art, contemporary art, theory

Out of into the box: Relational Art in Digital Space

Digital space is making Nicholas Bourriaud’s relational aesthetics theory into garden variety. Art is becoming more profoundly shared and experienced due to the digital world.

Relational aesthetics is Bourriaud’s explanation of art practice that goes beyond the typical display of an art object within an art institution. This art “takes as its subject the entirety of life as it is lived, or the dynamic social environment” (Chayka. Hyperallgeric. 2011.) Relational art is Marina Abramovic inviting visitors to sit across from her (and watch people sit across from her) throughout the open daily hours at MoMA for half a month. It’s painted pianos sprawled across Atlanta in September for Pianos for Peace. It’s the pinkest pink that anyone but Anish Kapoor can purchase and use.


What is most peculiar about relational aesthetics is its self-awareness of choice. Artists create experiences for those to relate to variably depending on the social and cultural dynamic of the viewer. The inherent open-mindedness of relational art invites a wider audience into the den of contemporary art. It offers dinner and encourages a few extra minutes for dessert, only if you wish. However, those that keep to themselves do not often partake; relational art is a harder pill to swallow for those who would rather have space to observe a framed object.

While Pianos for Peace invites any passerby to take part in playing with Instagram ready pieces of art, there are still those who opt out of the experience.

Digital space offers a (more or less) private encounter.

Digital spaces of experience such as’s Flatland, a continuous feed of art content or, an “edutainment” site created by a group of post-internet artists, have the privacy to experience contemporary art with introversion, but still under the umbrella of relational aesthetics.

Screenshot (1).png

Once you type in your e-mail (with little to no context of the results), greets you with a purple-lashed eye encased in a yellow mouth saying “hello” in a pleasant tone. You’re then barraged with seemingly unrelated visuals streaming across the window: realistic scenes, digitally manipulated scenes, phone-footage, complete CGI characters, etc. If you feel claustrophobic, you’re able to click on the “DIS” logo, only to find a vague description of the project that informs you that videos will be available for 30 days.

Screenshot (2).png

Once you venture to your e-mail for hope of an explanation, you’re informed that isn’t yet live, but once it is its goal is “to inspire, inform, and mobilize a generation around the critical issues facing us today and in the future” by utilizing a video platform.

Other digital-only experiences include online art galleries like Slayer Gallery or real-object-experienced-online gallery called The Curated Fridge.

Screenshot (3).png

The digital realm opens relational aesthetics up via shifts in the accessibility and intrigue of contemporary art to an audience beyond MoMA, the pinkest pink, and Pianos for Peace; it ventures into the home, the mobile phone, the screen we easily relate with.

art, contemporary art, theory

Art; Who names it? (essential university reasoning)

One great epiphany struck the art world in 1917: a fountain signed R. Mutt. Marcel Duchamp turned a urinal on its side and called it Art. The debate about what is and is not Art left the world of black and white answers and entered into some multidimensional technicolor and ultraviolet world of existentialism. What is Art? What is the point of it? Who gets to call it out? The grand title of Art does not have an infinite hold. Objects that are called Art exist as art so long as they are thought of as art. People are quick to point a finger at something and argue that it is Art.

People are also quick to call their own creations Art as if to validate that fact, as if they are the authority figure. The existence of Art is much like faith in religion. Some believe and some do not. Some people have three religions and think they are all valid. Some people strictly follow a religion and cannot understand other faiths. Revert to the Art world; some people can believe that a bed sheet tacked onto a wall is Art, even if it was bought from the grand ole Wally World. Others can hardly understand how a person can get away with calling a poop machine Art. The authority lies within the finite moment—whether short or extended—when someone, somewhere, calls something Art.

I offer these two examples of sharks. Seven-year-old Eddie drew the Thresher shark with the sole purpose to study how the shark is shaped. In his mind, it is not Art. He sees no holy light in the Thresher shark; he sees a logistic study. Eight-year-old Nadia drew a Lemon shark, purely with the pretense that it would be an Art object. As long as Nadia believes her Lemon shark drawing is Art, it will be Art in her personal, finite existence. If Nadia passed her drawing to Eddie, he would not see the magic of it. The drawing would not exist as Art in Eddie’s personal, finite existence.

Marcel Duchamp saw the holy Art in the urinal he claimed. Duchamp used Modernism’s rising to embrace his—at the time—outlandish idea to claim authority over an object to make it important; and it stuck.