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Unformatted text preview: died in 1991), urban violence (handgun laws in Unt itled [NRA] ),
and homosexualit y (Perfect Lovers ). Bourr iaud, however, demotes this aspect of Gonzales -Torres’s
pract ice in favor of it s “structure”— it s literal generosit y toward the viewer. Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics 65 portrait of the heterogeneit y of ever yday life,” and do not examine their relat ionship to it .37 In other words, although the works claim to defer to their context ,
they do not quest ion their imbr icat ion within it . Gillick’s pinboards are embraced
as democrat ic in structure —but only those who own them may interact with their
arrangement . We need to ask, as Group Mater ial did in the 1980s, “ Who is the
public? How is a culture made, and who is it for?”
I am not suggest ing that relat ional art works need to develop a greater social
conscience —by making pinboard works about internat ional terror ism, for example, or giving free curr ies to refugees. I am simply wonder ing how we decide what
the “structure” of a relat ional art work compr ises, and whether this is so det achable from t he work’s ostensible subject matter or permeable wit h it s context .
Bourr iaud want s to equate aesthet ic judgment with an ethicopolit ical judgment of
the relat ionships produced by a work of art . But how do we measure or compare
these relat ionships? The qualit y of the relat ionships in “relat ional aesthet ics” are
never examined or called into quest ion. When Bourr iaud argues that “encounter s
are more import ant t han t he indiv iduals who compose t hem,” I sense t hat t his
quest ion is (for him) unnecessar y; all relat ions t hat permit “dialogue” are automat ically assumed to be democrat ic and t herefore good. But what does
“democr acy” really mean in t his context? If relat ional art produces human relat ions, t hen t he next logical quest ion to ask is what t ypes of relat ions are being
produced, for whom, and why?
Rosalyn Deut sche has argued t hat t he public sphere remains democr at ic
only insofar as it s naturalized exclusions are t aken into account and made open to
contest at ion: “Conﬂict , division, and inst abilit y, then, do not ruin the democrat ic
public sphere; they are condit ions of it s existence.” Deut sche t akes her lead from
Ernesto Laclau and Chant al Mouffe’s Hegemony and Sot St rategy: Towards a
Radical Democrat ic Polit ics. Published in 1985, Laclau and Mouffe’s Hegemony is one
of the ﬁr st books to reconsider Left ist polit ical theor y through the lens of postst ructur alism, following what t he aut hor s perceived to be an impasse of Mar xist
theor izat ion in the 1970s. Their text is a rereading of Marx through Gramsci’s theo r y o f h e g e m o n y a n d L a c a n ’s u n d e r s t a n d i n g o f s u b j e c t i v i t y a s s p l i t a n d
decentered. Several of the ideas that Laclau and Mouffe put forward allow us to
reconsider Bourr iaud’s claims for the polit ics of relat ional aesthet ics in a more
cr it ical light .
The ﬁr st of...
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- Spring '09