Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Relational Aesthetics & Chaosmosis: Nicolas Bourriaud's preference for an ethico-aesthetic analysis of relational art (part 3)

Please click here for the other parts of this blog: Part 1 and Part 2

In 'Machinic Orality and Virtual Ecology' Guattari looks at performance art. Even though it could be argued that performance art is not conceptual art, nor relational art, Guattari wrote this text at the beginning of the 1990s, before Bourriaud's concept of relational art had been developed. Also, relational art cannot be pinned down in any absolute sense: there are very often performative elements in it, as we can see in the examples Bourriaud gives us, such as Noritoshi Hirakawa placing advertisements asking for people to take part in his shows, and Pierre Huyghe putting out a casting call (Bourriaud 2002: 8). Guattari explains how performance art enables us to pose questions around space and time, language and meaning-making, by offering up new possibilities that help us challenge the notion of the everyday (1995: 90).

Bourriaud also makes reference to the everyday when discussing Guattari. He explains how art can catalyse energy and divert it by, in a sense, bouncing it off the subject, which in turn changes subjectivity (2002: 97). In his discussion on performance art, Guattari goes on to say: “But it seems to me that this art doesn't so much involve a return to an originary orality as it does a forward flight into machinations and deterritorialised machinic paths capable of engendering mutant subjectivities.” (1995: 90). Bourriaud makes reference to this when he talks about how the process of subjectivization, in producing a new subject, works in the same way that an artist does when creating a new artform (2002: 88). These “mutant subjectivites” open up a multitude of possible futures that cannot be anticipated in advance.

Deleuze's logical approach to words and objects, and the process of understanding them, does not really allow for a multitude of possible universes because of the nature of what 'sense' is. However, the co-work done in the capitalism and schizophrenia series is not totalising at all with discussions on 'lines of flight' which enable new subjectivities. And, What is Philosophy? (1991), another joint project, discusses the plane of immanence, which, put simply, is an infinite space that enables thought to arise. We must remember that Deleuze is a philosopher though. Because of logic's philosophical and metaphysical history, sense is loaded with a particular logos which is embedded in a patriarchal mode of thinking. Deleuze is not challenging logic here, but showing us how it can be used as a tool, so I am not criticising him for taking what might appear as a logocentric stance (and I do not believe he is), merely pointing out his preference for choosing a formal and ordered subject-matter to analyse.

Deleuze's preoccupation in The Logic of Sense is with what occurs between words and things, between signification and the objects in the world: “Everything happens at the boundary between things and propositions.” (2004b: 11). This is where the paradoxical element is located and so too where sense is formed. For Deleuze it is a false idea that the answer to the riddle can be found in the depths, one needs to rise to the surface to make sense of the world. We need to slide along the surface of the contradictory series (for example: word/object, signifier/signified, inside/outside), enabling a passage from one side to the other, the other side being simply the opposite direction (Deleuze 2004b: 12). It is the impression given by opposites, and contradictions, that they exist in some eternally alternate domain from each other, and this is the problem posed in the paradox. But for Deleuze there are no contradictions: “The force of the paradoxes is that they are not contradictory; they rather allow us to be present at the genesis of the contradiction.” (Deleuze 2004b: 86).

While I do not think that the resolution of a paradox can be absolutely contrasted to the process of chaosmosis, and therefore my choice of example is not a 'neat' one (it is neither final nor conclusive), it does highlight the differences in the two theorists' approach. It is apparent from Deleuze's discussion on the paradox that there are really no contradictions, and where there are they are a function of how language operates. I do not dispute his argument, but rather wish to highlight his style and choice of topic, in contrast to what Bourriaud sees as a preference for Guattari's chaosmotic style. I would now like to look more closely at how Deleuze's process of analysis (for example, how the collapsing of binaries brings about resolutions) could be considered to bring a form of closure and terminate other possibilities. I would like to stress, though, that when Deleuze and Guattari write together, their writing is very oriented around multiplicity and actualising possibilities, especially when discussing “lines of flight”. I shall firstly look at what Bourriaud says about how the traditional aesthetic operates and how he uses Guattari's aesthetic paradigm to critique it.

