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Bishop, Claire. Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics
2004, October 110: 51-79.
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Added by: Rossen Ventzislavov

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.

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Doyle, Jennifer. Thinking Feeling: Criticism and Emotion
2013, In: Hold It Against Me: Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art. Durham: Duke University Press. 69-89.
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Summary: Doyle investigates the emotional dimensions of aesthetic experience in the context of controversial performance art practices. She focuses on sentimentality because it sits at the extreme end not only of the emotional spectrum but also, as a negative, on the art critical radar. Critics’ charge against the sentimental is twofold – it enables vicarious experience at the expense of its direct counterpart and it gives a platform to the inauthentic. Furthermore, the overwhelming critical consensus is that the personal itself, manifested in sentimentality or otherwise, is inherently suspect. Emotion is thus framed as detrimental to “serious” art. It is also, and even more damagingly, feminized and drained of its political charge. To counter these assumptions, Doyle uses specific art-historical examples which reveal the richness and importance of emotional interest in the way art is made and experienced.

Comment: This text can be used in discussions of emotion and affectivity. While much of its focus is on art, it can be used in more general classes on emotions as well.

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Fusco, Coco. The Other History of Intercultural Performance
1994, The Drama Review 38(1): 143-167.
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Summary: Fusco’s text chronicles the preparation, performance, and public reception of an artwork – “Two Undiscovered Amerindians” – she created in collaboration with Guillermo Gómez-Peña in 1992. The performance was intended as a critique of the contemporary artworld, whose shallow redemptive multiculturalism often sidelined important issues of racial difference and racialized aesthetic perception. It consisted of the two artists spending three days in a golden cage presented, in the manner of live ethnographic spectacles of the not so distant colonial past, as members of an exotic and newly discovered island nation in the Gulf of Mexico. Fusco contends that otherness is always performative and, as such, has held the entire history of performance art – from the Dadaists to the present day – captive. The resulting frequent gestures of appropriation, condescension and erasure discredit the social and intercultural consciousness most performance artists see themselves as representing. Ironically, the strange journey the “Two Undiscovered Amerindians” project has travelled has plentifully confirmed the iniquities the two artists set out to expose.

Comment: While not a philosophical text per se, this article is very helpful in discussions of the political dimension of the contemporary artworld, and the race dynamics within it.

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Goldberg, RoseLee. Identities: Feminism, Multiculturalism, Sexuality
2004, In: Performance: Live Art Since the 60's. New York: Thames & Hudson. 128-145.
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Summary: Goldberg provides a richly illustrated historical account of the intimate connection between identity and performance art. Starting from the feminist art of the 1960’s, the recognition and assertion of identity was a fundamental bid for social visibility. The next frontier was social recognition, which concerned ethnic and sexual minorities as much as it did women. The final frontier – political equality – is one that is still out of reach. Still, according to Goldberg, performance art continues to chart new territories of identification. In fact, while at the outset performance art used early feminist writing as inspiration, Goldberg recognizes a gradual reversal – today’s feminists are as likely to chart new philosophical directions as they are to follow the exploratory charge of their performance art counterparts.

Comment: This text provides a historical background on the relationship between identity politics and art. It would be useful in classes on performance art, on the social context of art, as well as classes focusing on philosophy or race, gender and sexuality and ways to achieve social visibility.

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Goldberg, RoseLee. The Art of Ideas and the Media Generation
2001, in: Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present. New York: Thames & Hudson. 152-155.
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Summary: In this brief historical note, Goldberg outlines the artistic response to the political upheavals of the 1960’s. The general spirit of civic disillusionment offered the best conditions for the re-evaluation of art and its supporting social institutions. Not surprisingly, a new animosity emerged towards the objects of art and their claim to aesthetic pleasure. The farthest possible opposite, which many artists readily embraced, was found in conceptual art, which prioritized ideas, relations and experiences over traditional aesthetic categories. Goldberg sees performance art as a potent embodied application of these new artistic concerns, and thus as a rightful heir to conceptual art. Furthermore, each sub-genre of performance art – from body art to live sculpture to discussions and performative scripts – retains a conceptual core that finds its roots in that decade of strife and controversy.

Comment: This text offers a historical note on the relationship between conceptual art and performance art, and could be used in aesthetics classes focusing on either of those arts

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Goldberg, RoseLee. The Body: Ritual, Living Sculpture, Performed Photography
2004, In: Performance: Live Art Since the 60's. New York: Thames & Hudson. 94-127.
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Summary: Goldberg sees the human body in performance art as a transmitter of erotics, gender tensions, cultural norms and political deviations. While two of the notable early works of performance art featured fully clothed male artists using naked female bodies (Yves Klein’s Anthropometries of the Blue Period from 1960 and Piero Manzoni’s Living Scupture from 1961), the work of female artists like Shigeko Kubota and Yoko Ono addressed the gender imbalance soon after. Goldberg sees the recognition of the body as “prime, raw material” as one of the central accomplishments of performance art. Through numerous examples she demonstrates how this notion enabled a spectrum of physical signification – from regarding the human body as a mere lump of undifferentiated flesh to capitalizing on its biological intricacies. Because of the irreducible intimacy of shared bodily experience, all creative choices along this spectrum – from the disquietingly erotic, to the anachronistically ritualistic, to the viscerally sacrificial – have affected the way we see art and the world around us.

Comment: This historical overview of the use of the human body in early performance art can be in any class on body aesthetics or performance art, and can offer an interesting background reading on erotic art.

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Vergine, Lea. The Body as Language. Body Art and Like Stories
2000, In: Body Art and Performance: The Body as Language. Trans. Henry Martin. Milan: Skira Editore S.p.A.. 7-27.
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Summary: Vergine’s account of the formative years of performance art takes stock of the many innovative strategies artists developed for re-engaging the human body. One of the crucial dimensions of this reengagement is the positioning of one’s body in physical proximity with others. This happens in art through the bodily negotiation of basic dichotomies such as nature/artifice, ethos/pathos, agency/abandon, publicity/privacy, mortality/immortality etc. Vergine sees objects, and the body’s undifferentiated objecthood, as active participants in the performative communication and communion between artist and audience. These forms of togetherness stand or fall on the intensity of all parties’ affective investment, but they are also equally affected by the level of intellectual mutuality an art work occasions. According to Vergine, the demand for intelligent analysis and deep understanding that performance art places on its audience is balanced out by the artists’ bodily presence. For her the artist’s body does not serve merely as a mechanical expedient. It also “contributes to the life of consciousness and memory in a psycho-physical parallelism of processes that assume meaning and relief only when they are connected.”

Comment: This text offers a historical overview of our concept of the human body in the context of art. It can be useful in any class on body aesthetics, performance art, or dance.

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