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Nicolas Bourriaud and the Relationality of Contemporary Art

Nicolas Bourriaud and the Relationality of Contemporary Art

Derya Ulubatlı

(ARUCAD Lecturer, Department of Plastic Arts, Faculty of Arts)

In his book “Relational Aesthetics”, originally published in 1998, Bourriaud evaluates the art of the period in the context of relational art and relational aesthetics, with examples given especially through the art of the 1990s.

It is meaningless to evaluate art with the criteria, rules and aesthetic understanding of the past, both in the period when the book was written and in the increasing technological developments and the concomitant changing structure of society. Naturally, what needs to be done is to interpret art by taking into account ‘present’ production conditions of the society in which the art exists. This is because art also reshapes and transforms itself according to the situations and new concepts of the period in which it is lived. In this respect, reflections of some movements that emerged in the 1960s-1970s are seen in the art of the 90s; but these examples are given by reinterpreting with the understanding of the period in which they exist, and they are re-produced in a some form.

Bourriaud believes that in an age where communication tools are increasingly alienating us and communication between people is increasingly managed by others, that art is a phenomenon that can solve this miscommunication that arrives through communication. Increasingly, at some point, individual differences and differing realities are attempted to be communicated with each other. Art can be one of the tools of the new relationship that individuals will establish both with the changing world and with each other. In addition, in order to survive in our current consumer society, those living in society begin to fulfil the requirements of the society. In this constantly consumed society, it is disturbing that art is only an object that is looked at, passive and ready to be consumed. In this context, the art of this new society should be able to relate to people, be interpreted by them and cause them to think. In short, art should cease to be an entity that is only consumed, but transformed into an entity that allows the viewer to to ask questions and be involved in its production. This is the discovery of art as a space that will undo the effects of standardisation and create plurality. The author, who approaches the concept of relationality through ‘togetherness’ or ‘mutual action’, supports the idea that the work of art we see in Duchamp is something created through a partnership with the viewer and the artist, and in some way theorises this.

Bourriaud begins his book by opening up a new understanding of form that comes as a result of a new world and a new way of looking. Saying that

contemporary art exhibitions are a field of exchange developed with the participation of everyone, Bourriaud describes contemporary art as a ‘state of encounter’. Artists create a dialogue with the works they create, thus creating the environment for permanent encounters. It is none other than these permanent encounters that make up the ‘relational form’ that gives the first chapter its name. The form of contemporary art, which is generally criticised for its lack of form, is actually the relationship it establishes with other formations. It would be appropriate to say that these forms are also variable, since each dialogue that is established produces a different result. Bourriaud explains this situation as follows: ‘Contemporary art shows that the dynamic relationship of an artistic proposition with other formations, artistic or not, is not a form other than an encounter’. The way we look at the work of art is also our way of knowing, expressing and revealing ourselves. Seen in this way, form is also related to our effort to impose ourselves on the other.

Giving examples from various contemporary art works throughout the book, Bourriaud’s last section is mostly shaped by Guattari’s New Aesthetic Paradigm and emphasises the importance of his way of thinking on contemporary art. Based on Guattari, Bourriaud emphasises that throughout the history of art, the perception and gaze of the viewer has always been directed within the framework of certain rules. In archaic societies where the sense of identity is not fully settled and plurality rather than individuality comes to the fore, the view of art is not with an individual understanding. With the modern period, when the path to subjectivity and individualisation is opened, art begins to create its own unique space.

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