This week: We talk to artist Rirkrit Tiravanija
By the title of this essay I imply not that I am providing an introduction to this topic, for the uninitiated, from the perspective of experience. Rather, I intend to share the experience of my own introduction to this topic, in preparation for a course I will be teaching next semester. Prior to beginning my research, I posed the following question to my Facebook friends; their responses follow.
Explain “relational aesthetics/social practice,” using only common language (no artspeak), and without bringing up Thai food. Go.
Jay Gallegos: Practical collaborative participation. It’s more like Ethiopian food.
Casey McGonagle: Do regular stuff, only it’s art.
Randall Szott: Art for artists inspired by Martha Stewart.
Chloë Rayson: One mans trash is understood by another man to be treasure
Richard Holland: Sometimes people make shit up.
Jennifer Reeder: Block party fantasy camp.
Albert Stabler: Making a blog about an ethically-motivated garage sale.
Randall Szott: Wait, that cuts a little too close to home there buddy.
Sherelle Castro: The kind that comes with cats and batteries.
Anne Harris: I have no idea. And I’m actually about to eat Thai food. Imagine that.
Kevin Freitas: Bullshit
Meg Duguid: The composition of moments and actions that shed light on a concept. You should be able to talk about this work like one might a painting or a composed photo, composition, movement, content. There should be a broad exposure to multiple practices from Mierle Ukeles, Mary Miss, Maya Linn, to Gordon Marta Clark and Rick Lowe. There should be a range of politically overt and implicit politic. I actually think that you could leave politics out all together and look at some of the work of the Judson Dance Group and some of Kaprow’s late performance work. I would liken some of it to the idea of found object as it is found motion.
Robert C. Anderson: Verbal self-abuse.
Mike Malorin: Peanut sauce… Dammit!
Kevin Freitas: Soup kitchen
Sarah Kaiser: compare visual stuff to the rest of the world
Michael Mlekowski: Stuff you look at and if it’s any good you get to take a free sample home!
Diana Dorwin: The importance of the object or action isn’t determined by the artist, or the individual viewing the artwork, but the viewing community as a whole.
Grub Fay: some young art student goes to a party where everyone is having a good time, and starts yelling, “look at us, we’re all art!” and of course makes the party less good, and ruins the art.
From this hyper-informal survey, it seemed that among my friends, many were not disposed to take the topic seriously: not only in the humorous, playful responses to my question, but in their attitudes towards relational aesthetics as a serious practice. Others recognized its legitimacy, and a few (e.g. Meg Duguid) spoke from firsthand experience working in this genre.
I’ll admit some past skepticism towards relational aesthetics; my perspective (thought not so eloquently phrased) echoed Casey McGonagle’s: “Do regular stuff, only it’s art.” I decided that I owed it to myself to learn more about the topic, to at least add some nuance to my skepticism and hopefully gain a greater appreciation for it. To this end, I volunteered to teach a course on Relational Aesthetics next semester (Spring 2015), and began research in preparation for this. The following essay is a summary of my initial readings.
The phrases “relational aesthetics,” “relational art,” and “social practice” have becoming increasingly common in the art world since the late 1990s, while their exact meaning continues to elude many of those not directly involved in this field. In order to study this aspect of art, we need to understand exactly what it is that we are talking about.
French art critic Nicolas Bourriaud defined the approach in 1998 in his book Esthétique relationnelle (Relational Aesthetics), calling it “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.” He had coined the phrase two years earlier in the catalogue for the exhibition Traffic, curated by Bourriaud, at CAPC musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux.
Relational aesthetics, then, can be understood as a way of looking at things, as a guiding principle, and as an approach to artmaking. An artwork can be considered “relational art” if it is essentially based on social interaction. In this way relational aesthetics is very different from traditional art forms such as drawing, painting, sculpture, and photography, which are defined by the physical materials and tools used in their production. Relational aesthetics may be more similar to a movement, such as Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism, etc. Writer and director Ben Lewis finds many similarities between relational art and earlier “ism”s at their beginnings: relational art is often not considered art at all because it redefines the concept of art, many artists considered “relational” deny that they are such and relational art had a “founding” exhibition.
