Encounter and obligation: invisible aesthetics and the action of art


Art stripped of spectacle, novelty, the imperative to inform and even the visual, is art liberated from the capitalist legacies of collection and display. Art works allowed to become invisible and no longer required to point to a greater utility or cause, enact a public pedagogy of hospitality by demanding a welcoming mode of attention from witness and participant. Such artworks use the material of intentionality and emanate a dignified aesthetic of being. Their existence is embedded in bodies and partnerships and mostly conveyed through written documentation. Such artworks exist independent of a colonial/masculine imperative to be useful, valuable and inform. This is the familiar territory of socially engaged practice (SEP) theory which has expanded on the work of relational aesthetics and its predecessors towards more considered and ethical methods. My doctoral research examined the inner dynamics of inter-subjective representation by shifting a representational drawing practice into acts of undocumented socially engaged art. Over 5 years, drawings became art created in sites such as parliament, court rooms, town-halls, homes and boardrooms. While ostensibly useless in the context of art, these acts were concerned with actuating our most basic of human rights: the right to exist and to belong, and the right to relationship. De-colonising occurs in acts of reparation. The artwork that I and other SEP artists create is not ‘about’ encounter, advocacy, friendship and conflict but rather ‘is’ these actions in the world, however fumbling and inadequate. Representational art can shift its ‘about-ness’ to ‘is-ness’. Sustained and ongoing relationships generated and driven by an artistic mode of attention are examples of public pedagogy. This presentation will describe a personal process and draw on other SEP artists to align public pedagogy with the invisible but intended act of encounter and beyond.