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Book Review : 'Relational aesthetics' by Nicholas Bourriaud
'Relational aesthetics' is a thought-provoking book by French art expert Nicholas Bourriaud. Originally published as a series of research based essays, and later collated as a comprehensive collection, it focuses on this particular trend in the world of art.

According to the author, his ideas about relational aesthetics took shape through observation of a group of artist, such as Maurizio Cattelan, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Philippe Parreno, Vanessa Beecroft and Pierre Huyghe among others. Relational aesthetics has been termed a critical method, a definite way evolved in the '90s to approach art, taking a cue from a general sensibility these artists sought to share.

Elaborating on it, Nicholas Bourriaud has stated: “One of the most vital ideas for me is what I described the ‘criterion of coexistence’ – painting that leave space open for the audiences to complete the experience. I like art that lets its audience exist in the space thrown open by it. Art, for me is a space of objects, images, and human beings. Relational aesthetics is an enchanting way of considering the whole productive existence of the art viewer, the space of participation art can offer.”

Relational aesthetics (Publisher: Les Presse Du Reel,Franc) makes an attempt to understand or decode the type of relations to the audiences generated by the artwork. Minimalism addressed the engaging issue of the viewer's proactive participation in phenomenological terms. The art of the '90s addresses the same in terms of use.

Bourriaud seeks to explore the theme through examples of what he terms 'relational art'. According to him, it encompasses ‘a set of artistic practices that take as their practical and theoretical point of departure the whole of human relations and their broader social context, rather than a private and independent space. He claims the role of art is no longer to form utopian and imaginary realities, but to actually be models of action set within the existing real, irrespective of the scale chosen by the artist.

In the 1990s, participatory or interactive art of various kinds came to the fore as an important and distinct strand within fine art practice. Arguably, it anticipated the rapid rise of the far-reaching internet and reality TV. A foreword to the book refers to demise of the ‘social sphere’. It states: “Anything that cannot be marketed will inevitably vanish. Before long, it will not be possible to maintain relationships between people outside these trading areas' and 'the social bond has turned into a standardized artifact'.” Elaborating on the scenario, the author points out the fact is that the early-'90s crisis in the art market was in many ways ‘a stroke of good luck’. Art galleries and institutions opened up to unsalable and immaterial kinds of work, to projects they probably would not have considered earlier.

Bourriaud has mentioned: “Of course, one fears that these artists may have transformed themselves under the pressure of the market into a kind of merchandising of relations and experience. The question we might ask today is, Connecting people, creating communicative, interactive experience: What for? What does the new kind of contact lead to? If you forget the ’what for?’, I’m afraid you are then left with simple Nokia art--giving way to interpersonal relations for their own sake and failing to address their political aspects.”

The key questions that arise are: “Where does our obsession for interactivity indeed stem from? After the communication era and the consumer society, does art still make a constructive contribution to the emergence of a rational society?” The author tries to redefine our approach toward contemporary art practice. He does so by getting as close as possible to the artists’ works, and by analyzing the principles, which structure their thoughts: an intriguing aesthetic of the inter-human, of the encounter; of proximity, of thwarting social formatting.