The title of this post comes from the artist Liam Gillick’s comparison of his work to the fridge light because “it only works when there are people there to open the fridge door. Without people, it’s not art—it’s something else—stuff in a room” (Bishop 2004, 61).
In her “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics” Claire Bishop writes, “The curators promoting this ‘laboratory’ paradigm—including Maria Lind, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Barbara van der Linden, Hou Hanru, and Nicolas Bourriaud— have to a large extent been encouraged to adopt this curatorial modus operandi as a direct reaction to the type of art produced in the 1990s: work that is openended, interactive, and resistant to closure, often appearing to be ‘work-in-progress’ rather than a completed object. Such work seems to derive from a creative misreading of poststructuralist theory: rather than the interpretations of a work of art being open to continual reassessment, the work of art itself is argued to be in perpetual flux. There are many problems with this idea, not least of which is the difficulty of discerning a work whose identity is willfully unstable” (52).
Calling it a “creative misreading of poststructuralist theory” seems to not fully credit what I consider a development of that theory. The artists and curators loosely affiliated under the name Relational Aesthetics appear to have taken the poststructuralists to a next step in their argument.
As to her problems with the idea, if there is difficulty in discerning a work, this difficulty is not present from all viewpoints. Rather it arises when one steps back from its intended interactivity and involvement. This difficulty then appears as a positive aspect, for its identity doesn’t reside in a particular object or set of objects but in the relations created and maintained throughout an audience’s interaction with the work.
As Kwon lists the various specificities opposed to the generic term site-specific, I think the term audience-specific captures the motivations driving the Relational Aesthetics artists.