I read an article here about relational art in Cornwall in the UK. I picked it because of the image above which is one of the first images that appears when you search the term on Google. Last semestre in Video Art class, we watched a movie, the small portion of which we saw in class where is being asked is relational art a new “ism”. I thought the criteria used by Ben Lewis as to what made something an “ism” were pretty spot on, but I was just as confused about this new art as he seemed to be in his film.
Nicholas Bourriaud, who was the curator and critic who identified relational art, states in his book on it that “a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space“. Ok, so what I gather that to mean and from what I gleaned from the various artworks I found was that relational art is art that hinges on participation. That is who would usually be the viewer would then become part of the artwork by their participating in its creation, culmination or execution.
When you think about some of the works like the one above, it asks for the viewer to be a part of the art spectacle which dissolves the separation that usually occurs between the view and the art object. It’s almost like reality tv where the viewer’s behavior becomes fodder for entertainment. It leads to an odd expression of artwork, I think from a critical standpoint because how true is the art experience only as far as relational works like this. Relational art seems to want to end the separation of art object and observer, but is it an honest separation? I feel like it wants to eleminate power dynamics, but does it really do that? I can’t entirely say that it does because when involving the viewer to be art (otherwise, we can assume say that no art is happening, unless the non-participation becomes participation which in turn leads us to a John Cage-ian type of relational art) takes away the genuineness of the human interaction and participation needed to be relational. I think barriers still exist. It’s an odd artform to wrap my head around, but it is one that I do enjoy because I like it when there is art that is either participatory or interactive, but I don’t think one should arrive at that the viewer is now also the artist as well. I think they will have become art objects themselves. It’s like a participatory viewership in some sense.