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Social Design and Relational Art


Thursday, November 30, 2017

  • “L’art est un état de rencontre” “Art is a meeting state” – Nicolas Bourriaud

 

When visiting the exhibition « Change the system » in the Boijmans, I wondered how art and design were differently defined when they both answer one and only  same question . At the very end of the show, I discovered the work of Manon van Hoeckel called ‘the laundry’. Manon is a designer, a social and critical one; she « designs context ». That was the very first time that I saw this term used , regarding a design work that had as a result a social cohabitation and that was human-centered in this way. Wasn’t it an art experience, such as Tino Seghal’s work or Marina Abramovitch’s one? How do design and art meet in social/relational situations to create a better understanding of our modern and future world?

momo5

In the last decades, through many art movements that arised, two specific ones in art and design have emerged. In art, the relational aesthetic defined by  Nicolas Bourriaud 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. » In design, a social thinking approach has emerged in the same way, materializing into performances, contexts, tests,  always in the finality to contribute to improve human well-being and livelihood. Although these two subjects do not have quite the same purposes, they coincide around the same problems and use the same tools with the purpose of better understanding/changing our world and human behaviour.


In current art practices, it is not unusual to visit literally empty exhibitions which display works that turn away from the visual and the visible. Facing these constituent invisibilities, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the invisible artwork from its exhibition. But let’s say it’s acceptable, because it is art. But what if this happens with design? What’s the result of it? Nothing specific, just an experience. How is it created? What happens? Let’s first have a look at Manon’s work.

As a social designer, Manon creates event, spaces for people to discuss, she creates interaction between humans. In her project for The Boijman’s Museum , Manon actually creates a space where people can come for other reasons than visiting a museum, and also a space to discuss the exhibition itself. As an answer to « change the system », she proposes discussion. But how is her work different from Tino Seghal’s, how is it different from relation aesthetic?  Tino Seghal also bases his work on people’s experience of meeting and sharing, the interaction being the piece of art itself, working against the production of an object. Regarding what is relational art, let’s give an other relevant example. Rirkrit Tiravanija is perhaps the most iconic artist of this movement. He moved all the contents of an art gallery storeroom and office into the exhibition space and staged his work in the back rooms; the art consisted of cooking Thai cuisine for his audience. The viewers became active par­ticipants, first locating the backrooms, then consuming the food and engaging in con­versations with the artist and one another, instead of quietly looking at objects in an exhibition space.

So, what’s different from Manon Van Hoecken’s work ? We can nowadays suppose that there exists a correlation between what art and design produce in the way that now they are both no longer results driven, and either of them do not have a specific function/utility (to a certain extent). Regarding both disciplines, the term ‘relational’ offers a more complex understanding than the simple oppositional binary of both art and design – as either socially active or not.

How come design and art became so abstract, looking similar and tending to focus on the human matter so much?

If we had to make distinctions, we might say that regarding social design, as Manon Van Hoecken produces, it is an experience of sociology that enables the designer and the users themselves to better understand how does interaction and human contact work nowadays. Designers then became « expert citizens » and it is more about designing WITH, but not for users. This could be called « Human centered Design », and is definitely very close to relational art.

Regarding relational aesthetic, it is more about taking as its subject the entirety of life as it is lived, or the dynamic social environment (rather than attempting mimetic representation of object removed from daily life, as would be the case in a Dutch Baroque still life). Also, it is important to emphasize that the main purpose of relational aesthetics is not simply to produce social relationships and interactions but also reflect upon society and critique it through the approach of disruption by creating non-produced exhibition and art. Also, participatory and relational art raise important questions about the meaning and purpose of art in society, about the role of the artist and the experience of the audience as participants.

But, if we look at it from a historical point of view, relational aesthetic are older than social design. Relational art, as we said before, is a term that was created by Nicolas Bourriaud in 1995 in his book « Relational Aesthetic », from his experiences of his artist colleagues in the 90’s. Social design and human centered design are younger, they appear a bit later in time and have become a real subject of interest nowadays. Is then art what inspired design to go into the more performative experience of customers? How does art influence design? This supposition brings us to an other problematic, but from what we’ve seen so far we can confirm two things:

If social design and relational art have the similarity of experience, design tends more to derive analysis and create problematics from it, otherwise art offers another way to experience and create, in contradiction to what is known and defined. Very similar in their forms, nowadays it can be seen how design and art can be closely related. Social design such as human centered design also gives a much more open minded idea of what design is and can be, far from any industrial or concrete problematics.

momo5
Here a project I made myself where I created a fake statue with the words “If you ever wanted to talk to someone, do it here whitestranger@outlook.fr” and waited for people to react by sending me/or not mails.
This project can be seen either
-as an art piece, bringing strangers and public spectators to help create the work itself.
-a design, social experiment, about loneliness but also about uses of internet communication.
>> White stranger (click here to see the project)

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