Boutiquing at the Raindance Campout: Relational Aesthetics as Festival Technology


  • Bryan Schmidt University of Minnesota


relational aesthetics, relational art, raindance campout, transformational festival, Burning Man, aesthetics, performance studies


This article uses Nicholas Bourriaud’s theorizing of “relational aesthetics” to consider the mechanics that facilitate strong subcultural ties amongst participants of small-scale, “boutique” festivals. Relational aesthetics describes art that takes human interaction as its theoretical horizon, where art works are envisioned primarily as social interstices. Using California’s Raindance Campout as a case study, I argue that festivals may be viewed as a form of relational art, where organizers create environments that prompt meaningful human performance. Building on critiques of the revolutionary energy Bourriaud invests in his concept, I propose that we might productively understand relational aesthetics as an indeterminate technology always adaptable to particular political ideologies. I use art present at Raindance to illuminate some of the event’s unspoken political prerogatives; despite attempting to disassociate from the ethos of a perceived US mainstream, I argue that Raindance still coincides with logics of modern liberalism including consumerism and cultural appropriation.