Relational aesthetics and post-production

Adir Sodré, Flores vivas - unfinished [acrylic on canvas 120 x 80 cm, 2011]


Commentary on two books by art theorist Nicolas Bourriaud

relational aesthetics e Post production are interesting examples of the recent theoretical-critical endeavor to attribute to art a meaning that would have the merit of absorbing everything that appears in a situation, that of the culture of late capitalism, in which the distinction between production and consumption is abolished. The attempt is fascinating, because, betting on the transformation of the statute of the work of art, the author believes in the viability of an art that articulates the collective sensibility, the result of interaction, to a world of services and recycling, configuring a culture of use or activity culture.

Despite the critical flattening of the issues involved in this generic position-taking, related to politics, consumption and participation, its interest cannot be underestimated, particularly as a symptom of a state of affairs that emerged with the “de-aestheticization”, with the ruin of aesthetics and the affirmation of art as culture. One of the virtues of these books is the imbrication of the theoretical exercise in the works of paradigmatic artists, which helps to remove the purely propositional character of this aesthetic, even though the examples seem chosen to confirm it.

Relational aesthetics strives to recodify the categories and the historical life of works of art in order to account for the impossibility of maintaining in contemporary art the patent issues in the work of the avant-garde. The difference highlighted by the author is the emphasis of relational aesthetics on interactive, convivial and relational notions; that is, in the central position of communication, present in a large part of contemporary production that uses digital technologies, video and cinema.

He considers that today artistic practice appears as a fertile field of social experimentation, as a space partially spared for the standardization of behavior. The apex of the conception is in the subtitle of the Brazilian translation of the book Post production. “How art reprograms the contemporary world” – a statement, not a question. Art no longer announces a future world, as it did in modernism; today it presents models of possible universes.

The proposed shift concerns, according to this theory, the fact that today's art adopts the sphere of human interactions and its social context as its theoretical horizon more than the affirmation of an autonomous and private symbolic space, which configures itself in inversion radical departure from the aesthetic, cultural, and political goals postulated by modern art. This is undoubtedly a totalizing statement, too generic, and which becomes even stranger when it encompasses without mediation the propositions of Guattari's aesthetic paradigm, with its emphasis on the production of subjectivities.

A suggestive aspect of the theory is the consideration that contemporary work can no longer be understood as a space to be traversed, but as a duration to be experienced, as an opening for unlimited discussion, continuing the modern work of proposing perceptive models, experimental, critical and participatory. When presented as fragmented and isolated, these experiences no longer have the power to articulate a global vision of the world that can give them the weight of an ideology; they are condemned to generate a series of small modifications in a space inherited from modernity and to abandon a global reconstruction of the space inhabited by humanity.

It is the proposition of an operative realism, which can be defined as the oscillation of the work of art between its traditional function as an object to be contemplated, and its more or less virtual insertion in the socioeconomic field, which seems to direct the function of representation of this relational art , thus reinterpreting the attitude of Baudelaire's modernity to also fit the contemporary social production mode; that is, the circuit of exchanges, with emphasis on exposure value and use value. Because now the work of art is no longer presented as the trace of a past action, but as the announcement of a future event or the proposal of a virtual action. In any case, it always presents itself as material duration, updated in each exhibition.

Considering that, by a law of “dislocation”, art only exercises its critical duty towards technology when it displaces its contents, the first book takes a step back regarding the absorption of digital images in artistic works, as they would be mere representations of a symbolic alienation in the face of the computer environment and of its own alienation in the face of imposed modes of production.

However, he does not disdain that art is profoundly affected by information technology and the video camera, especially highlighted in his proposition of post-production. Especially affect exposure, form-exposure; scenery, showcase, stage that in this theory has become the basic unit of the way of being of contemporary art, from which it is possible to think about the relations between art and the ideology generated by the techniques to the detriment of the original work.

The proposition of a culture of use, with the dissolution of the boundaries between consumption and production in activities linked to the world of services and recycling, opened up the adherence to post-production technologies. In this, the interest is concentrated in the configuration of a cultural landscape constructed by the use of the available images, registered by the technical systems of the informatics and by sampling techniques.

So, the political comes from the notion of artistic deviation produced by the use of any object, process, procedure or work, as long as they serve to compose plots or a culture of activity, typical of late capitalism. Now the question is to assign a positive value to the remake; articulate uses, relate forms instead of the heroic search for the unprecedented and the sublime that characterized modernism.

Relational aesthetics intends to be, not a theory of art, but a theory of form, in which form is conceived as a unit, a structure as a principle of dynamic agglutination, erected in a world, possibilities of life immersed in the dimension of dialogue. This dimension implies the participation of the spectator, as it guarantees the transitivity of the relational object, the geometric place of a negotiation with countless correspondents and recipients, a relational device, a machine for provoking and generating connections and casual, individual and collective encounters that establish an untimely, disturbing communication. , of communication networks.

In this would be the politician of contemporary art; in the interferences, through which the artist fills in the gaps in the social bond and produces social transparency. Symptomatically, the author himself advances the obvious criticism often directed at this aspect of relational aesthetics: it would represent a sweetened form of social criticism.

*Celso Favaretto is an art critic, retired professor at the Faculty of Education at USP and author, among other books, of The invention of Helio Oiticica (Edusp).


Nicholas Bourriaud. relational aesthetics. Translation: Denise Bottmann. São Paulo, Martins, 152 pages.

Nicholas Bourriaud. Post production. Translation: Denise Bottmann, São Paulo, Martins, 110 pages.

Originally published on Journal of Reviews, No.6, October 2009.


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