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For each ism there is an art critic supporting it, for instance Lucy Lippard pushed conceptualism, Andre Breton made up Surrealism and Guillaume Apollinaire backed cubism. Today we have relational art, art as a state of encounter. (Bourriaud, 1998, p.18). Art critic Nicolas Bourriaud's (1998) book of essays "Relational Aesthetics" talks in-depth about the practice of relational art, the participation of the audience, relational form and social interstice, just to name a few. The question 'What is Relational art?' is best expressed by Bourriaud, he states,
"The possibility of a relational art (an art taking as its theoretical horizon the realm of human interactions and its social context, rather than the assertion of an independent and private symbolic space), points to the upheaval of the aesthetic, cultural and political goals introduced by modern art." (Bourriaud, 1998, p. 14).
Rirkrit Tiravanija's practice fits this definition of relational art because he sets up a sociable environment where people come together to participate as a whole, in saying this his works are reliant on the participation of the audience in order for it to function as relational art. The idea of the participation of the audience is not a new concept, think back to the period of the fluxus, the performance art of the 1970's, Roland Barthes's Death of an author (1968) and Joseph Beuys statement that 'everyone is an artist'. Quite briefly, In Untitled (Free) 1992, the social act of sharing food creates interconnections between people. In Untitled (Tomorrow is another day) 1996, the gallery role is questioned when it becomes a home stay and with Untitled (He promised) 2007 Tiravanija looks at space as an ideology.
Ranciere once stated in Problems and transformations in critical art (2004) "Art no longer wants to respond to the excess of commodities and signs but a lack of connectionsâ€¦ by offering small services, the artist repairs the weakness of social bonds". (Ranciere, 2004)
In one way, Rirkrit Tiravanija repairs these social bonds by constructing a social context within the gallery. In his 1992 work of art Untitled (free). He takes the role of the performer in which he cooks Thai curry for the gallery-goers. He also moves everything in the gallery and the store room into the main exhibition space, including the manager and his associate who continue their work in public among the smell of Thai cooking. In the empty store room he set up what art critic Jerry Saltz called a "makeshift refugee kitchen," with a gas burner, plastic utensils, stools, a table and paper plates. (Saltz, 1996, p. 106). Then on, whenever Tiravanija was not present the empty food packets, equipment, dirty plates, and plastic utensils became the art exhibit, much like Marcel Duchamp's idea of the readymade, a selected and modified object. The audiences participation is crucial to Tiravanija's work they make the artwork: the food is but a catalyst to starting a pleasant relationship among the audience and the artist.
This work creates a perfect place for social networking among what art critic Nicolas Bourriaud calls a "micro-topia", (Bourriaud, 1998) a group of like-minded people, in this case art lovers, who gather to chat and socialize amongst themselves. This, however, raises problems for those who don't fit into this microtopian society. An example of this microtopia is evident in art critics Jerry Saltz (follower of Tiravanija's art) review of Untitled (free) in Art in America, which says:
"At 303 gallery I regularly sat with or was joined by a stranger, and it was nice. The gallery became a place for sharing, jocularity and frank talk. I had an amazing run of meals with art dealers. Once I ate with Paula Cooper who recounted a long, complicated bit of professional gossip. Another day, Lisa Spellman related in hilarious detail a story of intrigue about a fellow dealer trying, unsuccessfully, to woo one of her artists. About a week later I ate with David Zwirner. I bumped into him on the street, and he said, "nothing's going right today, let's go to Rirkrit'sâ€¦" (Saltz, 1996, p. 107)
Saltz only points out that Tiravanija's installation/performance piece is successful because it creates good social networking among people with love for art, but fails to address the actual purpose of Untitled (Free); creating networking among the public (everyone). Furthermore, The problem with this microtopian society is that it excludes the outsiders. All people share some sort of common interest in any art form, "â€¦theoretically anyone can come in [to an art gallery]. How come they don't? Somehow the art world seems to secrete an invisible enzyme that repels outsiders." (Saltz, 1996, p. 106)
Whatever this invisible enzyme is we must remember that this is normal in society, the art world is not the only micro-topian society out there. Today we are faced with constant technological change therefore art and the art world too undergoes the same change, they are in search of the new. For example if you look to the art of the 1960's, more specifically pop art, you will see that the common ground then was the sphere of consumption today it has completely shifted to the sphere of human relations; (Bourriaud, 1998) more specifically interhuman communication. Technology plays an integral part to why society has become indolent. We are surrounded by bytes and megabytes, cell phones and the internet. These influences cause us to break away from formal communication and use other forms; telecommunications. Therefore, Tiravanija sees this problem and therefore creates a setting which brings people together in a communal context to restore some of these social bonds which society so much lack.
