Another Relationality. Rethinking Art as Experience

MACBA (Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona)
Plaça dels Angels 1
08001 Barcelona

Part One, 23 - 26 November 2005

Part Two, 14 - 18 March 2006

In recent years several projects developed at the museum have sought to propose new ways in which art can exist in the public sphere. Recent examples include the exhibition How do we want to be governed? (MACBA September 22 – November 7, 2004), which employed a museological method based on articulating artistic work and social dynamics. To this end, the curator’s work involved establishing dialogues with different groups in the city. In this way, the exhibition continued the research carried out by the museum over the last few years into ways of articulating artistic processes, social sciences and political activity. In Autumn 2004, a new presentation of the collection opened at the museum under the generic title of Relational Poetics, proposing reflection based on the writings by Edouard Glissant about the poetic of the relation as a critique or alternative to an essentialist idea of cultural identity. This line of work continues with the Michael Asher exhibition (2006-07), amongst other activities. The museum this way rethinks the role of representation and visibility as central institutional and epistemological paradigms and explores instead a relational paradigm.

Relationality is a concept that enables us to intervene controversially in the debate on art institutions and their audiences, restoring political density to a concept used to defend a soft pseudo-articulation of the artistic and the social that creates a simulation of participation by trivialising and making a spectacle of the concept of antagonism as constitutive of the social.

But relationality is not only a debate about the social restricted to the museum field, but is an epistemological notion that cannot be dissociated from critical discourses of the different forms of essentialism. As Leo Bersani explains, “notions of social relationality have, at least since Descartes, been determined by the privileging of epistemological concerns over questions about the nature of being. Following Heidegger and his critique of Cartesian epistemology, we would reverse this priority, although by being we of course do not mean an ontological essence or entity, but rather something like a principle of universal connectedness. A modern reflection on being must be aware of itself not as an approximation of metaphysical truth; rather, the ontology most congenial to an age of information is one that identifies being as relationality, as the principle of connectedness assumed by all technologies of transmission, as well as by the social imaginary that can refract or violate it”.

Bersani defines the relational subject as constituted by and as subject positions, emptying the opposition between subject and object of meaning. Art, Bersani goes on, “illuminates relationality by temporarily and heuristically immobilising relations”. From the standpoint of the museum, we understand the relational as a space for art that temporarily suspends institutional autonomy and explores new forms of interaction with the social. Although without aiming to overexpose this process and without predetermiting a regime of visibility. We understand the museum as a space for this experimentation, not only, nor principally, to exhibit it. We seek ways in which art can make a meaningful contribution, through its specific nature, to multiplying public spheres. And this process can be defined in terms of relations between different subjects, different forms, different spaces.

But it also seemed necessary to us to recuperate the relational debate from the aristocratic ghetto of the “relational aesthetics” of Nicolas Bourriaud and the Palais de Tokyo, which seems to us a perverse reification of both political activism and the new Post-Fordist forms of immaterial production. As Paolo Virno and Antonio Negri explain, the transition to Post-Fordist capitalism implies the emergence of immaterial and cognitive work as a new productive paradigm in which the affective, the communicative and the relational become the instruments or technologies of the production process. Capitalism penetrates subjectivity and puts it to work, and in this way the traditional modern idea of culture and art as an autonomous sphere, alien to instrumental reason, enters into irreversible crisis.

Bourriaud’s “relational aesthetic” seems to us to correspond to a falsely open idea of the museum, which is in fact regressive and immobilist to the extent that it “aestheticises” the immaterial and communicative paradigm and the social and creative processes implicit to them, by imposing regime of pure visibility that interrupts its effectiveness and freezes and fetishises them.

It appears necessary to us here to propose another relationality and reconsider John Dewey’s reflection on “art as experience” in 1934: “the task is to restore continuity between the refined and intensified forms of experience that are works of art and the everyday events, doings and sufferings that are universally recognised to constitute experience”. And also to rethink a whole, broad experimental tradition in 20th-century art that explored meaningful methods of restoring forms of subjective appropriation of artistic processes, going beyond institutional over-determination and, therefore, capable of reviving art’s transforming potential within the broadest possible framework.

For more information see: Macba

Part One, 23 - 26 November 2005

23 and 24 November 2005
Seminar with Leo Bersani

Friday, 25 November: Relational poetics.

