Seminar at the MACBA in Barcelona
Since the English translation of "Relational Aesthetics" in 2002 (originally published in French in 1998) the book has been a central text in European contemporary art discourse because it provided a framework for a series of artistic practices from the beginning of the 90'ties and onwards. Being the director of Palais de Tokyo in Paris, Nicolas Bourriaud the author have had a base to actualize his ideas in companion with Jérôme Sans the other director of the art venue.
The seminar at the MACBA somewhat provocatively set out to:
"recuperate the relational debate from the aristocratic ghetto of the “relational aesthetics” of Nicolas Bourriaud and the Palais de Tokyo, which seems to us a perverse reification of both political activism and the new Post-Fordist forms of immaterial production."
But answers as to how this could happen was hard to find and rather than defining "another relationality" it became centered around critiquing Relational Aesthetics. The MACBA itself has been a producer of theory and shows with an edge, as described in this text by one of the organizers of the seminar Jorge Ribalta. But proposals in the conference introduction to make the museum less open or make shows with for example Michael Asher seems a step back in terms of investigating the museum as a place for public discourse, politics and social engagement.
Seen from a Scandinavian perspective where progressive institutions like NIFCA is being closed down by populist politicians and Rooseum is under threat, institutions that take up their responsibility to act in public and work with an agenda of social and political change is a critical issue. Institutional critique of progressive institutions is already being executed by politicians in a very effective manner.
My argument is not that criticism is not needed rather that some critiques are equating being critical with doing good, and in doing so siding with right wing politics or if offering no alternative support a return to status quo. Referring Grant Kester a new forms of art writing is needed to asses these practices, something that cannot be done with the logic of the Frankfurter school which is exactly something many contemporary practices are trying to work around. In relational practices and related ways of working many artists found a potential for making actual proposals for dealing with contemporary issues and making proposals for new ways of living without reversing to a utopian mindset or the critical approach as mentioned above.
On the other hand how to approach art practices that claim to "do good" is an issue, but one that has to be dealt with on the level of the individual artwork, and the politics implied in the artistic proposals, not on a generalized level as was often the case in the seminar.
The criticism posed in the seminar against the "the perverse reification of both political activism and the new Post-Fordist forms of immaterial production [also addressed to Palais de Tokyo]" Is a point that needs clarification. Because while it might be true that artists often work in a flexible, creative and self governed way, something that is attributed to "Post Fordism" it is an avantgardistic reading to believe that this would set the standard for the rest of society. Rather it is problematic because most artists aren't organized and museums and other art venues use this to underpay artists or not pay salary at all. This seems to me to be an issue that has to be dealt with on the level of organization of artists and art workers something that has been tried in Denmark with success with the Young Art Workers (UKK) organization.
Relational Aesthetics as a term and this was something that came up, seems often too limited for many of todays art practices, that after all not only deal with relations but also with environmental, political and social issues, and to a degree is more topic driven than interested in creating new forms or aesthetics. For this probably Peter Weibels "kontext Kunst" Suzanne Lacys "New Genre public art" and Grant Kesters "Conversation Pieces" are better points of departure for many of todays practices.
The seminar did contribute to a debate that has to some degree been missing, but became one sided in the absence of practitioners and artists in the panels. In this respect "What, How & for Whom" by Natasa Ilic did give one of the only accounts of affirmative action presenting a range of collective curatorial and urbanistic practices, pointing to concrete proposals for change, and new ways of building institutions.
Among the speakers were:
Claire Bishop working to make a framework to critically asses relational practices, Helmut Draxler critiquing the do-good artist and the problems of aesthetizising politics. Aleander Alberros delivered a great analysis on Latin American relational practices from the 60'ties and till today. A talk by Beatrice Von Bismark on the educational system seemed relevant in a context where the art schools rather than the museums are the gatekeepers to the art world.
Another Relationality, Macba, 25-26 November 2005
Young Art Workers (UKK)
Faculty of radical Aesthetics
Text by Jorge Ribalta
Review by Nis Rømer
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