“Non-Relational Aesthetics” – Charlie Gere & Michael Corris


Grant Kester

  • ‘Littoral Art’: based on a ‘discursive aesthetic based on the possibility of a dialogical relationship that breaks down the conventional distinction between artist, art work and audience – a relationship that allows the viewer to “speak back” to the artist in certain ways, and in which this reply becomes in effect a part of the “work” itself ’
  • New locus of judgement: to be found in ‘the condition and character of dialogical exchange itself ’
  • it preserves some concept of an ideal discursive process, for it evaluates art according to specific effects produced by these exchanges in a given context
  • points out the increasing tendency towards collaboration (2007) as undermining the idea of the artist as a solitary genious, proposing a community of co-creators ——> this connects Kester to the religious conceptions of art of the middle ages

Nicholas Bourriaud – “Relational Aesthetics”

  • ‘set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space’
  • ‘aesthetic theory consisting in judging art works on the basis of the inter-human relations which they represent, produce or prompt’.
  • artistic practice is focused upon the sphere of inter-human relations: meetings, encounters, events, various types of collaboration between people
  • part of a general collective culture made possible by new technologies: “the share of interactivity grows in volume within the set of communication vehicles. On the other hand, the emergence of new technologies, like the Internet and new multimedia systems, points to a collective desire to create new areas of conviviality and introduce new types of transaction with regard to the cultural object.”

Jacques Ranciere

  • Art / Aesthethics: ‘the ability to think contradiction: the productive contradiction of art’s relationship to social change, characterized precisely by that tension between faith in art’s autonomy and belief in art as inextricably bound to the promise of a better world to come. For Rancière the aesthetic doesn’t need to be sacrificed at the altar of social change, as it already inherently contains this ameliorative promise.’

Claire Bishop – aligned with Jacques Ranciere

  • critique of relational art: ‘criticism is dominated by ethical judgments on working procedure and intentionality’ / ‘socially engaged art has been largely exempt from art criticism. Emphasis is shifted away from the disruptive specificity of a given work and onto a generalized set of moral precepts.’

Despite the apparent opposition, Kester and Bishop’s views both remain underwritten by religion:

  • Kester: art is supposed to fulfil religion’s traditional role in binding together community
  • Bishop: it takes on the messianic duty of promising a ‘better world to come’.


  • For Derrida, writing, and thus by extension all discourse, involves alterity, difference, and deferral.
  • J Hillis Miller quotes Derrida:
  • “Neither animals of different species, nor men of different cultures, nor any individual, animal or human, inhabits the same world as another, however close and similar these living individuals may be (humans or animals), and the difference from one world to the other will remain forever uncrossable, the community of the world being always constructed…”
  • “…language in the broad sense, codes of traces being destined, with all the living, to construct a unity of the world always deconstructible and nowhere and never given in nature..”
  • “…between my world and every other world, there is initially the space and the time of an infinite difference, of an interruption incommensurable with all the attempts at passage, of bridge, of isthmus, of communication, of translation…”
  • “There is no world, there are only islands.”
  • Central to this enisled incommensurability between every other is the singularity of our experience of death. – the one thing in the world that no one else can either give or take – Death is a ‘gift’ because it alone gives us our unsubstitutable identity.
  • For Derrida, it is ‘the work of art’ which makes it possible to engage with the effects of chance and the event as it:
  • “retains for us a general privilege […] as the place for luck and chance. The work provokes us to think the event. It challenges us to understand chance and luck, to take sight of them, or take them in hand, to inscribe them within a horizon of anticipation. It is at least in this way that they are works, oeuvres, and, in defiance of any program of reception, they make for us an event. Works befall us; they say or unveil what befalls us by befalling us. They overpower us inasmuch as they sort things out with what falls from above. The work is vertical and slightly leaning.”
  • As soon as one enters into a relation with the other one is obliged to sacrifice all the ‘infinite number’ of others, the other others, to whom one should be bound by the same responsibility.
  • Derrida’s decision to feed his cat and his guilt at not feeding all the other cats, indeed his conflation of the two, is exemplary of the aporia of hospitality, which at one level is always conditional and based on context, circumstance, hierarchy and expectations of the capacity to reciprocate.
  • Hospitality:
  • Absolute hospitality is impossible because it would mean giving up our mastery over the space in which we receive our guests, and thus our capacity to be hospitable. But our space is only habitable in that it has doors and windows and thus is open to the outside/stranger (l’ étranger ) and thus to the possibility of granting hospitality.
  • it is only by being open to the other that we are constituted as a self
  • Derrida shows his debt to the work of Emmanuel Lévinas, for whom the encounter between the self and the other precedes and is constitutive of the self. Thus there is always a sense that – inasmuch as it is the encounter with the other, the stranger, the potential guest, that makes possible the subjectivity that enables the host to be a host in the first place – the guest is, at some level, also host.
  • with the avant-garde, art is posited as something like a stranger that comes looking for hospitality,
  • avant-garde: mutations that appear without precedent and thus cannot be incorporated into the normal scheme of things, which in turn will have to be reconceived in order to accommodate these monsters.
  • the avant-garde (the ‘advance guard’) returns from the future in which it will have been domesticated and accommodated. Thus it is a revenant, a spectre, a ghost.
  • If the avant-garde is returning from the future, then it is confronting the present with what that future might be, and demanding that the institutions with which it interacts change in order to accommodate what is to come.
  • Derrida describes ‘the monstrous arrivant’, that is ‘absolutely foreign or strange’ but must be welcomed and accorded hospitality, in order to be open to the future, as that which arrives, beyond what we can know, expect or programme for.

