Poetics of Relation

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Poetics of Relations was a curatorial project conceptualized by Natalie Mik. The group exhibition and accompanying art catalog (designed by Arms Studio) presented various artistic interpretations of collaboration and growth through interdisciplinarity. 

The exhibition featured works by Matthew Grant Anson, Kiyomi Fukui, Cheryl Humphreys, Olga Lah, Elena Manferdini, Mike McMullen, Michael Nannery and Miggie Wong at the DAC Gallery in downtown Los Angeles. The DAC Gallery (as part of the Exceptional Children's Foundation) supports artists with special needs through their art studio and gallery programming. Partial proceeds from every show they host benefit their non-profit.


Introduction text by Natalie Mik:

In 2006, Martinican philosopher and poet Éduard Glissant published a book titled Poetics of Relation. In this book, Glissant explores the possibilities of a new language that would be capable of writing the colonized Antillean culture into history by escaping imposed language deriving from the French. In search of this fully hybrid language, he sees ‘imagination’ as the only force that could generate such a new language and ‘relation’ as the process of this productive change. His study and work begins with the realization that most cultures and nations that have established themselves over history have tended to form around an idea of power – the totalitarian drive of a single root – rather than around a fundamental relationship with the other.

Poetics of Relation suggests interdisciplinarity as a hopeful and generative force that can prompt the knowledge that our identity is no longer complete within the filiation but also in the relation with others. Imagination - other than memory and reason – can see the impossible, thus it can help to create something that doesn’t exist yet. Relation can bring change as it creates a different perception of the self and the other. Furthermore, the exhibition is an attempt to unravel a ‘micro-history’ of interdisciplinary art by looking at various practices employed by local artists based in Los Angeles. Their works of art are in many ways representative of the latest positions and contexts of interdisciplinary art on a larger scale.  

The discussion of ‘interdisciplinary art’ has become mainstream in the art world. The term is heard more often now than ever before, and the word, a composite of the Latin prefix ‘inter’ (between) and the word ‘discipline’ (a branch of knowledge or practice), presents itself as self-explanatory. But what is the exact connotation of the term? What role and value does interdisciplinarity have in today’s art? To some extent, every art consists of various disciplines. Especially our contemporary lifestyle enables us to stay connected and informed on multiple subjects and all at the same time. In a time when more contemporary artists study and merge different thoughts in order to create art that is less skilled and more intellectual, when does a work of art become interdisciplinary?

Interdisciplinary art, not to confuse with multidisciplinary art, does not merely imply that two or more disciplines are used to produce one work of art (which is the essential definition of multidisciplinary art). Beyond its descriptive meaning, the term represents an idea that the work of art is positioned determinedly in between the traditional arts so that new relationships are built. The term prompts the position and attitude that the work of art doesn’t conform to accepted standards or categories of art, but rather introduces an unfamiliar logic to the discussion of what art can be. With that in mind, an interdisciplinary work of art also resides within the territory of intentional ambivalence. The work of art is derived from the various familiar mediums or disciplines that viewers can recognize as counterparts. However, none of them are characterized as primary and secondary, dominant and inferior with each other. The new unit of the work does not signify singularity, but rather proposes a flexible bond of becoming one single novel discipline. The decisive act of collapsing and setting apart creates temporary relations, wherein different parts unite but also juxtapose and never dissolve in one another.

These days it is even possible to study interdisciplinary art as an independent subject, being recognized as such in academic circles. The scholarly study of works of art, traditionally restricted to the discipline of art history, has become increasingly interdisciplinary, accompanying a growing democratic inclusion of works of art not previously considered art-historically significant. This is leading to a gradual elimination of a traditional hierarchical, patriarchal, Eurocentric system of knowledge. Subjects evolve by becoming more reflective of our contemporary realities and methodologies continue to modify in order to answer new questions raised towards different aspects of art and life. Simultaneously, institutions and galleries have been developing exhibitions that aim to educate the public about the aspects of multiplicity and diversity over a unifying aesthetic or identity in the arts. It seems the influence of interdisciplinary art is no longer a blind spot in the understanding of contemporary art with its meaning but being crucial in the establishment of contemporary art as a genre itself.

