Graduate Seminar ::: Relational Poetics

Instructor: Nance Davies   ::: 

Course Description

A certain sub-set of artists are defined by themselves, as well as theorists and critics, as: social- research practitioners, inter-and-trans-personal relational practitioners, context providers, social geographers, art catalysts, locative-media artists, do-it-yourselfers, cultural hijackers, tactical-participatory mediators, re-mixers and recyclers who sample and re-present the ‘everyday’, etc. etc.
These new forms are often open, provisional, and project-based. We understand that race, class, gender, sexuality, age, and culture develop relationship with and within environments. Collaboration and collective praxis shape social spaces outside conventional museums and galleries.
The relationship between artist and audience has evolved, as the viewing public is, more and more, invited to participate in the work. Today’s social-networking publics and ‘open source’ culture are evolutionary evidence of a longing for connection and participation. Such collaborative activity contributes to an artwork’s meaning and, as Claire Bishop suggests in ‘Viewer as Producer’ in her book PARTICIPATION, “a restoration of the social bond through a collective elaboration of meaning”.
However, as artists who continuously navigate the spaces of private and public experience, we feel the tension inherent in the journey back and forth – from inside to outside – and back again. We face a number of daunting challenges when considering how to create relationship between these competing spaces. Art Historian Miwon Kwon offers a possible perspective in her essay ‘One Place After Another’, “This is not a matter of choosing sides……between digital interfaces and the handshake. She suggests – ‘we need to be able to think the range of seeming contradictions and our contradictory desires for them together, to understand, in other words, seeming oppositions as sustaining relations. Only those cultural practices that have relational sensibility, can turn local encounters into long-term commitments and transform passing intimacies into indelible, un-retractable social marks”.
This graduate seminar will explore some of these challenges as we read from a diverse selection of authors and consider possible relevance for our own lives and art practice as painters, photographers, filmmakers, installation artists, sculptors, social practitioners, etc. The goal of this seminar is to neither praise nor condemn any of the evolving forms or identities but to simply gain a deeper understanding of the strengths and weaknesses as they emerge. As members of this seminar, a context-based social group, we will further examine the meaning of the ‘relational’ through the various social processes of the course.

Course Content                                                                                                                               

We will read from an interdisciplinary list of texts developed by the class members and course facilitator exploring concepts related to relational contingencies in art and life. We will discuss these readings [drawn from critical theory, cultural theory, and popular culture]. Students will develop and present projects in collaborative groups in response to this investigation.

Course Requirements   

As a member of this seminar, you are expected to read all ‘Required Readings’ before the first meeting of the seminar course and email the seminar facilitator a paragraph identifying concepts from the readings you find interesting and / or relevant to your art practice. As you read, outline the readings, make notes and be prepared to discuss readings and contribute to the collective conversation. You will also help develop and present a collaborative group project. You will have two weeks for development. Presentations will be critiqued during the final two days of the seminar. Attendance is mandatory during all classes, events, critiques, planning meetings, and any other plans / experiences that come up in the course of this seminar.


1] “Relational Art is 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. Artworks are judged based upon the inter-human relations which they represent, produce or prompt”. Nicolas Bourriaud ‘Relational Aesthetics’ 1998
2]“the space of ‘co-emergence’ ……as intra-psychic, subjective and trans- subjective, works its way, like art does, by fine attunements that evade the political systems” Artist and psychoanalyst Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger
3] , “a restoration of the social bond through a collective elaboration of meaning”.Claire Bishop in her essay ‘Viewer as Producer’ – part of PARTICIPATION: DOCUMENTS OF CONTEMPORARY ART MIT PRESS 2006
4] “only a community that questions its own legitimacy is legitimate’. Miwon Kwon, art historian, referencing French philosopher Jean Luc Nancy, in her book ‘One Place After Another’ MIT Press, Cambridge, MA 2004