From the wikipedia post on ‘Relational Art‘:
The artwork creates a social environment in which people come together to participate in a shared activity. Bourriaud claims “the role of artworks is no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within the existing real, whatever scale chosen by the artist.”
In Relational art, the audience is envisaged as a community. Rather than the artwork being an encounter between a viewer and an object, relational art produces intersubjective encounters. Through these encounters, meaning is elaborated collectively, rather than in the space of individual consumption.
I find ideas in relational art relate a lot with complex systems thinking. Some of the connections I describe in the Complexity and Creativity talk for Research Club. Basically, the study of complex systems focuses on the relationships between parts, how such interdependence can affect the dynamics of the whole and how properties of the whole system can give rise to complex interactions.
An artist who works in relational aesthetics considers similar systemic properties in designing a piece of art. In thinking of the audience as a community (producing meaning collectively), an artist explores how the audience may interact with one another, and how the environment can cultivate particular interactions. Instead of designing an individual experience, the artist designs that collective experience. Such a design can both empower the audience members by giving them some creative control, and also produce unique and personal experiences for each member.
In Portland I used relational aesthetics to inform a couple projects. pdx i love you was a collaborative public performance piece, a platform to encourage individual creativity as well as collaboration. hexagon followed a structure of composition to encourage the process of discovery in the composition, exploring how simple rules could produce complex behavior. The performance sought to decentralize a musical experience, by surrounding the audience.