


This suggests an interesting paradox that these works are situational and context specific, but not simultaneously. It seems to me that some of the strongest points of these works is that they of course ”are in favour of a forever unfinished discursiveness”, and, that every time performed, become specific to the individual and the culture, so creating a significant performance brought about by location and audience. You could argue endlessly that all spaces are equally specific. The problem suggests that the interaction of the audience on the one hand, determines the work and, at the same time the work is either already determined or never will be. To push that argument, any interaction by any audience might therefore seem unnecessary. Which brings me to the issue of objectivity, which I think is one of the major issues in these works. By setting up a stage, a station, a kiosk to what extent is that an objective gesture? And to what degree is it possible and of interest for these artists, to not decide who will interact with the situations set up? When Ririkrit Tiravanija makes Thai-soup which he invites the visitors of an exhibition to eat, is he then giving up control and being more objective than a painter painting a specific scene? The gesture of providing and offering something (in this case the soup) is drastically different than the ordinary relationship between the artist providing for example, an subjective experience to an audience. Or, is it?


In the “Secession 2002” exhibition, Ririkrit Tiravanija and various guests used the exhibition for the performance of a multi-media programme. Rirkrit Tiravanija brought both the stage-set and the entertainment programme into play as invitations for action. He asked the visitors to participate as actors in the shaping of the programme. Members of the audience were invited to occupy the exhibition space, whether they wanted to listen and relax there or be a part of the evening's entertainment. Tiravanija provided the facilities for people to use the space at their own personal liking, to talk with friends, play films, or host their own DJ session.

When a group of people interact with a piece like this exhibition by Ririkrit Tiravanija, do they then not direct the specificity of the work? And to what degree is the context of the art gallery or public situation not determining this? Obviously the work creates a open framework or a set of tools which, to some extend are open to interpretation and various ways of encounter. Bourriaud uses the term transitivity when he says,


“Transitivity…it is a tangible property of the artwork. Without it the work is nothing other than a dead object, crushed by contemplation.”


In this way he defines the flux and the ongoing altered state of these works as a major part of them, suggesting therefore that each piece must exist, be experienced and interacted with, at diverse locations and in various contexts to establish this transitivity. Also that distribution and the cultural specificity of this distribution has an impact on the projects and the ways in which they are related to,


“Practices like Tiravanija’s pre-empt and literalise the postmodernist principle that an artwork only exists at the point of reception. At the same time, the transformation of spectators into participants, or consumers into producers, is a potentially political move harking back to the Situationists. ‘Postproduction’ is another way of considering the same practice but based on a conventional understanding of appropriation and the readymade (i.e. the refutation of originality and authorship) the distinction here being that Bourriaud resituates these familiar discussions in a social and technological field, rather than the domain of images and objects. “


Alex Farqhuarson, here argues that this notion of transitivity in Relational Art is a matter of appropriation, another term which can be argued as part of what is defined as “post-production” art. This makes sense, but these works are in my view more than appropriated, they are to some extent, even though they are trying to undo this and work against it, still partly pre-determined. They operate through a set structure, addressing a specific area of society by existing in a pre-determined context. Their ambition of being objective is very fascinating and, I think an important concern within contemporary art, but also partly naive.

Another interesting issue these works raise is the role of the audience as both the material of the work as the participants, and the viewers. The works are not only brought to the audience, they aim to forego the barriers which too often exist between the work and the viewer. There seem to be different dimentions to the work, and the contextualisation of any event establishes one of several. One strengh of the works is that they have an imidiacy and they can be related to without knowledge of arthistorical references or knowledge of language.

In the interview with Miroslav Kulchitsky, Bourriaud relates the notion of Transitivity and appropriation to the role of Interpretation as part of "Relational" theory. He argues whether the issue of displacement of relations within the audience, means the shifting of the centre of gravity to the field of description of events.


“N.B.: I would compare interpretation with a map. You are drawing a map for someone to see what you can see. That's it. Then somebody else will draw another map, which will be a bit different or completely different.


M.K. : A sort of navigation chart.


N.B.: Yes, it is. We constantly show up these charts to each other. When I am interpreting, I just want to show something to somebody.”


This way Bourriaud, regards these works, which he refers to as Relational Art works as a kind of subjective illustration of a personal interpretation of a certain event. The works aim on one plane to undergo any subjectiveness, by introducing and inviting anything, any event, any encounter with any person passing by. But decisions are made as to what event to invite people to, whether to make a kiosk, a village market or a dance floor, therefore the interpretation of the event and what is offered is highly subjective. It is a very interesting and complex way of attempting to be open, whilst also being aware that at some point a definition, which is limiting will occur.


The relation to the mundane and everyday life in Relational Art works is another central issue.


