Where’s theory?

. . . the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that. (Foucault, 1989, p. xvi)

Now I’ve visited China, I’ve got a better impression of the way things are with art there.

I saw very few works by Chinese artists that particularly interested me. I saw a lot of interesting architecture, some good sculpture, some nice photography and media art, and a lot of poor paintings. However, many of the things I liked were usually not by Chinese artists.

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Ed (almost) in China

So, tomorrow I’m flying out of London to Bejing for three weeks. What am I hoping for or expecting from this trip?

Firstly, and most importantly from a personal point of view, I’ll be seeing Shi, my fiancée again after a five-week gap. I’ll also be meeting her family for the first time.

Secondly, I’ll be being a tourist, seeing all those things which a tourist mustn’t miss when in China (or at least as many as we can reach comfortably from Beijing in the time available). That includes all the usual suspects, the Forbidden City, Tian’anmen Square, the Great Wall, the terracotta soldiers, etc.

And finally, I’ll be getting a feel for the art scene in China. This is something that I’ve only recently been introduced to, mainly through Shi, and the whole situation really interests me, both formally and theoretically.

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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.