In the documentary “Relational Art: is it an Ism?”, Lewis says relational art is a new kind of art, according to Bourriaud, coming from Europe and America in the 90s.
In the film, Lewis sets out to find his own relational art.
First off, He presents a minimalist series of pay phones with tapped wires - “Phone Home” by Elmgreen and Dragset. It is relational because the work requires people to come in and actually “use” what is made or presented as a work of art to give it meaning. Works like this, and these artists in particular make work that are a “step forward in art” and look like they are from minimalism. The new element is ordinary people. Relational art seeks to “link the arts into its social context and surroundings.”
Lewis approached some artists in Bourriaud's book, but mos of them did not want to be in a documentary about “relational aesthetics.” The artists that did talk to him made his approaches seem outdated, as though he was making things too complicated. Art no longer has to “mean something,” nor does it have to be something just looked at, but something useful (Philippe Parreno's lamp, for example).
When Lewis visits Bourriaud's gallery, he finds tons of relational art – all interactive and political. Bourriaud says the work shows human relationships, and that relational aesthetics is “ground of sensibility for today.” Lewis simplified it and said “it uses minimal forms to make political statements.”
The “most relational” artist in the book is Rirkrit Tiravanija, whose art consists of making dinners and exhibiting dishes. He is represented by a leading New York art gallery, by the way. (I just about flipped my lid and stopped watching this film that I was trying so hard to bear for 22 minutes. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! But I guess I'll save my rant for the end...) The sense of “liberty to the work” changed the curator's mind from being irritated by the work to wanting to show it. (WHAAT THE?) “I wasn't sure if was art, but that might prove that it is,” says Lewis. (Actually, I just think it proves that people are becoming more simple minded in a bad way with each passing generation of art..) Lewis is totally right when he said people react to this kind of work by saying “that's not art!” This curator of Tiravanjia's work says that this work is made by unradical people who are afraid to live a good life. (Well, I'LL say.)
Lewis gains a better understanding of relational aesthetics once he visits Tiravanija at his place. He says he never makes work with something new. He works with the idea of readymade, except with people interacting with it. His subject and medium is “raw life itself.” Lewis comes to the conclusion that these artists use real life in their art because of the way people are so involved in the technology of this digital age.
On a final note in this film, Lewis says he hopes one day people will talk about relational art the same way people talk about Renaissance art. (all I can say to that is oh gosh, I really hope not...)
So, let me talk about this quote mentioned over and over again:
"The possibility of a relational art (an art taking as its theoretical horizon the realm of human interactions and its social context, rather than the assertion of an independent and private symbolic space), points to a radical upheaval of the aesthetic, cultural and political goals introduced by modern art."
Bourriaud seems to define modern art as art is not quite radical in terms of aesthetics, culture and politics though it introduces those things. Relational aesthetics is an extreme agitation of those things, making them more pronounced. From what I got from the film, the key components of relational art are that it utilizes people (“real life”) to give it meaning, often with them interacting with objects that are already made, or it can mean nothing at all and just be functional, and can sometimes make political statements.
As for photographers and photographs that can be relational, well... there is Santiago Sierra mentioned in the film, and maybe you could say Philip Lorca diCorcia with his Hollywood portraits on the streets using strobe in which he paid people to be in them.... but he didn't really have people interact with “stuff” to make his work. Then again, the fact that he paid people small sums of money makes a reference to the porn industry and selling of bodies (according to the Charlotte Cotton book) so I guess that is making some kind of social statement.
But honestly, I don't buy this relational aesthetic thing. I am not convinced that photography is REALLY related to this idea and I really had to “make it fit” when I thought of the Hollywood portraits.
During this entire documentary, I literally felt like getting up and yelling, “SIR, STOP! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!” (kind of an inside joke I have with a roommate of mine, but completely appropriate for this, considering all this art looks like one big inside joke to me too.) I have always thought that the concept of making art with readymade objects or something becoming art once people interact with it is ludicrous, and I absolutely hate it. All I can think of is how somebody is making huge bucks from something so ridiculously simple. I know, I know. Who am I to say what is or isn't art? Well, you can call it art, but I don't think it is, and I'll never like it because I do not believe any creative work is really put into it. I cannot fit any kind of photography into this “ism” because even if the photo was made through some kind of interaction, seeing the work itself is not interacting with it the way you'd get into a phone booth in a gallery and make a call. You're still just standing there looking at a picture.
I guess that's all I have to say, and I'm sorry if I've offended whoever reads this. I don't think you're less of a person if you like this kind of art or make it, I'm just saying I do not wish to collaborate with you or attempt to think critically about your art after I graduate. :)