Boutiquing at the Raindance Campout: Relational Aesthetics as Festival Technology

Bryan Schmidt


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.


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

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