relational art


This week we continue to explore Community-Based Public Art in preparation for Suzanne Morlock’s presentation on Thursday. (Did I mention we are using a speed-dating model of discussion for part of the evening? Sure to get your pulse racing!)

Suzanne reminded me recently that, “There are lots of words being thrown around to describe a certain kind of socially engaged type of art practice.”

Whether we call it Community Based Public Art, New Genre Public Art, Relational Aesthetics, Tactical Media, or (my favorite) Culture Hacking, we’re talking about projects that respond to or catalyze public contexts and audiences.

There is a different kind of M.O. here than in the case of, say, the lovely “Rogan” currently installed at ArtSpot. In Rogan’s case, I think we are meant to drive by and enjoy the aesthetics of the work and perhaps wonder how the artist made it. How did she get a metal work to look so airy and light? What if horses had wings like butterflies, where would they fly?

Whereas in Suzanne’s The Knitting Project, the intent is to transform the way the public looks at familiar western sculptures around town. Simultaneously, members of the public are part of making the artwork. All are catalyzed by this engagement. What if deer or elk did wear bright orange hunting vests in September? The question is less fanciful than musing about fairy horses. The orange knitted vest currently adorning an elk sculpture in Wilson confronts the viewer with the irony of living in a place where elk are at once lionized as icons of western freedom and wildness and also targeted in hunters’ crosshairs for the purpose of a trophy or feeding one’s family. Do we erect sculptures of elk to celebrate the elkness of elk? Or are we supposed to lick our lips in anticipation of dinner? How do makers of the elk’s new vest feel about the sculpture now that they’ve transformed it?

photo: Lynsday McCandless

The question of public art vs. new genre (or community-based) public art is not a small one. As I mentioned above, this practice/genre is also known as Relational Aesthetics or Relational Art. Watching this clip of “Relational Art: Is It an Ism?” by British art critic Ben Lewis, I got the impression that Relational Art may have a common thread of art that pokes fun at the art world or the notion of what is art itself. Lewis, who remains skeptical¬† about the Ism-worthiness of Relational Art, talks to Rirkrit Tiravanija, who says, “With my work it’s not about what you see, it’s what you don’t see.” He uses an example of a video in which the action takes place outside of the video frame. “Why watch it?” asks Lewis. “To find out if something happens,” answers Tiravanija.

That something, to Tiravanija, is what happens between people. That’s the important thing to him. His installations have included cooking meals for people in art galleries. His more political work has critiqued government control of popular media.

For an irreverent and hilarious riff on Relational Aesthetics, you must watch this video by Hennessy Youngman a.k.a. Jayson Musson (I’m forever grateful to Aaron Wallis for turning me onto Youngman.) One could argue that Musson’s work is a form of relational art. His character, Hennessy Youngman, is the host of “Art Thoughtz.” His Youtube videos are both satirical and informational.

“Basically Relational Aesthetics is when someone with an MFA wants to meet new people.” – Hennessy Youngman

Anyway, you get the drift. A sense of humor and willingness for cultural critique will serve you well when engaging with Relational/New Genre/Community-based Art.

(For examples of projects with direct social purpose/impact, click on the photos below.)

The Gas Station Project

Suzanne Morlock, “The Nest,” for The Cradle Project


Suzanne Morlock instigates further conversation Thursday, September 27 at 5:30 at The Rose.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>