“Today, this history seems to have taken a new turn. After the area of the relation between humankind and dedity, then between humankind and object, artistic practice is now focused upon the sphere of the inter-human relation, as ilustrated by artistic activities that have progressed since the early 1990s. So the artist sets his sight more clearly on the relations that his work will create among his public, and on the invention of models of siciability.“


A crucial element in these works is comunication. Both in the way these works are being encountered and how they communicate to the audience, but also the way comunication as a phenomenon is part of the subject. These works exist as non-object events. The object i.e. the kiosk, introduces function as tool as a means to comunicate something about the essence of comunication: the way we as people communicate with each other in our everyday life and with the sourrounding world. This then reflects back on us and the people we co-exist,


“This art explores the relationship beween Man and the physical world.“


An important part of this relationship to the physical world and the people that sourround us, happens by relating our interpretations to ideas of reality and what we might imagine. It seems that the concept of Relational Art, defines what is related to, as elements of the real world. It blures the bounderies between what is occuring as an event in the world and what might be staged or pre-planed. It raises interesting questions about where there might be a distinction between the pre-conditioned and the instantanious, and where an instantanious event takes its inspiration from. Prehaps from other related events of everyday life but just as likely from something which has never existed.


While, the works, describe our lives they also indicate for us our individual limited ability to fantasise, or simply whether we include fantasies in our everyday lives. Having the desire to establish works, which have no obvious objects or any end product, which exist through arguably limitless ways of comunication and through a constantly altered state of transitivity, seem to me to be very idealistic. But I admire the idea and regard the accumulation of attempts central to the way the work is viewed and received. Here, as in many other cases, the amount of the various events establishes reference points and reveals structures, but also creates a basis for a more general collection of events. When the work is based and relating so strongly to everyday experience, this becomes a signifier of the mundane and non-hierarchical, and the sublime and specifically valued, simultaneously. This I find very exiting and would like to relate to the thought by Terry Eagleton in his book After theory, where he argues that areas like love, evil, death, morality, religion and sex are important parts of human existence which have been overlooked in a current situation where “Postmodernism may now be dead“


“We have come to acknowledge that human existence is at least as much about fantasy and desire as it about truth and reason.“


The Relation Art works set up scenarios where we can observe our own patterns of behaviour. We and our patterns of behaviour are invited to be monitored by ourselves and others. Eagleton is, like Bourriaud, interested in the way we coexist and how we behave interactively. In the following he focusses on What it is to share and love another person.


“To try to see the other’s situation as it really is, is an essential condition of caring for them….to be concerned for another is to be present to them in the form of absence, a certain self-forgetful attentiveness.“


In the work by Tiravanija, Eagleton’s thoughts are in most cases difficult to apply. “Secession 2002” is just one of several works described under the banner of Relational Art, which aims seem to be establishing communication between people, but which just as strongly nurture the idea about the individual as the centre of attention. The inter-actor has the control and might be providing an experience for others, but also just as much for themselves. In the Thai-soup event the guests are still to some extend put in focus, by being the receivers of another’s labour. The guests are not invited to share there soup, but are all treated with equal importance. Bennett Simoson is highly critical of the structure of and role these works occupy.


“In Bourriaud’s framework, artists like Tiravanija and Beecroft had become postpolitical producers of cultural services: get people together, give them some terms, provide an experience.“


I find this critique valid and I have through this essay aimed to argue some of the problematics of the concept of Relational Aestetic works. I find the problemetics interesting. I am especially interested in the ambition for objectivity and the somehow illusionistic way of representing and staging reality. It seems like a hopeless task which has been the occupation of artists long before Relational Art was being defiined. But perhaps this link to the notion of the real through the everyday will create different curcumstances for these ambitions to be discussed.

Hal Foster gives a possible explanation to the relevance of why these concerns are so prominent in contemporary art today,


“Perhaps discursivity and sociability are forgrounded in art today because they appear scarce elsewhere esle. The same goes for the ethical and the everyday, as the slightest glance at our craven politicians and hectic lives might suggest. It is as if the very idea of community has taken on an utopian tinge.“


II would like to end this essay with this quote by Eagelton. What I find intriging is the way he describes the ability to forget oneself when being in love and the possibility and necessesity for objectvity; a state which is an impossibility, but must still exist as an ideal. In my view this relates to the notion of Relational Art and the ambition for objectivity inbedded in situations which can not possibly exist as objective,


“..and If one is loved or trusted in return, it is largely this which gives one self-confidence to forget oneself…To achieve such objectivity in any absolut way we would need to remove ourselves from the situation altogether, which would hardly be the most convinient way of intervening in it. But the fact that it is ultimately impossibile should not deter us from trying to archive it.“




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