OH: Yet I think the problem is raised anew by new social art practices and relational aesthetics, art practices that are still very much concerned with the breakdown of boundaries between art and the everyday. How do you understand the curious persistence of that mission within contemporary art today? If that project is continued, what do you foresee as the repercussions for art as a specific genre of production?
HF: My sense is that one cannot decide once and for all between artistic autonomy and social embeddedness. It is a tension that should persist. Sometimes I am on the side of Adorno, and sometimes I am opposed. It depends on the situation. To me that is not opportunistic, it is simply being responsive. Even if the autonomy of art is always only semi-autonomy, it is important to insist on. Otherwise art becomes instrumental, which is problematic even if that means it is an instrument in the hands of progressive artists.
One thing that strikes me about relational art is that it treats art spaces like a last refuge of the social—as if social interaction had become so difficult or so depleted elsewhere that it could only happen in the vacated spaces of art. It was such a sad take on the state of sociability at large. I also felt that, for all its worthy attempt to work against the spectacular basis of contemporary art, there was a way in which it posed participation as a spectacle of its own. I suppose I am more interested in practices that use art as a guise or ruse for other practices altogether, such as pedagogy, say, or politics.
I suppose the easy joke here has to do with relational aesthetics being the last refuge of something, at the very least. But I find the note of pathos Foster locates in it to be all too real, if not a recommendation of the practice. I can't decide, though, if that sad take represents an actual comment on the state of sociability at large, a more narrow comment on state of sociability among those whose etiolated lives make relational aesthetics seem exciting, or (most likely, I fear) another burbling forth from a culture that, to borrow a phrase, fosters a form of assent which does not involve actual credence.
Lots more going on in the quote above and the interview as a whole, of course, to which I no doubt will never get. I would note before leaving that I'm struck by the apparent (to me, at any rate--I may be wrong) contradiction between Foster's gentle insistence on the (semi!) autonomy of art and his professed greater interest in practices that use art as a guise or ruse. A bit of a shift there.