Aesthetic Authonomy and Interdisciplinarity: A response to Nicolas Bourriaud's 'Relational aesthetics'

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Nicolas Bourriaud's concept of 'relational aesthetics' has proved an influential framework for understanding discipline cross overs in art of the 1990s. This paper traces precedents in aesthetic philosophy, both Kantian and Marxist that inform Bourriaud's account of the relational aesthetic of contemporary art. In the process it registers a number of points of disagreement with the liberal view of democratic social bonds, and the links between aesthetics, ethics and politics that Borriaud propounds. The critical terms of my response to relational aesthetics are derived from a Neo-Marxist thinking of democracy, and the relation between aesthetics and politics developed by philosopher Jacques Rancière. This questioning of Bourriaud's claims about the democratic incline of relational aesthetics is fleshed out by an examination of the cross disciplinary art of Mark Dion. Dion is known for producing performative, site-specific events and installations that incorporate the discourses and professional protocols of natural science and archaeology. Bourriaud situates Dion's practice within a sub-set of relational aesthetics, namely art production that is modelled on the professional procedures of non-art disciplines, and which emulates the "relational world" that such disciplines suppose. While acknowledging some affinities between Dion's art and relational aesthetics, this paper draws a distinction between the kinds of social and disciplinary interaction that Bourriaud endorses, and the role that the aesthetic plays in Dion's archaeological dig projects of the late 1990s.
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Ross, Toni Christine
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