Nicolas Bourriaud: “No possibility of being alone in my world”

In September 2012, the Klaipėda Culture Communication Center (KCCC) held the contemporary art exhibition Prestige: Phantasmagoria Now showing the works of French and Lithuanian artists: Wilfrid Almendra, Pierre Bismuth, Daniel Buren, Claire Fontaine and Kristina Inčiūraitė, Žilvinas Kempinas, Juozas Laivys, Jonas Mekas, Deimantas Narkevičius, Šarūnas Sauka, and S&P Stanikas.

In their project the curators Julija Čistiakova (FR), Ignas Kazakevičius (LT) and Vidas Poškus (LT) presented and to some extent compared “prestigious” French and Lithuanian artists whose creative strategy is based on the analysis or reflection of the phenomenon of prestige.

The accompanying catalogue was released. It features an essay by the French curator and philosopher Nicolas Bourriaud, written exclusively for this project. Also, articles of the curators and the Minister of Culture of Lithuania Arūnas Gelūnas was included.

N. Bourriaud took part in the opening of the venue. On this occasion art critics I. Kazakevičius, Laima Kreivytė and a journalist from the national daily Lietuvos Žinios Mindaugas Klusas interviewed N. Bourriaud.

Mindaugas KLUSAS: Relational Aesthetics, Postproduction, Radicant, manifesto of Altermodern are the landmarks of your theoretical thought, the peaks of your philosophical journey. Could you briefly present the way your ideas match?

Nicolas BOURRIAUD: They all complete each other. It's like the same situation but seen from three different angles. In each book I move the camera a little bit and I see the same object but at a different angle which makes different things appear. For example, take the two first books you are mentioning, Relational Aesthetics and Postproduction. You have more or less the same artists. There are no interesting artists in this world which can't be analyzed in the different ways: there's not only one content, one work: otherwise it's very poor. That's also a criterion to judge about the quality of an artistic practice. If you have just one idea out of it it's not that good.

Good art always resists interpretation. You can go back to it and pull as many possibilities and thoughts as you like. In Radicant I also speak about the same artists. Actually, I always try to do it. It's a kind of exercise. It's more or less my generation of artists and with every book I add new ones.

There's another aspect which is the link between all the books. It's more global thinking, the critic of the notion of origins and belonging. If you take Radicant, the most explicit according to this, it's a book about becoming rather than being, and dynamics instead of statics. Radicant is an adjective that's applied to any plant that grows its own roots while advancing. So it's the exact opposite of radical which means belonging to the roots or getting back to the original roots. That's why I hate radicalism. And all my work is against radicalism which is the 20th century way of addressing issues.

Radical comes from all political and aesthetic manifestos at the beginning of 20th century. They all meant one thing – to get back to the roots. It's a way of thinking from the past which has shown its limits and danger. So I'm pledging for a new way of thinking which actually does exist today in the studios, books, and in people's minds. Not being submitted by your roots but just growing them – that's what I call radicant.

So if you think about Relational aesthetics in this perspective, you can see that the essence of the artwork is not in one object but in the process from the subject to the object. And Postproduction is exactly the same, because you always have this idea that you never produce something which is totally new, but you always use something from the past. So, there's no possibility of being alone in my world. That's the common point.

M.K.: In Postproduction you mentioned that “art's current function is to deal with things that were created elsewhere, to recycle and duplicate culture. Artists don't “create” anymore. They deal with things already produced and reorganize them from a box of tools”. Aren't you afraid that an artist as such an operator is losing individuality?

N.B.: No, he's losing the quality that we generally give to an artist which is being superior, different. You are individuality as a viewer. Multiplying individualities rather than saying that individuality is reserved to the artist. OK, I'm a human being too. As a human being when I have a contact or relation with an artwork I have individuality, I'm not suppressed or eliminated by the artwork. That's relational aesthetics: it is this opposition between an open structure which includes me and kind of closed structures, like Nazi art or socialist realism. It is politically reactionary, because it excludes people from the image or form. That's the paradox.

Ignas KAZAKEVIČIUS: Once you described an information field as googled-up world. It means that every novelty and new idea is covered by the new one. Do you think your keywords – relational aesthetics, altermodern – still work, still on the air?

