Rirkrit Tiravanija, Untitled (lunch box), 1998–ongoing
By Shihoko Iida
Tiravanija was born in Buenos Aires in 1961, the son of a Thai diplomat, and spent his childhood in Argentina, Ethiopia and Thailand before moving to Canada, and then the United States, to study art. This mobile background — along with the influence of his grandmother, a well-known teacher of both Thai and Continental cuisine — meant that Tiravanija ‘learned the arts of sharing and giving’,(1) and food is a central medium in his work. His practice is concerned with the misunderstandings that take place between cultures: Tiravanija’s positioning as an artist who embodies globalised art and society reflects postcolonial debates on representation and translation, and his work appears to ask how we can address and contextualise what lies between cultures beyond translation.
French critic and curator Nicolas Bourriaud first identified Tiravanija as a key artist in his formulation of ‘relational aesthetics’ in the art of the 1990s, a concept summarised as a situation in which ‘the sphere of human relations constitutes the site of the artwork’s meaning’.(2) In Tiravanija’s practice, ‘the collective elaboration of meaning’(3) is realised by human interaction, such as his celebrated cooking performances, conducted in galleries and museums around the world. His work Untitled (lunch box) 1998 embodies this interactive approach, involving fresh Thai food being served to gallery visitors from a metal tiffin (lunch box) along with a daily newspaper — a typical Thai business lunch. During the course of the Gallery’s ‘21st Century: Art in the First Decade’ exhibition, food will be ordered and served several times a week, with audiences invited to eat in the space to complete the work.
In his re-use of the culturally loaded Thai tiffin, Thai daily newspaper and Thai food, Tiravanija’s Untitled (lunch box) shifts the form of art from being a cultural object, based on economic value and aesthetics, to that of a ‘lasting encounter’(4) where the meaning of the work is created through interaction with it. Gallery visitors participate in the work by exercising their own will, which is how we form, negotiate and organise our place in the world. We use the conditions in which the work is presented to our own ends. As Tiravanija has said, ‘Art is really that space where you are able to decide what you want to do, with your own will, and to be free’.(5)
For Tiravanija, his work is realised by creating a condition in which people can form a relationship with others. Untitled (lunch box) is a ‘state of encounter’(6) in which everyone is welcome to participate. Each individual is responsible for demonstrating how to form their own living conditions in the here and now, in a small way bringing some order to chaos, to create a world and to be free.
Shihoko Iida, Artlines 4-2010, p.37.
1 Montien Boonma and Rirkrit Tiravanija, ‘Untitled 2000 (let it go)’, in The Quiet in the Land.
2 Anthony Gardner and Daniel Palmer, ‘Nicolas Bourriaud Interviewed’ in Broadsheet, vol.34, no.3, September–November 2005, pp.166–67.
3 Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, Les Presse Du Réel, 2002, p.15.
4 Bourriaud, p.19.
5 Bryce Dwyer, ‘Interviews: Rirkrit Tiravanija exclusive’, in F Newsmagazine, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 31 March 2008.
6 Bourriaud, p.18.
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