Rirkrit Tiravanija: Part I

By Andrew Maerkle

Installation view of Untitled 2001/2012 at Gallery Side 2, Tokyo. All images: Courtesy Rirkrit Tiravanija and Gallery Side 2, Tokyo.

In February 2012 Rirkrit Tiravanija came to Tokyo for a solo exhibition at Gallery Side 2, “Untitled 2001/2012,” for which he revisited a work originally made for the 1st Yokohama Triennale in 2001. ART iT met with Rirkrit to discuss the exhibition and its place in the broader context of his career.

I. Nothing to see here

ART iT: I’ve been thinking about photography recently, so in preparing to meet you I was struck by your use of sculpture as a reproductive medium, both in the way that you replicate existing spaces such as your New York apartment, and in the way that you revisit works serially across a number of years or different situations. How do you understand your use of sculpture, and do you ever think of what you do as something like working with images?

RT: Actually, when I started making art I was more of a photographer, and then I gradually moved away from photography. In terms of how I approach images, or the lack of images, I want for the image to always be changing. Many of my colleagues and I talk about art in terms of cinema, and in a similar sense the discussion of Relational Aesthetics has to do with the idea that images are always present even if they are not apparent. So when we work, we think cinematically: we think about scenarios and certain moments – not about narrative.
I am wary about fixing the image partly because then the experience of the work also becomes fixed, and I always want the experience to be continuous and evolving based on the positions of the viewers, so that the viewers always bring their own constructions into the work. Each viewer approaches it differently and each walks away with a different memory.
But because the scenario is a kind of moving scene, there has to be some kind of frame, and so I use space, or architecture, or even just a piece of wood, as a kind of frame or platform for the scenario to happen. Now of course if you stood somewhere within that spatial relationship you could frame things and see pictures, but ideally I try not to fix things, and that has to do again with the relationship of the viewers to time and space and all these other questions which I think have been quite important and constantly recur in my work.

ART iT: It’s funny you mention cinema. As I was reviewing some of your projects and exhibitions I thought of Kon Ichikawa’s film, Kagi (The Key/Odd Obsession, 1959), based on a story by Junichiro Tanizaki. The story is about a love affair between four people: an elderly man, his middle-aged wife, their daughter, and her fiancé, who works as a doctor. Seeking to spur his sex life, the elderly man creates a scenario whereby he invites the fiancé home for drinks, and then the wife gets drunk, goes to the bath, faints, and has to be rescued by the men; while she’s still unconscious some kind of sexual situation happens either between her and the husband or her and the fiancé. This becomes a form that gets repeated several times throughout the story, each time in a slightly different way and initiated by a different character, as though it is a form that the characters are passing around and altering among themselves. This suggests the idea of a transparent sculpture, which I connected with your work.

RT: There’s an older series of works by Franz West, “Passstücke,” which are these objects that people pass between each other and interact with in different ways, and I like the fact that in order to interact with them you have to transgress the structures of the objects. I have always been interested in critiquing institutions. An institution can be big or it can be personal, as long as it’s some kind of structure that you build and then destroy – even though most people don’t destroy them – and it’s important for me to always try to undermine that structure through play, through a game-like scenario.

ART iT: The tendency is to think of Relational Aesthetics, as well as your own projects such as the cooking events, as somehow “affirmative” community building. What the example from the film shows is that it doesn’t have to have a specific value attached to it.

RT: I never made work because I thought it has to be affirmative. I think people like to frame it that way because that’s how they want to see it or justify their participation. But I don’t make a judgment of it that way. I like people to get pushed and feel uncomfortable, and often, even if it’s familiar, there is a moment of discomfort – sometimes the most familiar thing can be the most uncomfortable, because it’s too familiar. I think there’s always a back and forth.

Installation view of Untitled 2001/2012 at Gallery Side 2, Tokyo.

ART iT: How about when you work in a gallery space? Many of your projects have an explicitly provisional quality to them: you can’t visit them without being aware that they are temporary.

RT: I always have problems with working in a gallery space, but that’s part of what I do. Again it has to do with the problems with being in a fixed structure. I like having the car parked in the gallery here because you can drive it in and out and go into space, and in that way it also has a time structure as well.
But that’s the thing I’m always struggling with. I always have difficulty just hanging something or putting something in the middle of the room. I’d rather put something near the door so people have to kick it around the room before they realize that actually that’s the work. There is a relationship to the problem of the gallery space being very neutral. I always have a lot of problems with passivity, so even if my work is not aggressive neither is it about being passive. It’s not a given. That’s something I always try to figure out – what is going to trigger people to have to work a little bit.

ART iT: But some critics describe your own projects as being somehow “passive.”

I would say it’s not passive, but it makes you decide for yourself. I’m interested in making people think where they should go, and in that sense a certain kind of openness creates space for people to find their own way. I believe that inherently people, once engaged, will find their way. They won’t stay fixed. People are changing all the time, and they change through experience.


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