Review of Relational Aesthetics by Nicolas Bourriaud.
On the back cover, the fist sentence introduces the main subject of the book. It asks the question: Where does our current obsession for interactivity come from?
The various attempts of an answer inside the book are only partially successful. The author immediately diminishes the defining power of his term “relational art” which he coined in 1995 by stating that “art has always been relational in varying degrees…” or “any artwork might be defined as a relational object…” He is completely at odds with the term “interactive art” since he claims that calling this kind of work interactive is a mistake. In the rest of the book he does not offer any explanations why he has formed this opinion. While the book is full of interesting facts and observations, it thoroughly fails to substantiate his new terminology as a meaningful category in art.
It is my opinion that the author is avoiding the core issue. He tries to replace the term “interactive art” which is simply a phobic euphemism for the term “PlayArt.” However, he does not share this opinion since he seems to be unfamiliar with the latter one. His newer term, “relational art” happens to be only an additional euphemism. Both expressions, like so many others such as participatory, variable, transformable art, etc. are products of an outmoded attitude that play is not a respectable subject for art. Consequently, critics, curators, art dealers, even many artists avoid the term play and substitute it with such pseudo scientific empty shells in the hope that this kind of work will be taken more seriously. All these efforts are essentially misguided. They appear to be an indication that our entire culture is subliminally victimized by religious forces. The puritan work ethic and similar restrictions no longer have the influence as in the Middle Ages, but they still linger on in our value system where they are the source of some problematic misjudgments.