Since relational aesthetics is not defined by a single medium, it follows that relational art can be made in any media. And certainly, examples of relational art can be found in a wide range of media. However, certain media lend themselves to relational aesthetics. In particular, the best-known examples of relational art often exist as a subset of performance art. The poster child for relational aesthetics has always been Rirkit Tiravanija, and his best-known series bears a close resemblance to performance. Beginning with Pad Thai (1990) at the Paula Allen Gallery in New York, Tiravanija cooked and served the exhibition’s eponymous food for gallery visitors. The difference between this form of relational art and other types of performance is that in most performance art, the artist’s actions are the essence of the work; in relational art of this type, the essence of the work lies in the interaction between the audience and the artist. Cooking Thai food could be a performance; serving it to visitors moves it into the realm of relational aesthetics.
Other forms of relational art more closely resemble sculptures or installations. Some of Tiravanija’s works resemble installations, albeit installations inviting viewer interaction. One example, from Traffic (relational aesthetic’s seminal exhibition) was described in Frieze magazine: “‘Traffic’ predictably included the model practitioner of this kind of art – Rirkrit Tiravanija. Around the second floor viewing gallery he provided simple, user-friendly arrangements of tables and chairs made from brown packaging cardboard, each with a free mini-bar of red wine and mineral water.”
However, the clearest example of the sculpture/installation model of relational art is Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Nearly all of his work consists in some way of objects arranged in a space. Some, such as his stacks of printed posters and his piles of candy, invite viewers to take one of the component pieces home with them. In Relational Aesthetics, Nicolas Bourriaud describes the problem posed by these takeaways:
“One is allowed to take one of the posters away with him/her. But what happens if lots of visitors walk off in turn with these sheets of paper offered to an abstract public? What process would cause the piece to change and then vanish? For this work did not involve a “Performance”, or a poster hand-out, but a work endowed with a defined form and a certain density, a work not displaying its construction (or dismantlement) process, but the form of its presence amid an audience [italics original].”
This problem is more a theoretical one than a practical issue; the medium of the work itself is described in this case as “Offset print on paper, endless copies.” The museum, gallery, or collector would simply order more copies of the poster made, and replenish the stack. Similarly, the piles of candy are replenished from commercial sources. The issue is not one of logistics, but rather of the interaction, via the artwork, between the artist and the viewer, who becomes a complicit participant in its creation. This is what places the work within the realm of relational art.
Gift-giving is only one possible mode of social interaction of course, and yet relational aesthetics often carries with it a presumption of generosity. Another mode is communication, often the transmission of information or the teaching of a skill. I think now of Hui-Min Tsen’s walking tour of Chicago’s Pedway. [http://chicagopedwaytour.com/Home.html] Tsen guides participants on a walking tour of this underground route through the city, a form of casual urban exploration, a better way of getting to know the place.
My wife Stephanie Burke and I created several artworks which, though we didn’t necessarily use the term at the time, are in hindsight relational in nature. In one series, called Shooting With Artists, we took Chicago-based artists to a shooting range in Indiana to shoot guns. For many, this was their first time shooting a gun, and their first exposure to “gun culture.” We thought this was interesting because art culture and gun culture generally never meet; they are seen as polar opposites politically and socially. The exceptions to these, where these cultures overlap, become nuanced and unexpected. These trips were documented with video and still photos, but the works themselves were essentially relational.
Another project, which was Stephanie’s concept, was called “Snow Coffee.” In our neighborhood (as in much of Chicago), people would claim “dibs” on a parking space that they had (ostensibly) shoveled clear of snow, marking it as their own private parking space with various items, most often patio furniture. Playfully interacting with this contentious practice, we would put on our bathrobes and take a carafe of coffee to enjoy while sitting in these impromptu cafes, consisting of no more than a pair of lawn chairs in a snow-free parking space on the side of the street. Eventually, following the epic snowstorm remembered as “Snowmageddon,” Stephanie spent the better part of a day digging our Jeep out of the snow. When we left the parking space thus created, we “claimed” it with two chairs and a card table, complete with tablecloth and a vase of flowers.
