Art Term

Relational aesthetics

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

The French curator Nicolas 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.

  • Altermodern

    Altermodern is a term coined by curator Nicolas Bourriaud in 2009, to describe art made as a reaction against standardisation and commercialism, in the context of globalisation

  • Interactive art

    Interactive art describes art that relies on the participation of a spectator

Explore this term

  • Awkward Relations

    Neil Mulholland

    This paper focuses on practices that captured critical and curatorial attention in Scotland and England at the turn of this century: relational aesthetics and the new formalism. Critical and curatorial representations of these practices have tended to present each as novel and as dichotomous. I argue that dominant representations of each tendency are mypopic and parochial, and ignore vernacular mobilisation in favour of hegemonic imaginaries such as ‘Britishness’ and the ‘new internationalism’. Paying closer ethnographic attention to the differentiated glocal communities in which such art was produced and consumed offers an alternative, culturally invested reading.

  • Art of Interaction: A Theoretical Examination of Carsten Höller’s Test Site

    Mark Windsor

    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). In the first part Gell is used to examine the interactive relationships between artist and participants mediated by the slides, the aesthetic quality and political significance of which are then revealed in the second part with reference to Bourriaud.

Selected artists in the collection