Such developments - in the academic circle as well as in the practicing art world - show that the contemporary art sphere has evolved into an all-embracing forum that consists of people from different backgrounds. A forum powered by a conglomerate of people who continuously abolish present boundaries of culture, politics, and aesthetics in order to construct new objects that are still being spelled out in their definition and use. This phenomenon presents the contemporary art with an all-mighty power unlike other disciplines such as theater, architecture, literature etc. As Belgian art historian Chris Dercon explains, contemporary art has become a tool and object that is able to express today’s situation in twofold: the expression of negativity and the expression of chance (opportunity). The expression of negativity refers to its critical attitude towards inequality and the flow of capital. It refers to the reality of a growing, unstoppable luxury and admiration of the fetish - only reachable to those who benefit from the state of inequality. The expression of chance refers to its ability to create an interdisciplinary space. It refers to its positive and generative power that creates a porous cultural space where people irrespective of background, training, and discipline can feel suddenly at home.

Contemporary art as this porous cultural space welcomes pseudo-sociology, pseudo urbanism, pseudo-research, pseudo activism and so forth. The word ‘pseudo’ is used not because its methods are ineffective, but because there is often an imitation of or a secondary form of mimesis created from the collapse of different disciplines and strategies. This cultural space offers an environment that encourages interdisciplinary thinking, allowing people to experiment and continue to imagine and build art that has not been defined yet. It gives artists and cultural producers freedom in creating a difference. It must be acknowledged that there are many insignificant works of art as well, and at the same time, contemporary art is so nascent that we wonder how we can judge. The obvious answer is that people do not like to judge and whereas there is criticism in other disciplines such as theater and literature, there is a lack of criticism and a lack of knowledge in contemporary art – but that is a complex matter to be discussed in a separate discourse.

Fundamental positions of interdisciplinary art can be also seen through the model of the rhizome. The word rhizome derives from the botanical etymology, where it describes a continuously growing horizontal root system structured like the multitude of roots in grass. Philosopher Gilles Deleuze and psychotherapist Félix Guattari were one of the first to use the term in philosophical context to describe the production and movement of desire in contemporary society while working on their joint project Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Interdisciplinary art seen within the context of the rhizomatic condition goes beyond the essentialist sense of anti-capitalist critique. It suggests an attitude of comprehending it as a position that is intertwined with a general development in the post-industrial society that has absorbed various ideas, ranging from constantly changing strategies of power and relations to structures that allow sideways ordering and movement over center-periphery relations.

In Poetics of Relation, the viewer is encouraged to look at the works of art as modes of practices which hold a self-conscious narrativization of a de-central collectivity and the dissolution of hierarchical structures. The showcased works of art produce a myriad of small narratives and a multiform of production that are representative of the current critical artistic modes (locally and globally) of interdisciplinary art. Furthermore, the works of art reflect the omnipresent inner resistance needed in the rhizomatic world to become multiform. The combination and juxtaposition of different materials and disciplines illustrate the agents of power constantly change and renegotiate their positions.

When the book Poetics of Relation was published ten years ago, Glissant was not only exploring the possibilities of a new language (poetics), but he essentially was suggesting to recognize the value of imagination and relation when identifying fundamental logics of human relations and the (re-) establishment of cultures. Translating these ideas to the exhibition, the featured works of art hold imagination as they move beyond depicting the present. By using imagination as a force for change, the works of art do not reject the now, but question the cultural (self-) conception as dualistic, pitting fine against ordinary and high against low. The works of art hold the value of interdisciplinarity as they are built on the belief that meaningful contribution to the contemporary art discourse can be made by anyone from any background or discipline. Poetics of Relationsuggests interdisciplinary thinking – the thought of the other – as a creative mode of moral generosity and responsibility of art. Each and every identity of our creative practice is extended through a relationship with the other.

 Photo Credit: Erin Wolfe, Cheryl Humphreys, Mike McMullen