Rirkrit Tiravanija

The Way Things Go

Date 2/23/15

Affiliation Artist, New York, Berlin, Thailand


Rirkrit Tiravanija will discuss his most recent exhibit, currently on view at YBCA: The Way Things Go uncovers narratives, reveals personal stories, and shares vignettes that lead to a larger understanding of migration of people in the production of material culture.

For this exhibition, contemporary artist Rirkrit Tiravanija invited artists from Asia and Europe, as well as from the San Francisco Bay Area, to contribute works related to the circulation and anthropology of seeds, plants, food, recipes, and related materials of kitchen culture that have circulated across regions and time. Featuring 12 artists projects and a wide range of work, from mixed-media installations to film, video, archive-oriented art, The Way Things Go explores how personal effects, gourds, seeds, a recipe, and sugar all yield stories that go beyond each artist’s personal intention, and creates a larger story of interwoven meanings embedded in cultural geography and spatial history.

In Tiravanija’s artworks, “things” often function as props for visitors to create something of their own, creating cultural products, which in turn, foster social production, and demonstrate how origins, journeys, and the stories that surround them are catalysts for bringing people into a more intimate understanding of themselves and the interdependence of cultures. In the exhibition, featured artists share personal and focused stories that open up to larger scenes of human interaction and engagement by redrawing boundaries of trade and labor, colonization, political affiliation, and war—all of which have a profound impact on vernacular, local, and indigenous experiences. Participating artists are: Maria Thereza Alves, Michael Arcega, Lonnie van Brummelen and Siebren de Haan, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Camille Henrot, Luc Moullett, Museum of Gourd, the National Bitter Melon Council, Pratchaya Phinthong, Arin Rungjang, Thasnai Sethaseree, Shimabuku, and SUPERFLEX in collaboration with the Propeller Group.


Since the 1990s, the renowned Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija (born in 1961 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and currently living and working in New York, Berlin, and Chiang Mai, Thailand) has aligned his artistic production with an ethic of social engagement, often inviting viewers to inhabit and activate the work. In one of his best-known series, begun with pad thai (1990) at Paula Allen Gallery in New York, Tiravanija opted not to present art objects, but to prepare, cook, and serve home-style Thai curry to exhibition visitors. For his second solo exhibition in New York, held at 303 Gallery in 1992, he filled the white rooms with stacks of cultural castoffs, transforming the space into what seemed like a storage facility and demoting the primacy of the revered art object. The artist’s installations often take the form of stages or rooms for sharing meals, cooking, reading, or playing music; architecture or structures for living and socializing are recurring elements.

Tiravanija is one of the most important proponents of an artistic practice called relational aesthetics, a term first defined by the curator and theorist Nicolas Bourriaud in the 1990s as “a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent or private space.” The work centers on inter-human relations, which it represents, produces, or prompts. The term was first used in a text Bourriaud wrote for the exhibition Traffic, at CAPC musee d’art contemporain de Bordeaux, which featured work by Tiravanija, and was codified in the book Relational Aesthetics, first published in 1998

Tiravanija’s practice is very wide ranging and extends into many artistic forms. It may be productive to understand his work as a set of proposals that cross into environmentalism, biography, and politics as well as food, menus, and kitchens. While in his earliest works it appears that he approached social and political issues through a desire to establish localized communities, more recently, especially with his projects anchored in Thailand, he has become more directly responsive to shifts and changes on the political scene. Throughout his career, Tiravanija has framed his practice in the terms of local social geographies, while at the same time not disregarding the importance of personal experience.

Tiravanija’s previous curatorial projects include Utopia Station at the 2003 Venice Biennale, co-curated with the art historian Molly Nesbit and the curator and writer Hans Ulrich Obrist. This exhibition also included seminars, meetings, performances, books, and more than 160 poster designs. He co-curated with Gridthiya Gaweewong Saigon Open City, a project focusing on liberation, unification, and (re)construction, in 2006–7. Tiravanija’s long-term project, The Land, founded with Kamin Lertchaiprasert in 1998, is a mixture of art, design, advocacy, and solidarity with local rice farmers in a village near the city of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Tiravanija has won several prestigious awards, including the Hugo Boss Prize in 2005, the Absolut Art Award in 2010, the Benesse Prize by the Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum in Japan, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Lucelia Artist Award.

-- As of 2/23/15