This essay documents the beginning stages of my research into relational art and social practice, in preparation for a course I am teaching next semester at Northern Arizona University. This research will continue until and throughout the Spring 2015 semester. Feedback is welcome; contact me through Facebook (Jeriah Hildine) or at jeriah (dot) hildwine (at) gmail (dot) com.
This week: San Francisco checks in with dance legend Anna Halprin!!!
Anna Halprin (b. 1920) is a pioneering dancer and choreographer of the post-modern dance movement. She founded the San Francisco Dancer’s Workshop in 1955 as a center for movement training, artistic experimentation, and public participatory events open to the local community. Halprin has created 150 full-length dance theater works and is the recipient of numerous awards including the 1997 Samuel H. Scripps Award for Lifetime Achievement in Modern Dance from the American Dance Festival. Her students include Meredith Monk, Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer, Simone Forti, Ruth Emmerson, Sally Gross, and many others.
Live Benefit Auction Event: March 9, 6-8:30 pm
Robert Rauschenberg Project Space
455 West 19th St, New York
Printed Matter, Inc, the New York-based non-profit organization committed to the dissemination and appreciation of publications made by artists, will host a Benefit Auction and Selling Exhibition at the Rauschenberg Foundation Project Space to help mitigate damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.
As a result of the storm, Printed Matter experienced six feet of flooding to its basement storage and lost upwards of 9,000 books, hundreds of artworks and equipment. Printed Matter’s Archive, which has been collected since the organization’s founding in 1976 and serves as an important record of its history and the field of artists books as a whole, was also severely damaged. Moreover, the damage sustained by Sandy has made it clear that Printed Matter needs to undertake an urgent capacity-building effort to establish a durable foundation for its mission and services into the future.
This is the first fundraising initiative of this scale to be undertaken by the organization in many years, and will feature more than 120 works generously donated from artists and supporters of Printed Matter.
The Sandy Relief Benefit for Printed Matter will be held at the Rauschenberg Project Space in Chelsea and will run from February 28 through March 9th. The Benefit has two components: a selling exhibition of rare historical publications and other donated works and an Auction of donated artworks.
A special preview and reception will be held February 28th, 6-8 pm, to mark the unveiling of all 120 works and to thank the participating artists and donors. The opening will feature a solo performance by cellistÂ Julia KentÂ (Antony and the Johnsons), followed by a shared DJ set fromÂ Lizzi BougatsosÂ (Gang Gang Dance) &Â Kyp MaloneÂ (TV on the Radio). The event is free and open to the public.
All works will then be available for viewing at the Rauschenberg Project Space March 1 â€“ March 9, gallery hours.
All Selling Exhibition works may be purchased during this period and Auction works will be available for bidding online. Bids can be made atÂ www.paddle8.com/auctions/printedmatter.
A live Benefit Auction Event will take place March 9, 6-8:30 pm with approximately 20 selected works to be auctioned in a live format. Bidding on these works will commence at 7pm sharp, while silent bids can be made on all other Auction works. Note, highest online bids will be transferred to the room. For absentee bidding of works, please contact Keith Gray (Printed Matter) at 212 925 0325 orÂ email@example.com. The evening will feature a performance byÂ Alex WatermanÂ on solo cello with electronics. Admission is $150 and tickets may be pre-purchasedÂ here. There will be only limited capacity.
Highlighted auction works include an oversize ektacolor photograph fromÂ Richard Prince, a woven canvas piece fromÂ Tauba Auerbach, an acrylic and newsprint work fromÂ Rirkrit Tiravanija, a large-scale Canopy painting fromÂ Fredrik VÃ¦rslev, a rare dye transfer print fromÂ Zoe Leonard, a light box byÂ Alfredo Jaar, a book painting byÂ Paul Chan, a carbon on paper work fromÂ Frances Stark, a seven-panel plexi-work with spraypainted newsprint fromÂ Kerstin BrÃ¤tsch, a C-print from Hans Haacke, a firefly drawing fromÂ Philippe Parreno, a mixed-media NASA wall-piece fromÂ Tom Sachs, a unique print fromÂ Rachel Harrison, a vintage xerox poem fromÂ Carl Andre, an encyclopedia set of hand-made books fromÂ Josh Smith, a photograph fromÂ Klara Liden, a table-top sculpture fromÂ Carol Bove,Â Ed Ruschaâ€™s Rooftops Portfolio, as well as original works on canvas and linen byÂ Cecily Brown,Â Cheyney Thompson,Â Dan Colen,Â Adam McEwen,Â RH Quaytman, and many others.
