Emancipation in Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics

What follows are thematic notes from my readings in preparing my masters thesis. The quotes are from the English translation (2002).

Jacques Rancière’s Emancipated Spectator has some critiques for Bourriaud (and here is Bourriaud’s response). Let’s see how emancipation is referenced in Relational Aesthetics, shall we?

Untitled (Perfect Lovers). Felix Gonzalez-Torres. 1987-90

Chapter 4 “Joint presence and availability: The theoretical legacy of Felix Gonzalez-Torres

A phase in the modern project is being wound up. Today, after two centuries of struggle for singularity and against group impulses, we must bring in a new synthesis which, alone, will be able to save us from the regressive fantasy that is abroad. Reintroducing the idea of plurality, for contemporary culture hailing from modernity, means inventing ways of being together, forms of interaction that go beyond the inevitability of the families, ghettos of technological user-friendliness, and collective institutions on offer. We can only extend modernity to advantage by going beyond the struggles it has bequeathed us. In our post-industrial societies, the most pressing thing is no longer emancipation of individuals, but the freeing-up of inter-human communications, the dimensional emancipation of existence. (60)

Chapter 5 “Screen Relations”

The subject of the contemporary video is rarely free. This is because he/she collaborates in the great visual census, at once individual, sexual and ethnic, in which all forms of power agency in our society are currently indulging.
The future of art, as an instrument of emancipation, and as a political tool aimed at liberation of forms of subjectivity, depends on the way artists deal with this issue. (78)

Chapter 6 “Towards a policy of forms”

Our day and age is certainly not short of political projects, but it is awaiting forms capable of embodying it, and thus enabling it to become material [….] Our age requires its political effectiveness in the freezing of machinery, and the freeze-frame.
The enemy we have to fight first and foremost is embodied in a social form: it is the spread of supplier/client relations to every level of human life, from work to dwelling-place by way of all the tacit contracts which define our private life. (83)


[I]t might be possible to to acquire the overall meaning of society. Totalitarianism systematically tries to set up a form of temporal motionlessness, and rendering the time in which it exists uniform and collective, a fantasy of eternity aimed first and foremost at standardizing and monitoring patterns of behavior. Foucault thus rightly stressed the fact that the art of living clashed with “all forms of fascism, be they already there or lurking.” (109)


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