Elyse Mallouk

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About Elyse Mallouk’s Thesis Project

Elyse Mallouk

The Generous Object: The Relational and the Aesthetic in Contemporary Art

We think of most art as having a social location, in the broad sense that it assumes a public, a group of people viewing it. But how can we characterize the continually changing social relationships that make up art and that art makes up? How are they related to each of our own singular, specific experiences of the way things look, sound, and feel? In Relational Aesthetics, French curator Nicolas Bourriaud offers one account: a relational art “takes as its theoretical horizon the sphere of human interactions and its social context, rather than the assertion of an autonomous and private symbolic space.” It is the creation of a network, “whose progression in time and space [the artist] controls.” Since its English publication in 2002, Relational Aesthetics has had immense influence on art production and display, serving as a structural foundation for many contemporary artworks that create participatory structures for viewers to engage (cafes, bookstores, classrooms etc.). This model inadvertently narrows an idea of the social in art, by organizing publics into distinct roles and modes of participation.The aim of The Generous Object is not to further delimit art’s ethical responsibilities, but to work against this oversimplification in order to reinvigorate a space for the aesthetic in discussions of the social. This involves an investigation of works that are not generally considered socially engaged, but that co-produce open, unresolved relationships with their publics. Works such as these can overthrow simple causal relations, including ethics that try to define what art should and should not do. The rigidity or openness with which we define the social in art is an aesthetic question, one that deals with the overlap between production and consumption, activity and passivity, making and interpreting.

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