These Auction works can be previewed at:Â www.paddle8.com/auctions/printedmatter
In addition to auction works, a vitrine-based exhibition of rare books, artworks and ephemera are available for viewing and purchase. This material includes some truly remarkable items from the personal collection of Robert Rauschenberg, donated by theRobert Rauschenberg FoundationÂ in memory of the late Printed Matter Board Member, bookseller and publisher, John McWhinnie. Among the works available are books and artworks fromÂ Marcel Duchamp,Â Willem de Kooning,Â Alfred Steiglitz,Joseph Beuys,Â Brigid Berlin (Polk), as well as aÂ Claes OldenburgÂ sculpture, a rareÂ William BurroughsÂ manuscript, and the Anthology Film Archive Portfolio (1982). Additional artistsâ€™ books have been generously donated by theÂ Sol LeWitt Estate. Works include pristine copies of Autobiography (1980), Four Basic Kinds of Straight Lines (1969), Incomplete Open Cubes (1974), and others.Â Three Star BooksÂ have kindly donated a deluxe set of their Maurizio Cattelan book edition. These works can be viewed and purchased at the space. For inquiries about available works please contact Printed Matterâ€™s Associate Director Max Schumann at 212 925 0325 orÂ firstname.lastname@example.org.
Co-chairs Ethan Wagner & Thea Westreich Wagner and Phil Aarons & Shelley Fox Aarons have guided the event, and Thea Westreich Art Advisory Services has generously lent its expertise and assisted in the production of the auction.
In anticipation of the event Printed Matter Executive Director James Jenkin said:
â€œNot only are we hopeful that this event will help us to put Sandy firmly behind us, it is incredibly special for us. To have so many artists and friends associated with our organization over its 36 years come forward and support us in this effort has been truly humbling.â€œ
Auction includes work by:Â
Michele Abeles, Ricci Albenda, Carl Andre, Cory Arcangel, Assume Vivid Astro Focus, Tauba Auerbach, Trisha Baga, John Baldessari, Sebastian Black, Mark Borthwick, Carol Bove, Kerstin BrÃ¤tsch, Sascha Braunig, Olaf Breuning, Cecily Brown, Sophie Calle, Robin Cameron, Sean Joseph Patrick Carney, Nathan Carter, Paul Chan, Dan Colen, David Kennedy Cutler, Liz Deschenes, Mark Dion, Shannon Ebner, Edie Fake, Matias Faldbakken, Dan Graham, Robert Greene, Hans Haacke, Marc Handelman, Rachel Harrison, Jesse Hlebo, Carsten HÃ¶ller, David Horvitz, Marc Hundley, Alfredo Jaar, Chris Johanson, Terence Koh, Joseph Kosuth, Louise Lawler, Pierre Le Hors, Leigh Ledare, Zoe Leonard, Sam Lewitt, Klara Liden, Peter Liversidge, Charles Long, Mary Lum, Noah Lyon, McDermott & McGough, Adam McEwen, Ryan McNamara, Christian Marclay, Ari Marcopoulos, Gordon Matta-Clark, Wes Mills, Jonathan Monk, Rick Myers, Laurel Nakadate, Olaf Nicolai, Adam O’Reilly, Philippe Parreno, Jack Pierson, Richard Prince, RH Quaytman, Eileen Quinlan, Sara Greenberger Rafferty, Ed Ruscha, Tom Sachs, David Sandlin, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Cindy Sherman, Josh Smith, Keith Smith, Buzz Spector, Frances Stark, Emily Sundblad, Andrew Sutherland, Peter Sutherland, Sarah Sze, Panayiotis Terzis, Cheyney Thompson, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Nicola Tyson, Penelope Umbrico, Fredrik VÃ¦rslev, Visitor, Danh Vo, Dan Walsh and Ofer Wolberger.