"Eating well": the politics of production and relational aesthetics

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“Relational Aesthetics” has emerged as a phenomenon in art critical discourse through the work of Nicholas Bourriard and his categorisation of certain modes of creating art works, involving the participation of the ‘viewer’ in distinctive ways, such that a new ethical and political relation subtends, displacing former political ‘boundary markers’ between object and audience. The chapter will discuss two significant ways in which ‘the politics of production’ in connection with arts works considered as examples of ‘relational aesthetics’ has been subject to critique. One mode of critique, principally from Claire Bishop , has relied upon the application of the post-Marxist critique of hegemony and the importance of understanding the working of antagonism in social relations, as found in the work of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe , to argue for an appreciation the antagonistic within the aesthetic relation. Another mode of critique, such as that developed from a Marxist position by Stewart Martin , re-introduces the complexity of the commodity relation and commodification in the aesthetic, which cannot be simply dispelled through a displacement of the object by the social relational event. My chapter will move beyond both these critical positions and will introduce another way of seeking to understand the politics of production in relational art and its ethics of social relation. It will draw upon Derrida’s characterisation of the political and ethical as the way in which we are bound to an unnameable and inassimilable ‘other to come’ for which we have responsibility. It will also draw upon Simon Critchley’s distinction between ‘classical’ anarchism associated with freedom and struggles for liberation of the ‘subject’ and a critique of the ‘archic’ drawn from Levinas. This provides for an idea of “an-archism” organised around “an infinite responsibility that arises in relation to a situation of injustice” and recalls Marx original thinking of democracy as an ‘association of free human beings'. Through these the chapter suggests that there may be another way of understanding the production of the ethical relation in relational art, which might open on to a new way of thinking the possibilities of the political.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - May 2009
EventCrossing Boundaries: the Making and Circulation of Art and Literature - IGRS, London
Duration: 18 May 200920 May 2009


ConferenceCrossing Boundaries: the Making and Circulation of Art and Literature
CityIGRS, London


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