Presented by Bernard Blistène
11 a.m.  The place of the subject. Bernard Blistène
12 a.m. Pause
12,30 p.m. The Aesthetic Subject. Leo Bersani
2,30 p.m. Pause
4,30 p.m. World Spectators. Kaja Silverman
6.30 p.m. Pause
7 p.m. The Social Turn: Are Relations a medium? Claire Bishop

Saturday, 26 November. Transformations of Institutional Spaces.
Presented by Jesús Carrillo
11 a.m. Public Art, Institutional Critique and Relational Art. Jesús Carrillo
12 a.m. Pause
12,30 p.m. Other Legacies of Institutional Critique. Alexander Alberro
2.30 p.m. Pause
4,30 p.m. Other Institutions, Other Audiences. Beatrice Von Bismark
5.30 p.m. Pause
6 p.m. After Institutional Critique. Helmut Draxler
7 p.m. Institutional Networks or Networked Institutions? WHW
8 p.m. Discussion

Part Two, 14 - 18 March 2006
*On a cure in times divest of poetry/ On poetry in incurable times*

Conference with John Beverley, Antonella Corsani, Marcelo Expósito, Brian Holmes, kpD, Maurizio Lazzarato, Suely Rolnik
Workshops with Suely Rolnik, Marcelo Expósito, Antonella Corsani, Brian Holmes and others.

Conference: March 17 and 18 at 4 pm.
Workshops: March 14-17, mornings and afternoons

The first part of this conference (MACBA, November 25 and 26, 2005) offered elements for debate from the point of view of aesthetic theory and the legacy of institutional critique and public art. The idea was to define the term “relationality” and situate it within the tradition of practices that have made it necessary to critically re-think and re-invent the social functions of art and its institutions.

The second part of this conference will be more directly political, approaching the problem of relationality as an alternative to those artistic processes determined by a visual paradigm-based concept of representation. Opposite to this model, the relational paradigm indicates the need to go beyond representational methods. Those relational, communicative, affective, collaborative, and immaterial aspects take on a new centrality in post-industrial capitalism which has, as Paolo Virno said it, “put subjectivity to work.” In this context, relationality becomes a key concept in theorizing on the newly diffuse forms of politicization and aestheticization that are transforming subjectivity’s very construct.

The second part is focused on two debates: transformations of subjectivity and the possibility of overcoming the representational paradigm through the relational paradigm.


Friday, March 17th: Relational subjectivities.
Moderated by Suely Rolnik

4 pm
Flexible subjectivity, relational objects. The legacy of Lygia Clark
Suely Rolnik, Psychoanalyst and professor at the Pontificia Universidade Católica de Sao Paolo.

6 pm
The subaltern as interruption.
John Beverley, professor of Spanish and Latin American Literature, and Cultural Studies, at the University of Pittsburgh.

7:30 pm

8 pm
Transformations of subjectivity in cognitive capitalism.
Maurizio Lazzarato, Sociologist and philosopher.

Saturday, March 18th: Antagonistic relations. Collaborative practices and diffuse creativity
Moderated by Marcelo Expósito

4 pm
From representation to relation. The rejection of representation in collective creation.
Marcelo Expósito, Artist, and co-editor of Brumaria ( and member of the editing staff of Transversal (

4:30 pm
The artistic device
Brian Holmes, art critic, essayist and translator.

6 pm

6:30 pm
Production of knowledge and new forms of political action. The experience of les intermittents in France.
Antonella Corsani, Economist, and editor of the magazine /Multitudes./

/ /

8 pm
Screening of /Kamera läuft! /(video, 2004, 32 minutes)
Presented by the kpD group: Marion von Osten, Isabell Lorey, Brigitta Kuster, and Katja Reichard.

9:30 pm
Final discussion

Registration and information available starting on February 20 at the MACBA reception desk during normal museum hours, or by e-mailing
Enrollment is free
Location: MACBA Auditorium (Plaça dels Àngels, 1, 08001, Barcelona)
Limited seats. Simultaneous translation.
The schedule is subject to change without notice.
Information: 934 81 46 82 or on-line at


March 14-17, 10 am- 1 pm
Workshop: On a cure in times divest of poetry
Presented by Suely Rolnik.
Limited seats. Enrollment is free.
To reserve, contact:

March 14-16, 6-9 pm
Workshop: On poetry in incurable times
With the participation of Marcelo Expósito, Brian Holmes and Antonella Corsani, among others.
Limited seats. Enrollment is free.
To reserve, contact: