Thursday, Sept 26 | 9:00-10:50 am

Telling + Retelling | Room 201

Relational Aesthetics and Re-Narrativization – Telling Stories in an Age of Postproduction

Nicholas Bourriaud's suggestive notion of a "relational aesthetics" has drawn attention to the way the production and reception of art are always-already embedded in the "realm of human interactions and social context." This is an aesthetics of sharing and "interhuman exchange," where our encounter with the artwork is not a private, individual affair but involves "the collective elaboration of meaning." In Postproduction, Bourriaud extends his account of the relational, contextual character of art to describe the nature of creativity in a digital culture characterized by the ceaseless "reprogramming," remixing and transmission of pre-existent cultural forms - a global culture of sharing and the free flow of images. 

However, Bourriaud’s insights occasion an important question: how does a "relational" aesthetic, in an age of digital "postproduction," alter our experience of narrative, including the political, social and religious narratives which shape and direct our lives? I suggest that a helpful term in thinking about the role of art is "renarrativization" - telling a new story that simultaneously deconstructs and reconstructs earlier narratives, symbols and networks of meaning. Artists have always creatively engaged their historical, social and aesthetic contexts to transform pre-existing stories into new, often subversive patterns, from Milton’s “re-narrativization” of the Genesis story in Paradise Lost to the appropriative practices of Pop Art and Situationist détournement. To be an artist is to creatively engage what has come before – Bloom’s “anxiety of influence” – while working the material into new narrative possibilities. I contend that our understanding of art is deepened by a relational, contextual approach to "living into" the narrative worlds opened by such (re)creative works of art. Using as examples the work of video artist Douglas Gordon, filmmaker Arthur Lipsett and even the strange "communal" experience of the “Sing-a-long Sound of Music," I hope to explore the transformative significance of artistic "re-narrativization" as offering the possibility of both personal and cultural renewal.


Brett David Potter is a doctoral candidate at the Toronto School of Theology, studying the intersection of theology, art and culture. His thesis employs Hans Urs von Balthasar's theological aesthetics as the seedbed for a phenomenology of art. He completed a BFA in Film and Video at York University with a concentration in experimental cinema, as well as an MCS in theology and the arts at Regent College. Alongside his academic interests, he is also an active video artist and musician. Video works have screened at Scotiabank Nuit Blanche (Toronto), the Flickerings Festival (Bushnell, Illinois) and the Blackwell Gallery (Mississauga).

Post-Communist Artistic Memorialization: the Portraits of Ceausescu

The reappropriation of the totalitarian past had never been envisaged in the Romanian artistic field by institutional ways: nowdays, after more than 20 years since the fall of the communist regime, there is still no museum dedicated to it.

In the Socialist Republic of Romania the State held the monopoly on writing and illustrating the History. The State ordered and acquisitioned artistic works conceiced with the respect of the oficial canons (those of the socialist realism) art products which had to illustrate an utopian vision of the Romanian communist society and some idealised portraits of the political leader. The subversive artistic visions of the history were brought into the public attention only recently.

Nowdays, on the contrary, the Romanian state has no official artistic vision of the communist past. However, this official amnesia of the recent history is balanced by a “capitalist” speech: the one of the post-communist art market from Romania. Over twenty artists, from different generations, most of them already internationally renowned (Dan Perjovschi, Ion Grigorescu, Adrian Ghenie etc), are the recent authors of that “travail de mémoire” (Paul Ricoeur) concerning the Romanian communist past.

The main question of my paper is how did the artistes shape the memory of the totalitarian past and of the mass violences during the Romanian Revolution from December 1989? How did they illustrate the portrait of Ceausescu in the post-communist visual arts? In what kind of artistic record did they remembered that past? Is there a or we can rather talk about a more sobre record, that of a “mémoire douleureuse”? Is Ceausescu the subject of some dramatic paintings or, on the contrary, he was represented as a pop icon?


Lucia Popa holds a PhD in Sociology at the University of Bucharest (February 2013) and is also PhD candidate at L'Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris. Thesis Title: The subversive Romanian Artists during the Communist Regime. She was a visiting researcher at the Central European University – Budapest (July-September 2012). She is a member of Centre de Recherches sur les Arts et le Langage (CRAL) – CNRS – EHESS Paris and an associate researcher at the Institute for the Investigation of the Communist Crimes and the Memory of the Romanian Exile. Selected publications: Le mythe d'un artiste subversif, entre discours mémorial et discours historique in the collective volume La nostalgie du communisme en Roumanie, Edition l’Harmattan (2014), Mail Art, the Underground Replubic, in the collective volume: Quotidian Life in the Communist Romania, Polirom (2014).

Paintings to Protect Life: Feng Zikai’s Religion‐Themed Chinese Cartoon Paintings

Feng Zikai (1898‐1975), is an outstanding modern Chinese cartoonist, as well as an accomplished essayist, translator, scholar, educator, calligrapher, and musician. He is chiefly known for developing a unique style of Chinese cartoons (more than 4,000 pieces) incorporating a combination of traditional Chinese fine arts features and references to Western painting styles. He is also well‐known for his prolific literary works (prose, poetry, short novels, letters and diaries) and fine art theories (around 3,334,000 Chinese words). Most of his works successfully portray scenes from traditional verses, vignettes featuring children, social and natural phenomena, and religious beliefs, infused with an uncommon lyrical sensibility, poetic beauty, and humanism that appealed to both elite audiences and the general public.

As a Kulapati (lay Buddhist), Feng subsequently created 6 volumes 450 religion-themed ‘paintings to protect life’, more than one‐tenth of his entire life’s output, crossing nearly half of a century. He also often borrowed ideas from the ‘paintings to protect life’ to apply to other Chinese cartoons in which Buddhist sentiments were more cultural and ethical than religious.

This research develops two cross‐folded approaches. One is to give a comprehensive and systematic sorting and summary of Feng’s ‘paintings to protect life’, including a periodical division and sub‐theme categorization. And the other is to borrow multi‐disciplinary theories and methodologies to analyze Feng’s narrative art, the dynamic interaction and linkage between the cartoons he painted and different contents of the inscription texts or background stories. 

This research also addresses more comprehensive perspectives on the traditional study modules, showing how the graphical and text elements of religion‐themed paintings have been framed in modern Chinese visual narrative, which will also contribute to the discussion of the significance of connecting the arts to moral conviction and virtue encouragement.


Dr. Jing Zhang is presently an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Humanities and Arts of Macau University of Science and Technology. She earned her PhD degree in Art History and New Media Expression (Creative Media) in 2011 from City University of Hong Kong. She became a Macromedia (now Adobe) Qualified Web Designer and Adobe China Certificated Designer in 2001.

Dr. Zhang’s scholarly interests are most broadly directed at Chinese art and cultural history and new media expression. Prior to joining MUST, she worked as a Senior Research Associate at CityU, produced case studies of Chinabased fashion designers, artists and collectors.

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