this issue contains
>> Cai Guo-Qiang's explosive art
>> Gregor Schneider's hermetic rooms
>> All Together Now: Rirkrit Tiravanija
>> Interview Vadim Zakharov

>> archive


Untitled(Tomorrow is Another Day),
Installation view, Kölnischer Kunstverein, 1996
Courtesy neugerriemschneider, Berlin

For Ramakien, a Rak Opera, Tiravanija carried his expanded art concept onto the stage: "My background is visual arts; though I’m very interested in theater, I never really did any work in that direction. A few people that might have seen my work in New York know that I’m an artist who has collaborated a lot and worked with the audience and a lot of people. That is something that makes it interesting for me to get involved in the situation. The whole set-up is about collaboration and being collaborative." Which is how it was on July 28 of this year, when Ramakien, a Rak Opera, a collaborative interpretation of an episode from a two thousand year-old Hindu drama, premiered at New York’s Lincoln Center under the artist’s direction. The Thai version of the originally Indian material tells the story of Prince Rama, who with the help of the shrewd monkey god Hanuman tries to free his kidnapped wife Sita from the demon Totsukan.

"Ramakien, a Rak Opera" at the Lincoln Center Festival,
Photo: Chira Wichaisuthikul

The Thai word rak means love; hence it’s a love opera. Pronounced with an American accent, however, rak mutates through time and space to become rock, the quintessential American musical form that can be traced back to a blend of the highly disparate cultural influences of white country music and African American blues. As a kind of cultural emissary from Thailand, Tiravanija brought a number of different artists to New York for the production: popular Thai rock bands shared the stage with the best known orchestra for classical Thai music, famous dancers, deejays, and video artists.

Tiravanija found his perfect counterpart for the project in the American musicologist and composer Bruce Gaston, who lives in Thailand: "He’s our only real Thai person on the troop. He’s probably lived there longer than I have... It’s also quite important for people to see that it’s possible to bring people together from very different corners of the sphere and to put them into one place, where they are coming together to make a project which will represent those differences and, at the same time, still let us be in a particular way ourselves."

"Ramakien, a Rak Opera" at the Lincoln Center Festival,
Photo: Chira Wichaisuthikul

The groups shared the stage to play their various pieces simultaneously, but independently of one another in a seemingly chaotic performance as an illustration of a traditional Thai tenet that each person has to find and follow his own rhythm. "You could probably say that art is integrated into everyday life there. For Thai people, there’s no separation between themselves and things," he told Dorothea Strauss.

Tiravanija is less concerned with creating an absolute work of art than with focusing on human relations, with enabling and encouraging them. This approach has turned Rirkrit into a poster boy for the concept of "relational aesthetics," as the French critic Nicolas Bourriaud articulated it, distinguishing it from an art in the wake of Modernism that merely allows for limited variation. According to Bourriaud, the works of artists like Tiravanija – but also Tobias Rehberger, Liam Gilick , Carsten Höller, and Andrea Frazer – harbor a historical chance to “inhabit the world in a better way,” because the works no longer merely represent imaginary or utopian realities, but themselves exist as ways to live and behave.

The open structure and relative formlessness of the works arising in this way prepare the field for a synthesis of highly heterogeneous influences; instead of an opposition arising between art and everyday life, art becomes a social interstice, a juncture that connects disparate elements, but remains a part of the global system – while allowing for alternatives. Rirkrit Tiravanija sums up his work this way: “Being together in the same space, letting people activate it through their own individualized expressions is one of the things I’m interested in artistically.” The quotes by Rirkrit Tiravanija used in this article stem from a radio interview with the musicologist Rob Weisberg on July 22 on the program WMFU Transpacific Sound Paradise:

Translation: Andrea Scrima

[1] [2]