Relational Art


The press release for Playing the City also mentions something called ‘Relational Art’, a catchall term for categorizing forms of art that seek to produce or facilitate human relations. The label is useful to us here inasmuch as it highlights a trend in artworks that seek to diminish the distance between the artist and the audience. Like Dada, Relational Art undermines the traditional post-Renaissance idea of the artist-creator/artist-genius, displacing his position and skewing the conventional relationship between artist and audience, allowing it to become more ambiguous. Here, the artist is able to slide from the role of creator and assume the role of initiator: instead of creating a work which is then consumed by an audience, the initiator of relational art may seek to simply create the conditions for an event – a meeting, a happening, a communing, a conflict – to take place. The opening upstages the artworks 9.

In its challenge to the traditional structure of the artist-audience relationship, Relational Art could be seen to inherit the projects of the avant-gardes. Their goals are concordant: the democratisation of the creative act; the release of its energy into the community, in a bid to encourage relatedness and engagement. Indeed, a glance at the Situationist manifesto for the construction of situations seems to provide us with a blueprint for much Relational Art ...

“[…] the most pertinent revolutionary experiments in culture have sought to break the spectators’ psychological identification with the hero so as to draw them into activity. . . . The situation is thus designed to be lived by its constructors. The role played by a passive or merely bit-part playing ‘public’ must constantly diminish, while that played by those who cannot be called actors, but rather, in a new sense of the term, ‘livers,’ must steadily increase.”10

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  1. I have written elsewhere about reconstructing leader as social architect. Not leader as special person, but leader as a citizen willing to do those things that have the capacity to initiate something new in the world.

    Community building requires a concept of the leader as one who creates experiences for others - experiences that in themselves are examples of our desired future. The experiences we create need to be designed in such a way that relatedness, accountability, and commitment are every moment available, experienced, and demonstrated [...] "relational leadership."

    This concept of leadership means that in addition to embracing their own humanity, which is the work of every person, the core task of leaders is to create the conditions for civic or institutional engagement. They do this through the power they have to name the debate and design gatherings.

    [...] every gathering is an opportunity to deepen accountability and commitment through engagement. It doesn't matter what the stated purpose of the gathering is.

    The leader's task is to structure the place and experience of these occasions to move the culture toward shared ownership.

    This kind of leadership - convening, naming the question, and listening - is restorative and produces energy rather than consumes it. It is a leadership that creates accountability as it confronts people with their freedom. In this way, engagement-centred leaders bring kitchen table and street corner democracy into being.

    [Peter Block]
    Community, p.86-8

  2. The role of leaders is not to be better role models or to drive change; their role is to create the structures and experiences that bring citizens together to identify and solve their own issues.

    [Peter Block]
    Community, p.74

  3. Co-operation generally has some sort of practical goal. But what if it is enjoyed at the same time as an end in itself? What if the sharing of life becomes its own purpose, rather as in the activity we know as art?

    You do not need to find an answer as to why human beings live together and enjoy each other's company - some of the time at least. It is in their nature to do so. It is a fact about them as animals. But when it becomes 'fully' a fact - when it exists as an activity in itself, not simply as a means to an end beyond it - it also becomes a source of value.

    [Terry Eagleton]
    After Theory, p.172