Bourriaud explains the responses by the viewer-participator to relational art: whereas the classical aesthetic involved a “buffer” between the closed-off, separated artwork and the beholder, relational art involves “aesthetic fluidity” which arises because of the relative position the viewer-participator is in relation to the artwork (2002: 100). He says that this aesthetic response, along with the art and the 'viewer', cannot be separated (ibid.). Bourriaud shows how Guattari's aesthetic paradigm effects subjectivity, creating new possibilities: “It's the spellbinding, para-hypnotic process of the aesthetic way of looking that crystallises around it the different ingredients of subjectivity, and redistributes them towards new vanishing points.” (ibid.). Guattari sees these “mutant subjectivities” as providing new voices (polyphony), and from them a new coming-together becomes possible, a world richer in both form and ways of living (1995: 90). He explains that this process of “recomposition” enables “a search for enunciative nuclei which would institute new cleavages between other insides and other outsides and which would offer a different metabolism of past-future where eternity will coexist with the present moment.” (ibid.).

To return to The Logic of Sense, I would like to continue where I left off with Deleuze and revisit the paradox to show the formalised, thorough and fiercely analytical (although admirable) formulation and solution to a problem. Deleuze explains how nonsense is internal to sense, emerging out of it. On the surface, Deleuze says, there is a line that enables sense to be produced: “The two series are therefore articulated by their difference, and sense traverses the entire surface, although it remains in its own line.” (2004b: 99). In art these processes that appear as series might involve oppositional terms such as: subject/object, art/beholder or art/artist. The surface simultaneously separates and assures the connection of the series, and the line of sense will eventually be produced there, on this surface, because “this line-frontier would not enact the separation of series at the surface if it did not finally articulate that which it separates.” (Deleuze 2004b: 209).

Deleuze's deeply philosophical analysis of the series, and how oppositions or contradictions can actually 'make sense', is an extremely dense and formalised theorisation which neatly takes the reader through his proposed system of sense formation. The reader comes away with a kind of satisfaction which gives them a sense of finality in understanding how contradictions work. However, for Guattari it is the opposite that he is aiming for in terms of the individual's relationship to universality: “Thus the singular points of view on being, with their precariousness, uncertainty and creative aspects take precedence over the fixity of structures so distinctive of universal visions.” (1995: 59). While I do not believe that Deleuze would describe his reconciliation of the series to be a 'universal vision', it is nevertheless the position of cooperation that the reader is placed in, in relation to The Logic of Sense, that makes this move one of finality. As we can see from what Guattari says above, this is not a position that Guattari sees as productive. He goes on to explain that bridges need to be formed between what he calls “actual and virtual functions” (ibid.). In The Three Ecologies (1989), which Bourriaud also refers to in Relational Aesthetics, Guattari speaks of a concept called “transversality” which has the function of forming bridges between territories. Gary Genosko, in an essay which is included in The Three Ecologies, describes transversality as “the tool used to open hitherto closed logics and hierarchies.” (2008: 54). Guattari explains that through these tools “subjectivity is able to install itself simultaneously in the realms of the environment [and] in the major institutional assemblages” (2008: 45). Bourriaud explains how in art this produces the effect of reducing the artist’s significance in the art so that other relationships can become apparent (2002: 93).

The environment and the institutions anchored in them, are important to both Bourriaud and Guattari. The artworks of the relational artists that Bourriaud discusses are not just from a European or American heritage: he appreciates the work of Rirkrit Tiravanija, who is from Thailand, and, in particular the Puerto Rican artist Fėlix González-Torres. Guattari worked in Brazil for a while on a project with Suely Rolnik where they examined the effect of capitalism on the individual in terms of behaviour and action. The text that emerged from this project is Molecular Revolution in Brazil (1986), also referred to in Relational Aesthetics. It might also be Guattari's interest in travel and how he is interested in challenging the totalising nature of globalisation (the appropriation of the local by the universal) that also interests Bourriaud and his anticipation of a new cultural understanding of alter-globalisation (the altermodern). This anticipation of a new paradigm is noted by Guattari in his essay 'The Postmodern Impasse': Guattari does not imagine what might come in the same way Bourriaud does, nor does he give it a name, but he does raise similar problems, especially in relation to territory and capitalism. One interesting comment Guattari makes in reference to postmodernity, is the structuralist approach that is still perpetrated by many postmodern theorists. He says:
Postmodern philosophers flit around pragmatic research in vain. They remain loyal to a structuralist conception of speech and language that will never allow them to articulate the subjective facts in the formations of the unconscious, aesthetic and micro-political problematics.” (1996a: 111).

