Relational March: St. Louis, Kansas City, Omaha

Relational March Day 7-9

‘the role of artworks is no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within the existing real, whatever the scale chosen by the artist’ (Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics p. 13).

PPL (Esther Neff and Brian McCorkle) eating post-performance BBQ in Kansas City. Photo by Edward Sharp.

PPL (Esther Neff and Brian McCorkle) eating post-performance BBQ in Kansas City. Photo by Edward Sharp.

Critics of relational aesthetics argue that a re-framing/making of art as a “state of encounter” (Bourriaud, ibid. p. 18) or as a “sociability,” simply subjects art to the same states of capitalist determinism which exist in daily human life.

The Lemp. Photo by Brian McCorkle.

The Lemp. Photo by Brian McCorkle.

This is one of the primary problematics we are dealing with through our tour-framed-as-performance, in which the daily needs of four human beings draw our performance work out of autonomy and into conflict with larger-scale capitalist structures. Our subversion or submission becomes an issue, for the former, we require assistance. In St. Louis, we are fed pasta, salad, and pastries by Tom at The Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center, and sleep on couches in the performance space. Despite low attendance to this show, The Lemp’s owner, composer Mark Sarich gives us $20 out of pocket. In Kansas City, we are housed and fed breakfast at the home of ceramics artists Chandra DeBuse and Tommy Frank. In Omaha, we stay at the home of F-DT’s David Griess’s parents, where a fully-stocked fridge affords us two days of delicious free meals. Our general freeganism exists on a spectrum between accepting support from those on our same “economic level” and accepting charity from those far more well-off.

Framed as social performance, or as “relational performance,” the Relational March tour blurs differences between working through daily support from individuals and working through patronage and philanthropic models at large. Distinctions between our “performances” (i.e. every evening sometime between 6pm and 11pm in spaces delineated as sites for art-presentation) and our “performing” (as human beings traveling from city to city across the modern Midwest) are further complicated by this framing. Two sizes for each of two frames.

Red Star Studios. Photo by the author.

Red Star Studios. Photo by the author.

Across cities, we observe structured, institutional exchanges that operate to value art and redistribute wealth. At The Lemp, neighborhood kids participate in music education programs, and at Red Star studios, where we receive a thorough tour, hundreds of artistic practices are supported each year. We also observe and participate in interpersonal behaviors, ethics-to-actions models, and ways of supporting fellow artists, family members, and friends, which interact with the “general economies” (see: Adorno) of the “existing real.”

Our relationships with institutions, including Kent Bellows Studios in Omaha (the former studio of David’s uncle), are almost tangential; we hardly enter their economic systems at all and our art is only temporarily presented in each space, accessible to live audiences in-situ and then existing as fragmented documentation online, while our relationships with individuals such as Teal of UUVVWWZ feel meaningful and deep, if often autonomous and private. Conversations, social visitations, and performances alike become performative artworking: processes of relating rather than something in relation with something else. We humans are not things, and our artworking are/is not thing(s).

Setting up with Neil Griess at Kent Bellows Studios

Setting up with Neil Griess at Kent Bellows Studios

Brian and I have become especially interested in the differences between a one-to-many mode of production i.e. the “relational artworks” made by Rikrit Tirivanja (the same curry served to all visitors), Noritoshi Hirakawa (an ad in a newspaper, viewed by many), Carsten Höller (multiple finches bred to sing the same song), Vanessa Beecroft (identically made-up naked women installed in the same way across sites), whose mimetic processes for relating are applied across spaces, individual interactions, and contexts, vs. many-to-the-one modes of production, wherein the elements and conditions of situation determine the artistic practices and modes of production themselves.

Dear Andy: while a total erasure of art-as-object is no more possible than a “total” anything, performance can perhaps assist us in parsing the processes by which objectification or de-objectification occurs?

Bourriaud’s theories of relational aesthetics, as ways of framing and critiquing art in order to understand it, and yes, to objectify it, so that it can be something valuable (as with all criticism), insist to a certain logical extent that all art is relational; even objects such as Chandra’s ceramic drinking vessels will define and be defined by their context, whether gallery or kitchen cabinet.  And, I am not the first to point out, Bourriaud’s Marxist definitions of relational art locate themselves consistently within recurrent polemics, in which, as Stewart Martin writes, ‘Art’s historic relation to the struggle of subjection to commodification has revolved around the issue of whether art is a commodity, and as such enables humanity’s subjection to capital; or whether art is not a commodity, and thereby resists this subjection’ (Martin, Critique of Relational Aesthetics, p. 373).

Side Note: Relational aesthetics and negatively-defined criticisms, contextualized by the art of the 1990’s and early 2000’s, run parallel to but maintain a certain unfortunate radio silence with “the performative turn,” wherein we find different vocabulary surrounding subjection, especially. The task of combining relational and performative dialectics provides fodder for the live art of our current moment, certainly for the theory behind the projects of PPL. Yesterday, today, and probably tomorrow (literally) PPL are forced to move beyond conceptions of our Practices (capital object “P”) as “modes of production” (still object/commodity/fetish, even in plurality) and into consideration of ourselves as artmakers performing (practicing/acting) in relation with systems, sites, and individuals.

Curator, writer, and activist Danny Orendorff, who involves us in his current exhibition at Charlotte Street Foundation’s La Esquina Gallery, The Tyranny of Good Taste, discusses the sharing of resources as a crucial part of artistic practices, encouraging his students to open their own studios and spaces, curate and promote the work of artists in their communities, utilize discarded and “poor” materials, and to develop cooperative learning and making procedures. These “politics of aesthetics” largely form his vision as a curator, visible both in the ways he works and in the artworks he includes in exhibitions.

Whether or not these activities are framed as “art” seems only relevant to economies (both “general” and “with resistant value-forms”). Certainly, they are undertaken by a current generation of artists, curators, and writers who are interested in confronting modes of production and their subordination of subjects and objects alike to industrialized process (see: DIY). Further, schemas of individualism, competition, and productivity, which underpin neo-liberal ideas and far-right ideas alike, begin to emerge as basis for argumentation surrounding relationality and value.

Here are some points of relative contact that PPL use to construct “a performance” each night:

Political-Social-Economic Signification
Individuals/Power structures/Persons and the personal
Us/who we think we are/what we are doing/what we have/our own signification-identity

Each element is further related with every other element, via association, assimilation, accommodation, various formalities (mathematics, language), and improvised interactivities. Once these elements are used to sketch a series of actions, conflicts, or confrontations, we begin performing-as-a-performance. Improvisation is modulated through sensation (psychological, emotional, embodied), senses of time, and many more vaguely metaphysical relationships with our audience members, the space, time, temperature, light, and any/everything else.

At our farthest-away point from our homes and studios in Brooklyn, PPL problematically begin to be able to formulate these kinds of lists, understanding (ironically) ourselves better through a kind of geographic verfremdungseffekt (Brecht), that distancing of attention (alienation, marooning) that works towards (but never quite reaches of course) objectivity.

‘When entire sections of our existence spiral into abstraction as a result of economic globalization, when the basic functions of our daily lives are slowly transformed into products of consumption (including human relations, which are becoming a fully-fledged industrial concern) it seems highly logical that artists might seek to rematerialize these functions and processes, to give shape to what is disappearing before our eyes. Not as objects, which would be to fall into the trap of reification, but as mediums of experience: by striving to shatter the logic of the spectacle, art restores the world to us as an experience to be lived.’ (Bourriaud, Postproduction, p. 26)

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