Rirkrit Tiravanija in Conversation with Nick Hackworth
On the occasion of his first solo show in London, eponymously titled, and at the Serpentine Gallery (5 July–21 August 2005).
NH: For people who aren’t necessarily familiar with your work, could you explain what the idea of recreating your flat in a gallery is?
RT: The initial work—, I mean, it’s an old work actually—, basically I wanted to make a space where people would be able to have a lot of time to spend. It’s a few layers of things, but I guess one of the things about that idea was to kind of question the space in which art itself is. Normally we would go to museums and galleries and have a certain particular kind of time which we actually spend.
NH: And a certain mentality of the way that we approach that space?
RT: Yeah. One of the main things about my work is that it is rooted in the idea of the everyday, and in that kind of structure—how we actually spend time relating to each other. So the apartment was actually kind of a good frame or setting for that kind of interaction to happen.
NH: When you’ve done this kind of work in the past, have people felt at all comfortable? Did anyone actually treat it as a domestic space, or was it too weird for them?
RT: No, actually people treated it like it was a normal space. I mean, it’s a combination of usage. Of course, there are art people who use it with ideas about art, and then there are people who are in the everyday, who are not so familiar with art, who just use it as it would normally be used. But – partly because there are a combination of people in the space, using it – that enables that to happen.
NH: So in the Serpentine in July, people will be able to just go in and use your apartment as if it were their own?
RT: They would be able to do that, yeah.
NH: So I could go and cook myself a meal or just hang out on the sofas or whatever?
RT: Stay there, sleep, watch TV, have a bath...
NH: You can have a bath as well?
RT: Yes, yes. There’ll be... y’know, it’s fully functioning, like a normal apartment.
NH: Is the hygiene element an important one?
RT: Uh... well, it’s as hygienic as we all want to keep ourselves! [Laughs]
NH: [Laughs] I’ll be there having a shower then! How do you react when people ask: “Why is this art?”, or “What about it is art?”.
RT: Well, I think that is part of the question that the work is trying to address, or explore, or question. Why is there a limitation of that question? So, it is re-asking the question of “What is art?”, but why is it not possibly more than just what we think it normally is?
NH: So it’s also an answer to that question in a way, is it?
RT: I think it’s a kind of answer. I mean, it’s that idea of making possibilities, more than actually being able to answer it. I would say it more opens up the door to the possibility that art could be other things… more than things on pedestals and inside frames.
NH: At previous [installations], you’ve famously cooked people meals.
RT: Yes. Well, it’s all integrated into the apartment, you see, because in that kind of setting the kitchen is always available. I think all other forms of what I’m interested in – which is really “the everyday,” let’s say – is all set into that frame, of the apartment.
NH: How do you react to the term “relational aesthetics”?
RT: [Laughs] I’ve always said I don’t like to aestheticise relations. I’d rather it just be relations. I’m interested in relations. I’m interested in the idea of proximity, actually, more so than relational. I think the word “aesthetics” kind of throws it off, in a way, because it’s not about looking at the picture of relations. It’s actually more about being involved, somehow.
NH: Do you know Julian Stallabrass’s writings? He’s a British art historian who just wrote a book called Art Incorporated, in which he talks about Bourriaud’s idea of relational aesthetics. He comes from a quite orthodox Marxist or neo-Marxist position, and he attacked Bourriaud’s concept, and some of the artists that Bourriaud described as being relational aestheticists, by saying that if we need artists to fill in the cracks in the social bond formed by contemporary society, then we’re in trouble. Do you see yourself as filling in those cracks because society does atomise people?
RT: No, I’m not trying to fill in any crack really.
NH: But the sort of relationships that emerge in the spaces you create, those are relationships that would organically happen to some extent, because people meet in flats and stuff. But is there an idea of getting strangers to meet in a particular space, because the scale of modern society would make that unusual, or less likely to happen?
RT: It’s hard to say: “Well, I’ve tried to get all these people to meet each other, and something good happens”. I’m much more interested in actually having people cross some kind of boundary and then something else happening. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to meet anybody, really.
NH: Will you be in the space yourself in July?
RT: I will be around, but generally I’m not in the middle of it myself. This work was initially made in relation to myself actually leaving, so it was left to other people to do whatever they would with it. I think actually the situation at the Serpentine will be very different from the original condition in which the work was done.
NH: What was the original condition?
RT: Well, the apartment was open twenty-four hours a day, six days a week, so there was access for people at all times. I don’t think that is actually possible with the Serpentine.
NH: Did people treat the apartment with respect? Did you get complete strangers, or any problems with people trashing it?
RT: I think they treated it well, in terms of how they approached the space and used it. It was heavily used. I wouldn’t say there was respect, but they actually used it and took it on themselves to make it work. I didn’t hear anything troubling about what happened there. It didn’t burn down. I did it in New York and it also worked out quite well, which is – you’d think – a very different atmosphere from Cologne in Germany. But it’s always somehow been able to sustain itself without a lot of unreasonable interaction!
NH: Are you saying there are more trouble-makers in New York than Cologne?
RT: [Laughs] There should be!
NH: Kensington Gardens? That’s pretty rough, y’know. We’ll be lucky if it lasts a week. Can I throw a party in your flat?
RT: Absolutely! Go tell everybody else to throw a party in that place.
NH: I’ll print that. [Laughs] You’ll have a lot of parties.
RT: I must say, in relation to that relational aesthetics idea: it’s not about the party! It’s about the attitude.
NH: I’ll bear that in mind. It’ll be a non-aesthetic party.
RT: [Laughs] Brilliant, thanks.