Radical Listening, Pt. 2

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On Relational Aesthetics and Rebecca Krinke

To avoid diving in head first into a topic an often overlooked topic in art education (I’ll owe you a box of Girl Scout cookies if your high school teachers mentioned relational aesthetics) I will synthesize the important components of major key works regarding participatory work and the transformation of the museum. In a way, providing a crash course. My goal here is to situate What Needs to be Said in its proper art historical context without the pedantics. I aim to make both a brief introduction to relational aesthetics and host a conversation with Rebecca Krinke.

I begin by pointing out the work which observed the practice associated with participatory art practices–Nicolas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics. With the emphasis on the collective in art making, Bourriaud points out the tendency for artists to create communities, or ways of living within the already established reality–rather than that of a utopian community often seen at the start of the twentieth century. Bourriaud highlights the overall emphasis on the social bond, the process of creating, and the participatory component associated with it. Essentially, the artist is no longer the central figure. Rather, the artist sponsors the situation, curates the experience.

On the other hand, in 2012, art historian Claire Bishop published the widely read Artificial Hells. In it Bishop indirectly commented on Bourriaud’s work, while at the same time claiming to depart away from his logic. Bishop structures her thesis around the major European political upheavals of the twentieth century, starting with the Russian revolution of 1917–indicating the development of the historical avant-garde, then moving to the western involvement in the various violent regimes globally–specifically in rivaling the Soviet Union which to Bishop, is linked with the neo-avant-garde. Finally, Bishop discusses the collapse of the Soviet Union giving rise to participatory work emerging from the failed social experiment. Introducing these proposed parallels, Bishops concentrated on the themes of inequality, types of authorship, and the artistic parallels to to political positions. Again, like Bourriaud, themes of utopian participatory realities emerge as the social makeup of the western political  landscape changes to fit a capitalistic model. Yet, at the same time, I am reminded of Ryan Wong article for Hyperallergic, “Art Cannot Provide A Way Out.” Here, Wong discusses the possibility of arguing against Bishop’s logic as one which is both “biting” and often “historicising,” one which looks at the aesthetics rather than ethics. Which makes me think about the work done by Rebecca Krinke and her relationship with participatory logic in art practice.

By its nature, What Needs to be Said references the tradition of participatory art making practices taking shape, as Bishop notes, in Russia at the turn of the 20th century. Yet on a fundamental level, Krinke’s background and practices counter the scholarship referenced above. Krinke’s art practice stems from a dream she had as an adult. A dream about a bear spurred Krinke to seek out sculpture as a facet of investigating this emotionally powerful and vivid image, thus pushing her to go on and obtain her MFA.

“My practice is a multidisciplinary one, working across sculpture, installations, public works, site art, and social practice — creating spaces, objects, and encounters. I have used the body (animal, human) and aspects of domestic objects and architecture as vehicles for exploring both wonder and terror.”–Rebecca Krinke, mnartists.org

Looking back at her previous work, the theme of encounters, domestic space, terror, appear in pieces such as Great Island Memorial Garden, a private commissioned with the goal memorializing family members while creating a contemplative space in an open forested environment. In her other projects, Krinke utilized indoor spaces with the intention of creating an emphasis on reflection and contemplation. These themes are brought up in her Table For Contemplation and Action: A Place to Share Beauty and Fear, a table installed in Rapson hall featuring a similar glass vessel as What Needs to be Said– this time the vessel was used for depositing messages written on the table. The project aimed to create a comfortable space for students to reflect on personal stressors, once written on pieces of paper, the messages would be deposited into the glass vessel and burned at a ceremonial event. These similar motifs wound up in What Needs to be Said–the first version, temporarily installed in a pop-up shop in St. Anthony Park, and the installation currently located in the Target Gallery. What Needs to be Said also used the domestic space–presented with wooden elements, placing emphasis on the process of contemplation and inner reflecting. Once again, we see the introduction of fire as a ritual, an event, one which expelled all which was made semi-permanent on sheets of lined notebook paper.

What Needs to be Said feeds of Krinke’s interest in the creation of a domestic space, the emphasis on encounters (with self, with the Weisman, with the visitors), and specifically wonder and terror. The interest on facilitating thought, self reflection key in on the ideas brought up by Bourriaud, the installation by itself serves as a decorative element, the interactions between person, paper, and wall create the piece. The existence of the work is impossible without our interaction, both with the self and the piece.

To learn more about Rebecca Krinke’s work and practice, take a look at her MN Artist page (http://www.mnartists.org/rjkrinke), as well as her personal website  (http://rebeccakrinke.com/).


For further reading on the subject take a look at the following publications:

Bourriaud, Nicolas. Relational Aesthetics. Paris: Les Presses du réel, 2002.

Bishop, Claire. Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. London: Verso, 2011.

Kammen, Michael. “The Art Museum Transformed.” In Visual Shock: A History of Art Controversies in American Culture, 254-304. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.

Kester, Grant H. Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014.

Finkelpearl, Tom, and Vito Acconci. Dialogues in Public Art Interviews with Vito Acconci, John Ahearn. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2001.

Finkelpearl, Tom, Grant H. Kester, and Claire Bishop. What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation. Durham (N.C.): Duke University Press, 2013.

Jackson, Shannon. Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2011.

Radical Listening is a blog in 4 parts that will explore UMN faculty member, and 2016-17 Target Studio artist-in-residence, Rebecca Krinke’s participatory installation–What Needs to Be Said? in a conversational thread regarding her installation’s art historical and contemporary context.

The Talking Cure will be on display in the Target Studio for Creative Collaboration will be on display in the galleries through April 30th. For information on the exhibition or more related programming visit www.weisman.umn.edu


Anya Udovik is a second year Art History and History major with a particular interest in alternative gallery spaces and museology, in addition to being  your local Lily Munster enthusiast, Although her primary focus is contemporary Eastern European art history, Anya also enjoys reading up on postwar print culture, transi tombs, and Conceptualism.

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