The Singularity of Literature, Derek Attridge

  • the experience of creating a work of art is bound up with ‘letting something happen’, something that ‘demands to be said’,
  • In this way ‘something we might call ‘otherness’ or ‘alterity’ or the ‘other’ is made, or allowed, to impact upon the existing configurations of an individual’s mental world – which is to say, upon a particular cultural field as it is embodied in a single subjectivity’.
  • “The creative mind can only work with the materials to which it has access, and it can have no knowledge beyond these; it therefore has to operate without being sure of where it is going, probing the limits of the culture’s givens, taking advantage of their contradictions and tensions…”
  • For Attridge, ‘to create an artwork’ means to ‘bring into existence a configuration of cultural materials that […] holds out the possibility of a repeated encounter with alterity’. This is more than simply a question of newness, but more ‘a singular encounter and an encounter with singularity’.

‘aesthetics of hospitality’

  • “In a sense this is an acknowledgment of the fact that art cannot, in any explicit or useful sense, be political, at least without ceasing to be art”- he uses the term “political” as capable of directly interfering in people’s or other living beings’s welfare
  • “The best art can do is to continually bring to our attention to the contingency of every form of community in the light of our separateness and singularity. The best a work of art (not ‘Art’) can do, perhaps all it can do, is help us imagine what it must be to remain open and hospitable to the Other, by confronting us with its own singularity, never unconditionally, as that would be impossible, but with unconditional hospitality as our horizon.”

A conversation between Michael Corris and Charlie Gere

  • CG: “It takes a certain period of consummation, which in itself is a sort of process of deferral that is also a process which opens it out to the possibility of other meanings, opens out the possibility of there being sort of new, as yet unimaginable, kinds of communities that might come about, rather than what Kester seems to be proposing, which is an already pre-existing community with which you can engage.” – referring to works that need time to be grasped
  • “…works of art have a moment in which they open out, then that’s it and they then go on to become something different. They go on to an afterlife…”
  • “all art is media art. All art not only uses some kind of medium and has as its substrate some kind of medium, but also art is always absolutely bound up in what is done with a medium, whether it’s painting, sculpture, photography, whatever”
  • religion remains implicitly the hidden thing that underpins all art, whether you like it or not
  • If I go to an art gallery I am looking at objects that are thoroughly imbued with an implied metaphysics or transcendence but also in a sense immanently, in that they try to do that without necessarily making transcendent claims, but they are absolutely acting for us in that way.
  • “…much contemporary art right now is explicitly religious. e.g. Olafur Eliasson, Bill Viola, Anish Kapoor, and others who aim at some level to give an experience of transcendence
  • New media art is self-consciously technical, not just in the sense that it uses technology but in that it involves an engagement with its own technicity in a way that deconstructs the transcendence of art.
  • galleries like the Tate: the means a work of art might use are not the point; the point is what it’s trying to say with those means and the way it’s trying to transcend those means (representation). e.g. Olafur Eliasson instalation at the Turbine Hall as a transcendent aesthetic experience. “…fundamentally religious piece, unashamedly and uncritically so, in that it involves no attempt at a political critique nor any attempt to engage with the issues in making a work of art in such a museum, which brings those kinds of communities together.”