“Art is the place that produces a specific sociability” – Nicolas Bourriaud

One of the countless definitions of art says that art is what happens when the viewer encounters the artwork. Based on the question whether a tree that falls noiselessly in a forest makes a sound or not, some have theorized that art means nothing unless it is seen, appreciated (in a broader sense) or known by the public. A painting without a viewer is just a piece of canvas, especially if it tries to deceive us that it opens to a third dimension (depth).

The above definition has not only triggered the rethinking of old phenomena in new terms, but it has also given rise to types of manifestations that are direct consequences of these ideas. Often included under the “participatory arts” umbrella term, such manifestations that intersect, complement or overlap each other are also known as dialogical art, collaborative works, collective art, community art etc.

The term “relational art”, also used in connection with the above names, was first used in the influential book written by French author and curator Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics. For Bourriaud, a critic of modern capitalism and consumerism, the possibility of changing society is found in art; change is made possible by creating relationships and situations of direct interaction, less mediated communication and intentional social creation.

Relational artworks, of which Bourriaud speaks in relation to various outstanding artists of the 1990’s (Liam Gillick, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Vanessa Beecroft or Philippe Parreno), are those works that bring the artist and the once-called “spectator” face to face. For instance, the “spectator” is invited to a dinner hosted by the artist in the art gallery; or the public is persuaded to interact with the “work” or take part in its “creation” as artists place non-artistic objects in traditional exhibition areas. The aim is to generate non-specific behaviours in relation to art, but quite common in everyday life (for example, hanging hammocks in museum gardens or creating lounge areas for the public).

In the words of the most important theorist of these practices, “The role of artworks is no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within the existing real” (Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, Idea, 2007).

Human interaction is thus elevated to the rank of art by creating practices and opportunities of “sociability” that are considered desirable by virtue of a higher moral ideal. However, one must not forget that artists put themselves in the position of a Messiah or that of a social planner, a position in which they feed, offer, and dedicate, but at the same time they offer themselves during an encounter at which one has to be present, attentive, woke, or for which they make up activities that you have to perform, so that the artwork should function qua relational work.