"The purpose here is not to celebrate a certain notion of incoherence, but only to point out that our 'incoherence' establishes the way in which we are constituted in relationality: implicated, beholden, derived, sustained by a social world that is beyond us and before us."
Following the 'relational turn' in art practice, we find that the works of Clarita Lulić confront us with a rather timely question, which is whether or not we can conceive of a more conflicted tradition of performative works that might be thought of as an 'inter-‐relational aesthetics'. While the handful of projects that have been grouped under the moniker of relational aesthetics was supposed to present us with a radical alternative to the image of the modern artist as an isolated genius -‐ or what Nicolas Bourriaud calls an alter-‐modern perspective -‐ there may in fact be a more subversive genealogy of inter-‐relational practices that is often neglected by today's art critics.
This other tradition finds its footing in Yvonne Rainer's early pieces with the Judson Dance Theater of the 60s, or works that were inspired by Womenhouse in the 70s, and which continue to gain a wider audience still with the canonization of artists like Sophie Calle, Gillian Wearing and Tracey Emin. It is from within this other trajectory about 'relationality' that we can better place the works of Lulić, who's pieces reach beyond the contemporary obsession with relational propositions by attempting to bridge the gap between the personal, the probable and the predicative.
But in order to understand the dialectic conflicts that drive Lulić's oeuvre, which has moved from charting interactions, to creating cartographies of activity, and finally to capturing the concrete aspects of inter-‐relational acts, we must begin by thinking about the overall trajectory of her art practice as a hermeneutic problematic of sorts. Thus, we can say that Lulić's first works are not entirely unlike the early work of Sophie Calle, whose first public piece was "The Sleepers". This particular intervention in the social sphere, or rather, the politics of public display, consisted of inviting passer-‐byers to occupy Calle's bed while she photographed them, served them food, and played host to the impromptu interactions of pillow-‐talk. Of course, the obvious forerunner to this work was Yvonne Rainer's "Two People on a Bed/Table", which told the story of a love relationship through a myriad of mediums, affective techniques of the body, and which also 'played' to a live audience.
Mining a similar vein of interests predicated on investigating the constructed nature of the private/public dyad, Lulić's first performative intervention was a work called "Pretend Boyfriends". The conceptual basis of the project, given as an improbable program of sorts, consisted of the following instructions when entering into the interpersonal refrain:
1. Approach a stranger in the street whom you could possibly form a relationship with (anyone really).
2. Ask stranger politely if he wouldn't mind being in a photograph with you (smile lots, it helps).
3. Approach another stranger and ask them politely to take a photograph of myself and stranger number one using my compact camera.
4. When posing for shot ask first stranger if they could pretend to be my boyfriend.
5. Try to act normal and smile more.
6. Thank everyone and leave.
Following from "Pretend Boyfriends", which shows us how personal experiences can, and often do, act as a stand-‐in for inter-‐personal connections, is a group of photographic works that have been brought together under the notion of a "Limerent Reaction". In this small body of work Lulić has taken the time to reconstruct her own personal history of relationships gone awry through a variety of photographic restoration techniques. Permeated by longing and a fixation with the past, we see a touch of this in her newer pieces with regard to the use of art historical references. Foregrounded in works like "Cupid", which not only hint at the paradoxes of love's designs, but which actively conflate a traditional allegory of 'inspired' love with pictorial illusions to the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian or Saint Thaddeus, we cannot help but be reminded of the many ways in which love can be seen as a type of enchantment and a sacrificial yearning throughout the ages.
Yet it is with the body of work entitled "Beholden" that Lulić makes a substantial contribution to what might be termed inter-‐relational aesthetics, and which marks the developmental of her work as a strong contribution on the 'other scene' of relational inquires in artistic practice. Going beyond the re-‐presentation of documentary motifs in a structuralist format, as well as developing the language of performative negotiation, "Beholden" presents us with a series of photos in which Lulić's husband is dowsed with modernist motifs, like dripping paint and pigmented powders. Taken in a more anonymous register, we find in the same works, a male subject made into an odalisque of sorts, adorned with a large bow that serves to denature the cultural expectations of 'pictured' masculinity. In such images, we are confronted with a recasting of the male figure for naked consumption vis-‐à-‐vis a twenty-‐first century twist on rococo inspired commercialism. Or, from a more modest and playful perspective, we could say that "Stephen with Bow" provides us with a simple but elegant sensualism that hints at the possibility of a privileged feminine gaze set over an against a subject-‐made-‐demure and perhaps, even a touch emasculated.
Such a perspective stands in sharp contrast to the artists under Bourriaud's banner of 'relational aesthetics' which valorizes the idea of getting the art going public to connect with detourned programs of artistic production that invite transversal forms of play and open-‐ended experimentation. By contrast, Lulić's methodology is almost the opposite, which is to say, she tests the most intimate bounds between photographer and sitter, as well as the bonds between husband and wife, artist and subject, suggestion and retort. In other words, Lulić uses those objects which are a part of the everyday economy of domestic exchange such as trash bags, silly string, party masks, and ribbons for wrapping presents, all of which act in service of developing a pictorial vernacular of participation. Of course, all of these pictured scenarios highlight not just how we relate, but how the constitutive vocabulary of domestic rituals and gendered expectations makes relationality into a largely unconscious and culturally prescribed set of routines. This unique approach to the sphere of mundane interactions mixed with the sparse play of aesthetic conventions -‐ which even boarder on being essentialist at times by highlighting the act of relation stripped bare of all its regular accoutrements -‐ is the defining motif that drives Lulić's more recent pieces. Of course, it is through this directness, or rather, directedness, that Lulić's serendipitous set-‐ups allow the viewer to reflect on the conditions of social, gendered and domestic exchange that permeate our daily lives.
Above all else, the value of such interventions is not only to have passed beyond the reserved distance of observation that haunts the work of artists like Calle, or the anonymity of Wearing's projects, or even the overt sensationalism of Emin's pieces, but instead, to put on display that which is the most intimate, the most common, and the most identifiable in human experience. We can see that with Lulić's work, what appears most pedestrian is that which is the most political because it provides an opportunity to think critically about what is still taken for granted in our cultural milieu as inter-‐relational forms and/or 'partnered' roles.
This is because what appears to be at first comical and even a bit colloquial in some of Lulić's pieces, is in fact, quite serious at a time when much of the world has not yet consolidated the gains of women's liberation in the form of equal pay or equality with regard to reproductive rights, not to mention basic legal protections. Consequently, Lulić's work reminds us of the quieter voices, of the daily disputes, and of unquestioned social conventions that still dominate the lives of women in western world, perhaps to the exclusion of a lived equality of measure, voice and perpetuity in the home. Here we can say that the turn from relational aesthetics to inter-‐relational modes of expression, strikes a cord within the cultural problematic of inter-‐personal communication because this is where the greatest gains are yet to be made, i.e., in the implicit and explicit subject positions attributed to carrying out the 'duties' of everyday living. It is also the place where Lulić has made a most incisive and timely contribution to how we understand the conflicts that constitute the crucible of the inter-‐relational problematic. As such, a show like the "the Good Hurt" gives us an encounter of what is entreating and challenging about contemporary art, and because of this the art going public is sure to have an ongoing relationship with the works of Clarita Lulić for some time to come.