The Emergence of the Documentary Real within Relational and Post-Relational Political Aesthetics
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AbstractThe aim of this thesis is to conduct a post-relational reading of the programme of relational art and its influence upon current aesthetics. ‘Post’ is not used in the indicative sense here: it does not simply denote the passing of the high water mark of relational art’s critical reception. Rather, it seeks to identify what remains symptomatically unresolved in relational art through a reading of its texts together with its critique. Amongst these unresolved problems certain questions endure. The question of this art’s claim to autonomy and its problematic mode of appearance and materialism remain at large. Ironically it shares the same fate as the avant-garde it sought to distance itself from; the failure to unite art with the everyday. But it has nevertheless redefined the parameters of artistic production: this is its success. I argue that this is because relational art was internally riven from its outset by a contradiction between its micropolitical structures and the need to find a mode of representation that did not transgress its self-imposed taboo upon visual representation. I identify a number of strategies that relational art has used to address this problem: for example its transitive ethics and its separation of ‘the visual’ from formal representations of public space and of a liminal counter-public sphere. Above all, I argue that its principle of the productive mimesis and translation of social relations through art is the guarantor of this art’s autonomy. My thesis is premised upon the notion that one can learn much about new forms of critical art from the precepts and suppositions that informed relational aesthetics and its critical reception. Relational aesthetics, in fact, establishes the terms of engagement that inform new critical art. Above all, this is because the question of the ‘relation of non-relation’ is bigger than relational aesthetics. The ‘relation of non-relation’ does not denote the impossibility of relation between subjects. Rather, it is a category that identifies non-relation as the very source of productive relations. This can be applied to those liminal points of separation that 6 delineate the territory of critical art prior to relational aesthetics. For example, these instances of ‘non-relation’ appear in the separation of art from non-art; of representation from micropolitics and of the anti-relational opposition of the philosophical categories of the general and the particular. Overall, I seek to reclaim Bourriaud as instrumental to the re-thinking of these categories and as essential to a reading of current critical art discourse. I identify a number of misreadings of relational aesthetics that result from a misrecognition or unwillingness to engage with Nicolas Bourriaud’s direct influences: Serge Daney, Michel de Certeau, Gilles Deleuze and Louis Althusser are often overlooked in this respect. I argue that Bourriaud’s critics tend to bring their own agendas to bear on his work, often seeking to remediate what is problematic. These critiques introduce existing aesthetic and political paradigms into his work in order to claim him as their own. So for example we encounter antagonistic relational aesthetics as the reinstatement of the avant-garde. Also, relational aesthetics as an immanent critique of the commodity form within a selective reading of Theodor Adorno. Also, we encounter dissensual relational aesthetics as ‘communities of sense’ that adopt site-specific methodologies whose mode of inhabitation of the socius is a reaction to relational aesthetics and is premised upon separatism. This diversification of relational art’s critique does not address, however, its fundamental problems of autonomy and representation. Rather, in different ways, they sidestep these issues and duplicate their non-relationality in the form of an impasse. My reading seeks to read the relational programme as a whole and to reclaim that which is symptomatically post-relational within it. I think that this is important because the critique of Bourriaud is presently unduly weighted towards the analysis of Relational Aesthetics (Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, trans. by S. Pleasance and F. Woods, (Dijon: Les presses du réel, 2002), thus important developments within Postproduction (2002) and The Radicant(2009) have gone overlooked. Specifically, Bourriaud’s increased emphasis upon a topology of forms and an Althusserian ‘aleatory materialism’ demand that we ask whether relationality in art is ontological or epistemological in form. It also demands that we re-consider its claims to materialism and critical realism on its own terms. Bourriaud’s later works are important not simply because they set out how relational art might inhabit networks of electronic communication but because they begin to develop a more coherent thinking of new modes of relational representation. Bourriaud begins to address the aporia of micropolitics and representation in his later works. His notion of representation becomes increasingly a matter of spatio-temporal relation and the representational act becomes increasingly identified with the motility of the relational act as a performative presentation. In the light of these developments, I argue that the thinking of relation that has thus far dictated the philosophical analysis of relationality and political aesthetics results in an acute anti-relationality or a ‘relational anarchism’. This is why the philosophy of Jacques Rancière and Alain Badiou respectively, are inadequate to the demands of current aesthetics. In fact they hinder its development. On this basis I turn to Rodolphe Gashé’s re-thinking of relation. His thinking grants relation a minimal ontology that in fact excludes it from philosophy, but at the same time, plays a key role in the construction of singularities as new epistemological categories. Gashé suggests a unique epistemological value for relations and recognizes what is evental within them. These singularities find their modes of appearance within various forms of the encounter. Gashé’s thought is helpful in that it identifies the non-relational of relation with its event. Also, I argue that a theory of post-relational representation is necessary to address the ‘weak manifestations of relational art’, although not in a transgressive or messianistic form; also, that this thinking of representation, when combined with aleatory materialism, produces a 8 broad constituency of representational forms with which to construct a more robust critical art. This includes the documentary form. In order to address the objections of micropolitics I therefore advance Philip Auslander’s notion of the performativity of the document as essential to relational aesthetics because it is an art form that in fact requires mediation by the visual. My argument is premised upon the ineliminability of representation from the aesthetic and moreover, that the artwork is constituted within a broad nexus of operations and acts of signification. This fragmentary construction is the source of the objectivity or critical realism of these practices. I argue that ‘visual’ documentation functions as a tool for presencing and connecting relations of exchange but is merely one of the forms of representation available to visual artists.
PublisherUniversity of Wolverhampton
TypeThesis or dissertation
DescriptionA thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the Requirements of the University of Wolverhampton For the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
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