Representation 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).

I’m interested in understanding what an appropriative politics would look like in contrast to representative politics. My gut tells me that if I think with Bourriaud I am going to go some distance toward an appropriative politics; so, let’s see what representation looks like in Relational Aesthetics.

Mappa. Alighiero Boettis. 1978


Herein lies the most burning issue to do with art today: is it possible to generate relationships with the world, in a practical field arthistory traditionally earmarked for their “representation”? (9)

Chapter 3 “Space-time exchange factors”

[A work of art] is devoted, right away, to the world of exchange and communication, the world of “commerce,” in both meanings of the term. What all goods have in common is the fact that they have a value, that is, a common substance that permits their exchange. This substance, according to Marx, is the “amount of abstract labor” used to produce this item. It represented the sum of money, which is the “abstract general equivalent” of all goods between them. It has been said of art, and Marx was the first, that it represents the “absolute merchandise,” because it is the actual image of the value. (42)

Art represents a barter activity that cannot be regulated by an currency, or any “common substance.” It is the division of meaning in the wild state–an exchange whose form is defined by that of the object itself, before being so defined by definitions foreign to it. The artist’s practice, and his behavior as producer, determines the relationship that will be struck up with his work. In other words, what he produces, first and foremost, is relations between people and the world, by way of aesthetic objects. (42)

It seems more pressing to invent possible relations with our neighbors in the present than to bet on happier tomorrows. (45)

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

What strikes us in the work of this generation of artists is, first and foremost, the democratic concern that informs it. For art does not transcend everyday preoccupations, it confronts us with reality by way of the remarkable nature of any relationship to the world, through make-believe. (57)

[T]he exhibition situations presented to us […] today […] are governed by a concern to “give everyone their chance,” […] negotiate open relationships with it, which are not resolved beforehand. This latter thus wavers between the status of passive consumer and the status of witness, associate, customer, guest, co-producer, and protagonist. (58)

The public is being taken into account more and more [….] as if the microcommunity gathering in front of the image was becoming the actual source of the aura [….] The aura of art no longer lies in the hinter-world represented by the work, nor in form itself, but in front of it, within the temporary collective form that it produces by being on show. (61)

Chapter 5 “Screen relations”

[T]he function of representation is played out in behavioral patterns. These days, it is no longer a question of depicting from without the conditions of production, but of introducing the gestural, and deciphering the social relations brought on by them. When Alighiero Boetti gets 500 weavers in Peshawar, Pakistan, working for him, he represents the work process of multinational companies much more effectively than if her merely protrayed them and described how they work. (67)

The predominant form of videographic resident is thus the poll, that random foray into the crowd that typifies the television era. The camera asks questions, records movements, stays at pavement level. (74)

[P]resented as unified and specific time spans which can be re-enacted, and on which it is possible to inlay other elements and transmit a different rhythm (fast forward), just like the videos which they often end up becoming. For it would seem quite normal, today, that a piece, an action or performance should end up becoming documentation on videotape. [V]ideo […] works like evidence. The aesthetics of conceptual art is already a factual, witnessing aesthetics, to do with evidence and proof: recent activities are merely following up this designation of the “completely administered world” (Adorno) in which we live, in the casual and literal mode represented by video, instead of the analytical and deconstructive mode of conceptual art. (76)

Chapter 6 “Towards a policy of forms”

The work of art is only of interest to Guattari insomuch as it is not a matter of a “passively representative image,” otherwise put, a product. The work gives a material quality to existential territories, within which the image takes on the role of subjectivization vector or “shifter,” capable of deterring our perception before “hooking it up again” to other possibilities: that of an “operator of junctions in subjectivity.” (99)


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