State of Encounter

When Gabriel Orozco puts an orange on the stalls of a deserted market in Brazil (Crazy Tourist, 1991) or sets up a hammock in the garden of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (Hamoc en el MoMa, 1993), he is operating in the heart of the ‘social infra-thin’ [inframince], or that tiny space for everyday gestures that is determined by the superstructure constructed and determined by large-scale exchanges. Orozco’s photographs are an uncaptioned documentary record of tiny revolutions in ordinary urban or semi-urban life (a sleeping bag on the grass, an empty shoebox): they bear witness to the silent life (a still life or nature morte) that is now painted by our relations with others. When Jens Haaning uses a loudspeaker to broadcast jokes told in Turkish on a square in Copenhagen (Turkish jokes, 1994), he instantly produces a micro-community of immigrants who have been brought together by the collective laughter that inverts their situation as exiles. That community is formed in relation to and inside the work. An exhibition is a privileged place where instant communities like this can be established: depending on the degree of audience participation demanded by the artist, the nature of the works on show and the models of sociability that are represented or suggested, an exhibition can generate a particular ‘domain of exchanges’. And we must judge that ‘domain of exchanges’ on the basis of aesthetic criteria, or in other words by analysing the coherence of its form, and then the symbolic value of the ‘world’ it offers us or the image of human relations that it reflects. Within this social interstice, the artist owes it to himself to take responsibility for the symbolic models he is showing: all representation refers to values that can be transposed into society (though contemporary art does not so much represent as model) and inserts itself into the social fabric rather than taking inspiration from it). Being a human activity that is based upon commerce, art is both the object and the subject of an ethics: all the more so in that, unlike other human activities, its only function is to be exposed to that commerce. Art is a state of encounter… 

Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics (1998)