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).

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Daniel Buren at the Lisson Gallery


Daniel Buren Stays 2007

The photo shows one of a set of new “situated” works by Buren on show at the Lisson Gallery in London.

These pieces are a little bit obscure to me. I have the expectation that Buren’s work will reflect on the space around them, functioning as markers for the “invisible” structures they and the audience inhabit. But I am having great difficulty seeing the “material” that these particular pieces are working with.

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quotes from Relational Aesthetics by Nicolas Bourriaud

This is an eminently quotable book (despite the appalling copy editing of the translation). Here are two that have stuck in my head in my re-reading. The first presents a Marxist view of the activity of the work of art (or “any kind of production”) as something which gains “usefulness” through it’s social construction, over-and-above any that is originally imputed to it:

. . . once introduced into the exchange circuit, any kind of production takes on a social form which no longer has anything to do with its original usefulness. It acquires exchange value that partly covers and shrouds its primary “nature”. The fact is that a work of art has no a priori useful function – not that it is socially useless, but because it is available and flexible, and has an “infinite tendency”. In other words, it is devoted, right away, to the world of exchange and communication, the world of “commerce”, in both meanings of the term.. . . It has been said of art, and Marx was the first, that it represents the “absolute merchandise“, because it is the actual image of the value. (p. 42)

The second deals with the construction of subjectivity in relation to the work of art and the ethical dimension of that construction:

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 the 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)

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