Sunday, 20 March 2005

Although I don't specially mean for this to be a research blog, I wanted to note here this article - via Creativity / Machine - an interview with Nicolas Bourriaud who is (or in 2001 was) curator of the Palais de Tokyo museum in Paris. Bourriaud's books mentioned in the intro look as though they may be worth investigating.

I don't have much interest in the art that Bourriaud is referring to when he descibes a tendency in late 90s (european?) work that apparently involves addressing participatory aesthetics via 'new' communications technology. (It's hard to see how somebody like Vanessa Beecroft, who he mentions, fits into that category.) What is interesting, though, is the logic at work in an exchange like this one. Bourriaud seems to be saying that the best kind of relationship an art object sets up with its audience is always one where the viewer is given something to do - and as the interviewer says, that's a pretty obvious point. But then he goes on to discuss how the work/viewer relationship is shaped differently, in different eras, according to the particular needs of the moment:
NB: One of the most important ideas for me is what I called the "criterion of coexistence." Take the example of ancient Chinese and Japanese painting, which always leaves space open for the viewer to complete the experience. This painting is an ellipses. I like art that allows its audience to exist in the space opened up by it. For me, art is a space of images, objects, and human beings. Relational aesthetics is a way of considering the productive existence of the viewer of art, the space of participation that art can offer.

BS: But isn't any aesthetic experience at least partially "completed" by the viewer or participant? What's different, in terms of practice, about the '90s artists you've mentioned?

NB: Relational aesthetics tries to decode or understand the type of relations to the viewer produced by the work of art. Minimalism addressed the question of the viewer's participation in phenomenological terms. The art of the '90s addresses it in terms of use. Tiravanija once quoted this sentence from Wittgenstein: "Don't look for the meaning of things, look for their use." One is not in front of an object anymore but included in the process of its construction.

I think that's still quite a lazy answer, because you could say exactly the same thing about 18th century French painting, for instance: the public debate about painting that was going on then was about whether painting was a debased, show-offy, theatrical artform precisely because it existed for no other reason than to be stared at. So, one solution the painters found was to make work like this, where the subject of the painting is a person doing something that requires intense inner concentration, and to fully grasp the painting, the viewer has to imagine what's going on inside the person in the picture - which, by definition, can't be looked at. Viewers are always 'included in the process' of construction, of good art anyway. Loads of other examples. And Bourriaud must know this. So what's different now?

For Bourriaud, art making now is all about the conditions of ultra-late capitalism. Exchange is the new consumption. As for making things, forget it. Artists 'don't really "create" anymore, they reorganize. There are two dominant figures in today's culture: the DJ and the programmer. Both deal with things that are already produced.' More specifically:
NB: I think quotation is no longer an operative value. Quotation only submits one's work to the authority of History and its "masters." A DJ doesn't "quote," per se. He or she wanders into History and uses previous works according to his or her own needs. This method might be similar to past ones, but the set of values that organizes it has changed: Nobody cares anymore about signatures as authority markers, we now live in a cultural space of increasingly fluid circulations of signs.

What this seems to miss is a strong sense of the way that relating and exchange and use just are psychically 'creative' acts, whether it's using an object that comes down to you from out of the past, or whether the object you're working with is reacting back in real time (your time.) We are awash in a flood of information and it's actually quite a positive, powerful gesture to pick something significant out of the flow and claim it as a source of influence. Bourriaud notices this, but he doesn't (not in this interview, at least) also observe that 'quotation' of the past is used not just for the artist's own 'needs', but also for the artist's audience to recognise. If you don't also know the source of a sampled beat, you won't even hear that it's sampled.

Somebody needs to write a book about the romance of the DJ as culture hero - I'm a bit over the mindless sentimentality academe expends on this figure. (My little brother is a DJ and I'm fairly certain he does it mostly so he can go out drinking in clubs without having to either speak to people or dance.) But yes. Push all this into the realm of adaptation and it begins to look kind of wobbly. There, people *do* care about 'signatures as authority markers': try making a movie of The Corrections without tipping the hat formally and fiscally to Mr Franzen, and see how far you get. Or adapt an Austen (public domain) text and watch the reaction from Austen's fans if you don't acknowledge the authority of the source. well, enough for today.


Anonymous said...

I am sure that rhetorical strategy of asking whether the comments about something apply just as well to other stuff has a name.

Even if it doesn't, it is a wonderful skewer, and useful as well.

As the scientists tend to say, that's how you know something is non-trivial. And that is a powerful tool.


Lucy Tartan said...

I don't know what it's called, either. But i'm going to look it up.