Trauma, Antagonism and the Bodies of Others: A Dialogue on Delegated Performance

Claire Bishop, Julia Austin


Art historian Claire Bishop has pioneered the concept of antagonistic aesthetics: a provocative new paradigm for understanding socially engaged, collaborative forms of art/performance practice.

In her groundbreaking essays ‘Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics’ and ‘The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents’, Bishop offers a trenchant critique of dominant theories of socially collaborative practice. In addition to targeting Nicolas Bourriaud’s influential manifesto of relational aesthetics, which proposed to disrupt capitalist systems of exchange by creating harmonious micro-utopias in the space of the gallery, Bishop also takes aim at the work of ‘politically correct’ scholars such as Grant Kester, who grounds his blueprint for dialogical aesthetics in an ethics of respect, empowerment and authorial sacrifice. While Bourriaud’s and Kester’s formulations of collaborative practice correspond to markedly different traditions, both approaches endeavour to heal or repair a damaged social bond. Bishop’s contribution is to challenge the presumed radicality and political value of such ameliorative, heteronomous projects, at the same time setting forth an alternative discursive framework that is tuned toward antagonistic goals.

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