Term created by curator Nicholas Bourriaud in the 1990s to describe the tendency he noticed in fine art practice to make art based on, or inspired by, human relations and their social context

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  • Gillian Wearing OBE, ''I'm desperate'' 1992-3
    Gillian Wearing OBE
    'I'm desperate' 1992-3
    Colour photograph on paper
    frame: 1325 x 925 x 45 mm
    support: 1190 x 790 mm
    Purchased 2000© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley/ Interim Art, London
  • Philippe Parreno, '6.00 PM' 2000-6
    Philippe Parreno
    6.00 PM 2000-6
    Overall display dimensions variable
    Purchased using funds provided by the 2006 Outset / Frieze Art Fair Fund to benefit the Tate Collection 2007© Philippe Parreno, courtesy Esther Schipper, Berlin
  • Liam Gillick, 'Big Conference Platform Platform' 1998
    Liam Gillick
    Big Conference Platform Platform 1998
    Anodised aluminium, Plexiglas
    2400 x 3600 x 6 mm
    Purchased 2007© Liam Gillick

Introduction to Relational Aesthetics

The French curator Nicholas Bourriaud published a book called Relational Aesthetics in 1998 in which he defined the term as:

A set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space

He saw artists as facilitators rather than makers and regarded art as information exchanged between the artist and the viewers. The artist, in this sense, gives audiences access to power and the means to change the world.

Bourriaud cited the art of Gillian Wearing, Philippe Parreno, Douglas Gordon and Liam Gillick as artists who work to this agenda.

Further reading

Carsten Höller Test Site installation US09
Carsten Höller
Test Site

Art of Interaction: A Theoretical Examination of Carsten Höller’s Test Site
This paper looks at the interactivity of Carsten Höller’s Test Site 2006, using Alfred Gell’s Art and Agency (1998) and Nicolas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics (1998).