Sunday, March 27, 2011

Rirkrit Tiravanija: Fear Eats the Soul

The days of this society is [sic] numbered
A while back, when I was still in the habit of posting regularly (and had the time and mental energy to do so), I mentioned the artist Rirkrit Tiravanija in conjunction with another relational aesthetic project that was occurring at the Flux Factory. Aah, the old days! A friend of C's saw the post and ended up deciding to check out one of his events, and even mentioned it to see. But I'd never had an opportunity to experience his work live--to participate in it--until this past Saturday when that same friend, knowing of my interest in Tiravanija, hipped us to his show that's currently running at Gavin Brown's enterprise until mid-April, Fear Eats the Soul. I can't say I fully grasp Tiravanija's invocation of the English translation of the title of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's iconic film (one of his best, really) from 1974, Ali: Angst Essen Seele Auf, which treated the tumultuous love affair, across national, linguistic, racial, class, and cultural lines between a white working-class German woman and a brown North African immigrant laborer, especially after reading the press release for the show, but it nevertheless increased my interest in seeing what he had devised.

The show consists of several parts: one, FEAR EATS THE SOUL, is the large, transformed open space of the Brown enterprise gallery, with "Fear eats the soul" graffitied in black on the gray walls, a mini-gravesite (a hill of soil, an iron headstone laid flat reading "Fear Eats The Soul"), and other deconstructive elements placed here and there, the emptiness and ephemeral state of the space signifying, among other things, quite playfully upon the title and the idea of the "reliquary," which he has played with before. Another reprises several of his earlier performances, including the plywood replica of his apartment, this time filled with bronzed pieces referencing his 1994 show "with" (the late) Andy Warhol, which paired the latter artist's pieces (one of the Mao portraits, a Brillo box, a TV set) with pieces from Tiravanija's life.  Unlike in 1999, on Saturday, we weren't able to install ourselves and sleep on his bed, watch his TV, ruminate, be; the door was locked, the space open for viewing. The plywood structure did invite visitors through a second door, which led to a screenprinting shop, TSHIRTNOTSHIRT.COM, whose walls Tiravanija had lined with a number of phrases he has cited in the past (some of them détourned or repurposed quotes from others), and which offered $20 t-shirts featuring these phrases to anyone who requested one. When we dropped in, one of his Columbia University graduate students, the affable Nick P., was running the press. Obsessed as I am with documenting such events, I got one (see below).

But this would not have been a Tiravanija show for me if he had not performed one of his trademark moves, which was to prepare food for visitors-participants, a hallmark of his practice from his earliest performance-events, such as 1990's Pad Thai, which also took place at an earlier inpetration of Gavin Brown's enterprise, and a legendary and almost hackneyed form of the now well-known genre of conceptual art known as "relational aesthetics."  Hackneyed except in the hands of Tiravanija himself, who as part of SOUPNOSOUP.COM, in another (the main?) part of Brown's arthouse, quietly and with radiant charm (and several assistants) prepared two different soups, one a tea-lime chicken version (which led me to break my vegetarianism for a day) and the second a milder mushroom soup. I know that tea, lime juice, and a few other things went into the pot, because my trio watched Tiravanija and his trio prepare the food, the day grow brighter and chillier, and various personages, unknown to us but likely part of New York's art scene, pop in for soup and conversation.  One person I struck up a conversation with turned out to be a very important former gallerist and font of knowledge and insight, Simon Cerigo, whose wife publishes the Website ArtLoversNewYork.  To say that he regaled us would be understating matters, so I'll put it this way: I learned more in the 45 or so minutes of conversation with him about the New York (and global) art world of the last 30 years than I had in the last 25 of my own gentle investigations of the same. Or rather, I got from his conversation what no books, polite inquiries at galleries, and chats with the artists I know have provided. I lie not! At any rate, we decided not to be carbuncles, and headed out. I could not muster the courage to chat with Tiravanija, so I took lots of pictures, and smiled at him. He probably thinks I'm a crazy person, which wouldn't be so off the mark, especially as I have been sporting a baby(fro)hawk these last few days. (It's spring break!) 

I'm still thinking about the soup, the crowd, the concept, Fassbinder, New York's art world, what it might mean to be a world-famous artist reprising your earlier interventions in an art world that has grown immeasurably richer and more global since you first began your work; to be serving soup in a city in which the homeless are numerous, and what sort of "community" really is being created or engaged if the project occurs within a (private, wealthy) gallery's (open) walls; to build a plywood version of any sort of living space, again within the confines of a privat(iz)e(d) institutional space, when New York apartments are still unaffordable for the majority of its population and people of color are still losing their homes empty to foreclosure and empty storefronts are legion; to create ephemeral artworks that on the one hand defy easy commodification but are by the same token now utterly implicated and imbricated the contemporary art and economic commodification process, and which by their very nature assume even greater value at a certain level; to be making art in a gallery on the edge of SoHo when the artworld has mostly tromped up to Chelsea, which was mostly still warehouses 21 years ago, in an increasingly deindustrialized, deterritorialized, defunded city, at a revolutionary moment or moments: what does it mean and can it be summed up even in an essay or book?  I'm still thinking, remembering, enjoying. Photos below:
Rirkrit Tiravanija, at work
Preparing the meal
At work
C & Ada: THE
C & Ada H (THE)
Angst Essen Seele Auf

Nick P's t-shirt work
Nick P. at work on (my) t-shirt
Fear eats the soul (Tiravanija)
The way things go
Nobody knows I'm a lesbian
My secret motto
Living encyclopedia Simon Cerigo
Simon Cerigo
Reprise of Warhol/Tiravanija (originals, 1994)
Reprise of Tiravanija/Warhol (originals 1994)
My soup (cf. babyfrohawk)
Yours truly, with his soup
The tea-lime Thai soup
The tea-lime chicken soup

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