MacGyver - Bricoleur - LeisureArts

We thought it might be nice to take another look at the bricoleur - a French term you'll probably remember from reading Derrida, or maybe Levi-Strauss. The bricoleur is, essentially, someone who "makes do." The bricoleur is a cultural hacker, a tinkerer, a jack-of-all-trades, someone who builds (in all senses) using the material at hand. To engage in this process is bricolage.

LeisureArts is largely an enterprise in bricolage, or a dilettante venture. Although these terms have already passed out of theoretical vogue, no new concepts have come along to replace them. We've posted many times before about the inadequate critical tools brought to bear to discuss so-called "new art practices." As we've said, we might be better served to abandon the framework of art and flesh out a new field. Rather than artists, we have bricoleurs, and rather than art, we have bricolage.

Bernard Herman writes in his essay "The Bricoleur Revisited" from American Material Culture: The Shape of the Field - Ann Smart Martin and J. Ritchie Garrison eds. :

"Thus we can imagine the bricoleur standing in the scrapyard of experience and through a process of sorting and low-tech assemblage creating compelling, meaningful narratives out of seemingly unrelated objects and events. The bricoleur, working with the detritus of myth and history, of artifact and experience, defines the project by the means and materials at hand. The bricoleur's discovery of meaning is always imaginative and personal: the sense and communication of meaning is inescapably contextual and always about the relationships established between people and their environments in all of their many intimacies."

This sounds very much like it could be describing any number of people currently being offered under the banner of "relational aesthetics."

So we are pushing for re-thinking the field, for finding other ways to critically negotiate, and promote the work of cultural MacGyvers. Robyn Stewart, in the October 2001 issue of Text, writes in her essay "Practice vs. Praxis: Constructing Models for Practitioner Based Research:"

"It is not easy being a bricoleur. A bricoleur works within and between competing and overlapping perspectives and paradigms (and is familiar with these). To do so they must read widely, to become knowledgeable about a variety of interpretive paradigms that can be brought to a problem, drawing on Feminism, Marxism, Cultural Studies, Constructivism, and including processes of phenomenography, grounded theory, visual analysis, narratology, ethnography, case and field study, structuralism and poststructuralism, triangulation, survey, etc."

It's not easy to write about them either, as it requires challenging available orthodoxies, an equally at-ease disposition with regard to switching conceptual domains and categories, and the flexibility to leave one's critical assumptions behind. It's not easy, but we believe it's worth the effort to find a way out of the dead end of contemporary art criticism and into more fertile and dynamic discourse, even if that means going back to the 80s and reviving MacGyver alongside bricoleur...