The French curator Nicholas Bourriaud published a book called Relational Aesthetics in 1998 in which he defined the term as:
A set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space
He saw artists as facilitators rather than makers and regarded art as information exchanged between the artist and the viewers. The artist, in this sense, gives audiences access to power and the means to change the world.
Guggenheim show: https://hyperallergic.com/18426/wtf-is-relational-aesthetics/
"When someone with an MFA wants to meet new people" Hennessy Youngman
Hennessy Youngman Published on Mar 15, 2011 WHAT UP INTERNET. THIS YA BOY HENNESSY YOUNGMAN, AND TODAY I WANTED TO MOVE BACK INTO THEORY A LITTLE BIT AND INTRODUCE AND EXPLAIN THIS THING CALLED RELATIONAL AESTHETICS TO YA'LL. U KNOW I LOVE YOU INTERNET
While relational aesthetics continued dialogue with critical theory and the history of ‘socially engaged’ art practices as a means of rearticulating art’s role in the world, many artists and curators have busily proceeded in another equally historicised direction. Creating ‘feel good’ exhibitions designed to re-affirm the status of art and modernist myths of ‘intuitive’ working practices, the alleged ‘return’ of object making (did this ever stop?) seemed to go hand in hand with a time of increasing geopolitical instability and economic expansion. There are, however, other ideological reasons for the rise of what has been touted as a ‘new formalism’. The relationalism that proliferated at the turn of the early twenty-first century placed undue emphasis art as a technologically determined form of communication, tending to rule out the possibility that art might be made using ‘regressive’ techniques or that it might fail to signify.4 There are three main problems with this technist, causal view of art. Firstly, it assumes that we can determine our judgements of artistic intention on the evidence of objects alone when material effects and acts have no essential meaning other than those that we bring to them. Secondly, it allows little room for failure, or for the possibility that the most interesting things in art praxis emerge from mistakes.5 Indeed, artists working in Scotland and London have lately placed a great deal of emphasis on working practice, an emphasis that simply is not compatible with the idea of ‘professional practice’. Thirdly, there is the danger that the over emphasis on post-production and consumption-based culture will eradicate all trace of place and origin, of labour and of the social relations involved in production. — Neil Mulholland