Bishop, Claire. Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics
Summary: Bishop offers a critique of “relational aesthetics” – an approach to installation art that originated in the 1990’s and whose main proponent and interpreter was Nicolas Bourriaud. Bourriaud’s chief claim is that the art movement in question promotes intersubjective relationships (between artist and audience members and among audience members alike) and privileges social and political cohesion over other possible aspects of the aesthetic experience. While Bishop finds this ethos applicable to the work of the artists Bourriaud chooses to discuss (Rikrit Tiravanija, Liam Gillick etc.), she finds it difficult to reconcile relational aesthetics with the realities and concerns of the larger artworld. Antagonism is for Bishop just as viable a driving force in the making and appreciation of art as are social cohesion and intersubjective togetherness. Furthermore, as the history of early performance art and its reception shows, what makes art difficult, and thus politically important, is precisely the tensions that the makers and theorists of relational aesthetics attempt to quell.
Comment: This text offers a good introduction to relational aesthetics. Best if read together with (some of) Nicolas Bourriaud's work on relational aesthetics.
Korsmeyer, Carolyn. The Magnetism of Disgust
Summary: Korsmeyer’s account of disgust and the role it plays in art appreciation starts with a treatment of what she calls the “paradox of aversion” – the apparent incompatibility between humans’ disposition to seek pleasure and their frequent voluntary exposure to unpleasant and even painful art-related experiences. Korsmeyer’s provisional solution to the paradox is based on the realization that pleasure is not an emotion but rather “an intense absorption in an object that induces us to continue rather than halt an experience.” This opens the possibility that the pleasure we take from a work of art retains a cognitive element such that we gain unique insight from what would, outside of the art context, have given us pain. Korsmeyer speaks of an “aesthetic conversion” whereby disgust and fear are transfigured into vehicles of absorption, and thus become aesthetically pleasurable. Since disgust and its magnetic force are of material interest to performance artists and their critics, Korsmeyer’s treatment of the paradox of aversion helps re-contextualize an important art historical issue.
Comment: Interesting to teach following classes on the paradox of horror, and perhaps even alongside (some of) Noel Carroll's writings on horror.