Bringing people together is the primary focus of architecture it is fundamentally the first place where any sort of social structure is formed. Architects Vincente Guallart and Maria Diaz talk about their project 'Sharing tower' a building (apartments) in which they seek new spaces for social interaction, they state that
"â€¦we have to define shared spaces that have a direct relation with people's private spaces. In this way, certain uses - such as cooking, eating, relaxing - can be shared, while other uses - sleeping, dressing, bathing, etc. - remain strictly private and individual." (Guallart et al. 2004, p. 40).
Both architects write on the fact that shared and private symbolic spaces must remain separate, which is what Nicolas Bourriaud talks about and that the private space must remain just that; private. However, Rirkrit Tirvanija obliterates this "private space" with his 1996 installation/performance piece Untitled (Tomorrow is another day). He reconstructs his New York apartment within the gallery context and with the permission of the gallery owner leaves it open twenty-four hours a day for the public to use his facilities. For instance his bed, toilet, bathroom, kitchen and utensils. People then slept bathed and used the kitchen together, one critic even stated that there was group sex. (Saltz, 1996).
On one hand this is deemed a successful sociability intervention because Tirvanija creates both a place for human interaction/socializing and a space for living. However, on the other hand Tiravanija questions the role of the gallery much like Marcel Duchamp's 'Urinal'; (where both artists work with the idea of the readymade except Tiravanija takes it a step further by 'pissing into it'). (Tiravanija, 2004) and leaves it vulnerable to vandalism. By allowing the audiences to stay live for free in the gallery, (yes it creates a communal ground for excellent sociability) the gallery then loses its institutional function and turns it into a free social space. However, This is the point of relational art. Bourriaud, N (1998) states, "It compresses relational space. Whereas televisions and books send us all back to spaces where we consume in private".
This brings me to question, how Tiravanija's work would function without the gallery. Art critic Claire Bishop states that, "Despite Tiravanija's rhetoric of open-endedness and viewer emancipation, the structure of his work circumscribes the outcome in advance, and relies on the presence within the gallery to differentiate it from entertainment". (Bishop, 2004, pp. 68-69). I agree, without the gallery Tiravanija's construct would simply be a place of leisure. Furthermore, Tiravanija's micro-topia obliterates the belief of public alteration and decreases the possibilities to just like minded people.
Bourriaud suggests that when confronted by a relational art work we should ask the questions: "Does this work permit me to enter into dialogue? Could I exist, and how, in the space it defines? (Bourriaud, 1998, p. 109). Rirkrit Tiravanija's practice revolves around this question, take his work Untitled (He promised) for instance, similar to Untitled (tomorrow is another day), this installation is another full scaled construction, investigates how architectural space controls social activity. This construction is a representation of architect Rudolph Schindler's home. Schindler, according to Tiravanija "â€¦was a very inspirational figure for a lot of architects and artists due to his quiet but studied ideas concerning the philosophical conditions of living and architecture". (Tiravanija, 2004). Nicolas Bourriaud suggests that art is more than just to look at, it is to be encountered. (Bourriaud, 1998, p. 18). So in response to this Tiravanija constructed a replica of only a part of Rudolph's home; his studio. By doing this Tiravanija draws the audiences focus to the space in which they inhabited and its ideology; 'an ideal space'. (Tiravanija, 2004).
This is ideal space is what some people search for. For example looking back at Jerry Saltz review he writes,
"What would happen if the next time Tiravanija set up a kitchen in an art gallery, a bunch of homeless people turned up daily for lunch? What would the Walker Art Centre do if a certain homeless man scraped up the price of admission to the museum, and chose to sleep on Tiravanija's cot all day, every day? â€¦ but why don't they?" (Saltz, 1996, p. 106).
I think Tiravanija sees this problem but does little to address it because relational art in itself is already open-ended; not restraining anyone from encountering his work.
To conclude, I have analyzed Rirkrit Tiravanija's practice in relation to relational art; art with open-ended possibilities. Through the three works mentioned I have discussed how his practice has engaged with the realm of human interaction and its social context. I have also discussed how architecture, social frameworks and human relationships build a place of sociability, on top of this,discussing the ideas and concerns of micro-topia and the idea of participation. In my opinion, Rirkrit Tiravanija is perhaps the most relational of artists. He is the "clearest expression of Bourriaud's argument that relational art privileges intersubjective relations over detached opticality. (Bishop, 2004, p. 61)
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