Even though I am sure this is in no way a criticism of his friend and collaborator Deleuze, it does describe Deleuze's lineage and his attachment to language. Deleuze is a 'philosopher' and Guattari a practitioner, psychoanalyst and theorist; and as Genosko says, it is difficult to pin him down in terms of categorising him (2002: 29).

Guattari is specifically interested in the “ontological texture” (1995: 81) of chaos and how the single individual (who is at the same time the multiple) can be part of the event which, in effect, they are not separate from. This event, for Bourriaud would be the moment that arises from the participation in the artwork, which is never rigid or fixed in time and space, what Guattari calls the “proto-aesthetic paradigm”, which is “perpetually in advance of itself” (1995: 101-102). Guattari explains how art has the power to challenge “transcendental Truth” (1995: 102) which is difficult to do when one is oriented in language, and I mean that in respect of everyone participating in art, especially from a Western perspective, but also if one's heritage is philosophical, and therefore linguistic in nature, as it is for Deleuze.

My discussion in this essay has been oriented on finding the reason why Bourriaud has an attraction for Guattari over Deleuze. The work Deleuze and Guattari have done together has made this investigation difficult, this is complicated by the fact that they could both be considered to be 'poststructuralists'. Although Deleuze's historical background was structuralist, in the more philosophical sense of the word, it is also likely that Guattari took a traditional path through training as a psychoanalyst, at least in his early days - even though he studied under Lacan, this is still a Freudian lineage.

I have not been able to answer in uncertain terms what it is that forms Bourriaud's preference for Guattari and have had to piece this study together like a work of detection. Rather than looking at just one aspect I have tried to include all the possible main reasons I have discovered. This is as much because they are related to each other, but also because what we are attracted to in someone or something is usually not one simple (single) element but a multitude of qualities that make up that entity: for example the assemblage of what appears as the pronoun Félix Guattari. The largest part of my essay was on the statement that Bourriaud made in direct reference to Guattari and Deleuze, the issue of chaos versus order. While I could have spent the whole essay looking at this aspect, I did not. Just because it was the only direct comparison (and a polar one at that) it may have been too neat and convenient a hook to hang a complete reason on. I also was cognisant of the fact that because Deleuze and Guattari cross-over in a number of their terms and theories - for instance, assemblages, deterritorialisation, becoming - it would be rather too easy to look only at a difference of opposition, such as chaos and order. I did not want to unintentionally place Deleuze and Guattari in opposing camps. This would not only be a mistake, but also problematic in terms of a reading of Bourriaud. For example, Bourriaud likes Deleuze's idea that grass grows outwards from the centre and he applies this to how artists can therefore take up their art practice form where they are already located (2002: 13-14). He even repeats this concept in Postproduction (2007: 17).

I realise there are likely questions left unanswered and spaces not filled in this essay. This is both because I do not have an absolute answer, but also because I feel by neatly wrapping my text up in an absolute answer it would also mean that I am, in a sense, coming up with something final and 'cast in stone', at least from my own perspective. This would be just repeating a type of universalising form of understanding and theorising which Bourriaud and Guattari are not happy with, what Guattari calls in his reference to arts and society “the self-enclosed totalisation of Universes of reference” (1995: 29). It is also highly likely that an analysis of the same problem by another individual would produce a completely different essay, by highlighting other issues and approaching them from a different perspective. We all have “a world of forms, a set of problems and a trajectory” of our own (Bourriaud 2002: 43). This essay, as it appears here, is produced by a particular assemblage of enunciation that existed, one time only, at a specific position in space and moment in time. This essay-assemblage is the product of “a projective existential node” (Guattari 1995: 17), arising from the assemblage that could be described as the researcher who writes under the name Tina Richardson…

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Bourriaud, Nicolas. 2002. Relational Aesthetics, trans. by Simon Pleasance and Fronza Woods (Dijon: Le presses du réel).
Bourriaud, Nicolas. 2007. Postproduction, trans. by Jeanine Herman (New York: Lukas and Sternberg).
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Guattari, Félix. 2008. The Three Ecologies, trans. by Ian Pinder and Paul Sutton (London and New York: Continuum).

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