Relational Aesthetics, Antagonisms and Narratives.

After attempting (and failing) to get to the end of  Relational Aesthetics by Nicolas Bourriaud, I found this article Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics quite refreshing in that the writer, Claire Bishop takes a  stance of disagreement.


The article outlines some of Bourriaud’s ideas about Relational Aesthetics and critiques the works of two artists from Bourriaud’s stable; Rirkrit Tiravanija and Liam Gillick, Bishop then outlines some of the ideas in Relational Aesthetics then goes on to disagree with Bourriaud using the works of Santiago Sierra and Thomas Hirschhorn to demonstrate her arguments.


One of the aspects of this article that I found interesting is Bishop’s take on Tiravanija’s gatherings, how they only affect and create relationships with people who would have been there already – the white collar gallery-goers. How his work becomes like a networking exercise between like-minded individuals, akin to what you would get at a lengthy closed door policy art opening, more like speed dating for artists, dealers and curators than true democratic relationships.


Something that made me think was the section of the article where Bishop outlines Bourriaud’s theory on the “shifts in attitude towards social change” (Bishop, 2004, 54), how instead of focusing on creating a utopian society, artists are setting up ‘micro-topias’; small and sometimes short-lived functioning societies or relationship spaces (Bourriaud as cited in Bishop, 2004, 54).


I find this shift interesting to think about, maybe the majority of artists have lost the world changing activism of earlier generations (think John and Yoko’s Bed In) and are more invested in personal micro-narratives (think Ingrid Calame and micro-histories). Trying to make sense of the one small portion of the world that the artist inhabits and hoping that it resonates somewhere in the spaces of other peoples micro-narratives. Is this what I am doing as an artist, and as it is in me, is it the same for other artists? Is this reaffirmation of a personal narrative a response to the massive virtual bombardment of the virtual influences in today’s high tech society?



2 thoughts on “Relational Aesthetics, Antagonisms and Narratives.

  1. Hi Rose,

    Some interesting thoughts. I think it could be worth following up on some of Bishop’s more recent writings too, as she is really pushing this question of art’s insularity. In particular, she’s now exploring how digital culture is transforming our understanding of art. Might be good for you, given the intersection between “traditional” drawing, and social media like Twitter. This is all part of a bigger conversation too, being driven by Bishop, Pamela Lee and David Joselit, about the problematics of the art world. You also mention the idea of the activism of earlier generations. I tend to agree, and one of the things that frustrates me about relational aesthetics is how polite and gentile it tends to be. I think this also needs to be seen in the context of when Borriaud wrote his key essays – at the height of the economic boom. Since then though, things have changed dramatically, and there is a noticable sioft back towards political, socially critical art. There’s a very good essay about this in the March Artforum, by Tom Holert – worth a read, I think!

    • Thanks Anthony,
      I’m looking forward to investigating this area further, I am very interested in how our assimilation of technology into daily life is changing behaviours not just in art but in culture also.
      There has been so much massive change in such a short amount of time that people are only really beginning to understand the shifts in culture now. Definitely makes for some fascinating reading!

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