Time, the artwork and subjectivity

The encounter with the work gives rise not so much to a space . . . as to a time span. (p. 59)

. . . “the only acceptable end purpose of human activities,” writes Guattari, “is the production of a subjectivity that is forever self-enriching its relationship with the world“. A definition that ideally applies to the practices of contemporary artists: by creating and staging devices of existence including working methods and ways of being, instead of concrete objects which hitherto bounded the realm of art, they use time as a material. The form holds sway over the thing, and movements over categories. The production of gestures wins out over the production of material things. (p. 103)

. . . the work of art is no longer presented as the mark of a past action, but as the announcement of a forthcoming event (the “trailer effect”), or the proposal of a virtual action. In any event, it is presented as a material time span which every exhibition event has to update and revive. The work becomes a still, a frozen moment, but one that does not do away with the flow of gestures and forms from which it stems. (p. 76)

What interests me here is the relation between the artwork and time, and the production of subjectivity through the action of the artwork (as touched upon in the quotations from Bourriaud which I’ve posted recently).

Bourriaud brings in Félix Guattari’s thinking to project a future development for Relational Aesthetics, where it should go from here. In so doing he presents the change in the perception of the works of the artist by Guattari, from a creator to a producer: “. . . [Guattari] refusing the Romantic idea of genius and depicting the artist as an operator of meaning, rather than a pure ‘creator’ . . .” (p. 93)

This is linked to the production of subjectivity by Bourriaud, but to an expanded understanding of the concept, again stemming from Guattari:

Because the individual does not have a monopoly on subjectivity, the model of the Author and his alleged disappearance are of no importance: “Devices for producing subjectivity may exist in the scale of megalopolis as on the scale of an individual’s linguistic games“.. . . a “transversalist” conception of creative operations, lessening the figure of the author in favour of that of the artist-cum operator . . . (p. 93)

One last point that I’ll make, comes from when Bourriaud judges artworks not to be complete but “partial objects” which fit into an overall schema:

This definition embraces the development of art forms in a very fruitful way: the theory of the aesthetic partial object as “semiotic segment” separate from collective subjective production so as to start “working on it own behalf” perfectly describes the most widespread artistic production methods today: sampling of pictures and data, recycling now socialised and historicized forms, invention of collective identities . . . Such are the procedures of present-day art, stemming from a hyper-inflational system of imagery. These strategies for partial objects incorporate the work in the continuum of a device of existence, instead of endowing it with the traditional independence of the masterpiece in the system of conceptual mastery. (p. 100)

Some questions: What are these “devices of existence” (which were also mentioned earlier)? They are apparently created and staged by artists, particularly contemporary ones, they can be “working methods and ways of being,” with which time is manipulated as if it were material (are they are works of art?). From this can we connect with the quote from Guattari in the previous sentence, and propose that “ideally” they produce a “self-enriching” subjectivity?

What would a “self-enriching” subjectivity be? I assume that this is an ideal that we as human beings are being asked to strive after by Guattari, and by extention by Bourriaud. These artworks which are being referred to then have this possibility, to create this particular type of subjectivity themselves. But am I being too restricted in my application of the term, as “the individual does not have a monopoly on subjectivity”?

The first question we should ask ourselves when looking at a work of art is: – Does it give me the chance to exist in front of it, or, on the contrary, does it deny me as a subject, refusing to consider the Other in its structure? Does the space-time factor suggested or described by this work, together with the laws governing it, tally with my aspirations in real life? Does it criticise what is deemed to be criticisable? Could I live in a space-time structure corresponding to this reality? (p. 57)

So, what does this enlarged subjectivity amount to? How do we perceive it and understand it? Is it anything more than an anthropomorphization of the world? Bourriaud checks this line of thought by saying that:

These questions do not refer to any exaggeratedly anthropomorphic vision of art, but to a vision that is quite simply human. (p. 57)

All quotes from BOURRIAUD, Nicolas (1998). Relational Aesthetics. Translated by Simon Pleasance and Fronza Woods. France: Les Presses du Réel.

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