N.B.: Yes. Strangely it's very geographical.  The notion of altermodern is a big debate at the moment in Latin America. I attacked very strongly the postcolonial thinking as an unmoving state of mind. There are very strong reactions in Latin America.

I.K.: What about art centers – London, New York?

N.B.: There are no centers anymore according to me. You have business centers like shopping malls. New York is one; London, too. Then, you have the studios' shopping mall which is Berlin, where artists can go and find cheap studios.

M.K.: Altermodern suggests no cultural advantages. It means that artists from all countries are in the center with all the others. Here is no periphery anymore?

N.B.: Sure, because periphery has become a center I believe. Minoritorian (the term of Giles Deleuze) is more important for me in terms of production of forms and thoughts than the massive. Now we have a massive area which is occupied by industry of leisure, trade, etc. And then everything that's under the periphery of this which is the real center (which is the network now) is the center of art. What we care about, it's exactly what is escaping from this massive logics. Art is the opposite of massive. It's about singularities. To develop singularities you need to be outside of this machine that produces massiveness all the time. It's not the matter of country or city. So you can live in Kuala Lumpur or Klaipėda or anywhere else and be at the center of the network. This is a very new situation that appeared at the end of the 90's with the generalization of Internet. It allowed us to build networks which are actually uncentered. That's the new frame of mind. That's why there are no centers anymore. It's finished.

Laima KREIVYTĖ: What is the mission of the curator? Now, we see a lot of artists as curators and curators producing artworks.

N.B.: Sure, but as a baker you can sometimes cook some dishes and be very good. But you're still a baker. That's exactly the same between curators and artists. I don't mind who the curating person is. What I do care about is the fact that it's good, interesting, producing something, generating thought.

What I'm really against as a curator is these kind of activities that appeared in the 90's which I could call holoflex curating. You just consult your agenda, give calls, and organize. It is really important to think about what you're doing and where you're doing it.

I.K.: Do we need curators and artists after this year’s Berlin biennial? For me all those artists and curators have become social designers. Only actions, movements…

N.B.: I firmly believe that if you dissolve art into activism then art stops being political. You're just a bad activist and a bad artist. That's a problem. To produce real effects art should be distinct from ethics and politics. This means that it's the only way for art to really produce ethical and political effects. This distinction is very important to me. All are damn mixed! And it's more and more frequent. That is the problem. I would ask those people: “Don't you want to be real activists, really produce something that has an effect on society?” It would have a bigger impact than being shown in the exhibition. I prefer a good activist than a bad artist.

I.K.: Maybe the problem is that many artists are still very young? And they don't have life practice, experience.

N.B.: It depends. Each case is different. But, yes, it does exist.

L.K.: Could this distinction between activism and art practice be the answer to Claire Bishop who said that in Relational aesthetics this antagonism was somehow overlooked?

N.B.: The text of C. Bishop is a follow up of confusion and mixes between very distinct concepts. For she mixes relational and participation which is totally absurd. Participation is a notion from the 1960's. Maybe she doesn't know (Laughs). That's very old. It's Allan Caprow and others… Participation is one of the practical patterns I'm talking about which is not the most important at all. Anyway it's never reduced to participation. She writes that the problem with relational artists is that the status of the work is very uncertain. That's exactly what I'm interested in. If the status of the work is certain, it doesn't interest me. That's the difference between a conservative way of thinking and something else which is much more open. Yes, we are totally opposed, but I think because she is conservative, politically and aesthetically speaking.

L.K.: I also had an impression that she was trying to be more political.

N.B.: Yes, I'm not interested in artists delivering messages. Past men already cared for this.

L.K.: C. Bishop was saying that relational aesthetics aimed to create community. But you can't create it by joining dinner or something like that…

N.B.: But she probably knows that, no? Is that new? Anyway, when I talk about Felix Gonzalez-Torres or Pierre Huyghe in Relational aesthetics I don't see the point with creating communities. That's not what they are doing. That's the big confusion here, voilà. Sometimes it happens with Rirkrit Tiravanija. I don't think Rirkrit gives a shit about creating communities. It's not at all what he intends to do.

L.K.: How important is good contact with the artist? You are the group, “gang” and promote each other?

N.B.: Yes, sure. But I don't remember... I never worked that way. Maybe at the very beginning of the 90's, then yes. Twenty years ago. By the time C. Bishop discovered those ideas they were already ten years old. In 2004, I think. My first text was written in 1995. The situation has totally changed at the time she was writing her book. So it's a kind of misunderstanding. Maybe she was bit too early in being late.

I.K.: Do you mean when the artist is close to the curator and the curator is close to the artist it produces perverse relations?

L.K.: No, I have in mind this local experience. What is produced doesn't come from relationship but it's a kind of extension of good personal contacts: “This artist is good because he or she is my friend, etc…”

N.B.: It's a holoflex curating, yes.

 I.K.: “Lyubimchiki” (“little favorites” in Russian).

N.B.: Why not, after all? Friendship can be the basis for an exhibition. I'm not sure it's interesting… But it's something that could be explored as a kind of criterion: why you are friend with such or such person?

M.K.: In one interview you said: “Art production now indexes the service industry and immaterial economy more than heavy industry”. Could you comment on the relation between art and commerce?

I.K.: Art and commerce make prestige. Money creates taste.

N.B.: Or taste can create money sometimes. I think that the second part of the answer to the question of the links between all my books – it's the exploration of the mutations that appear at the beginning of the 90's in the economy: the launching of Internet in 1991 and the fall of Berlin wall in 1989. For me those are very much connected. And I'm exploring this zone and its effects in contemporary art. That's the other common point between all my books. Relational aesthetics is a book about how the Internet opens new possibilities of mind in the artist’s works; how the artist can use the idea of network; how it's transforming the practice. Not even using the internet as a tool as such, but the mental possibilities it creates. Postproduction is talking about the same phenomena but in a different way. It's the idea of chaining (the structure of the chain) and recycling which is also the basis of customization, the basis for new economy. In the last twenty years it does became more and more important: how you can customize (personalize) something which is mass-produced. Both books are talking about the effects of the Internet on our cultural world. Radicant, too. But it does explore another aspect of this period that has been inaugurated in the early 90's which is globalization. What does it do to culture? What does it open as possibilities of life and thinking? That's my question. It's also an essay about our lives which are more and more based on traveling, moving and being displaced. It's impossible not to produce something if you live in a specific way. It will influence your way of thinking. That's why it's interesting to explore these fields.

L.K.: You are the person who is coining the most important words, naming the decades, the tendencies. What is the most interesting aspect in contemporary art recently?

I.K.: Or future trend…

N.B.: I'm not seeing anything super new at the moment but prolongation of some waves that slowly come to the shore. Actually I'm not working that way. I'm trying to locate and identify emerging forms. At the moment I don't see any new form coming up in the last three or four years. But it will change.

M.K.: Are you writing a book now?

N.B.: Yes. But, my god, it's a monster. I'm not sure I can finish it. Maybe it will be my last one. For the first time I start writing without knowing exactly where I would go. I should never do that (Laughs). Normally, I always find the title before, but not this time. It's a very strange book. It ends being a book of philosophy. It's the general theory of the rejected. Today what's striking is the way artists use the most stupid manifestations of pop culture as materials. Mike Kelley or Paul McCarthy, of course, were important for this. Also it can be said that it's a book about the French philosopher Louis Althusser which is the red line of the book. It's hard to speak about a book which is not finished.

L.K.: If you would make an exhibition what would be your question now? What would you ask?

N.B.: Maybe there's a new trend. It's the way artists concentrated on the past. The past becomes more and more important: archive, finding fragments of the past, etc. For example, the Lithuanian duo S & P Stanikas. In the project “Worker, Peasant an Eagle” they are also working on the 1937 universal exhibition in Paris. That's exactly it. We are living in what can be called heterochronical times: every moment now we are in between different periods, different times. Have you seen the TV series called “Lost”? That's very emblematic. You can just turn the wheel and change time. It's an interesting symptom. There could be an exhibition about the way artists use ready-made objects. Not like before, formally or following Marcel Duchamp. Now the purpose is very different. We are showing existing fragments of the past as a kind of testimony. It's the aesthetics of the proof. That's what I'm interested in at the moment.

Written by Mindaugas KLUSAS