The philosopher Michael Foucault once complained, “Art has become something which is only related to objects, and not to individuals, or to life.” In this upcoming dual-artist exhibit we have the delight of refuting this notion summarily. Rirkrit Tiravanija and Suthat Pinruethai individually contribute their own versions of relational art, and in their respective manners challenge the role of the object through personal association and human interaction. Beyond meaning, there is also an aspect of the playful present in both artists, a further articulation of human spirit. In exploring their work we find the familiar, the feeling of home, reflecting on our own lives through the comfort of a real-world lens. By proxy we can examine artful meaning within our private spheres while removed from the direct connection to our material lives, viewing the situation and components of daily life freshly pried loose from the dream-like familiarity of the ordinary. Like a square of fresh sod grass set neatly in the center of a dinner table, or a photo-realistic drawing of the rising steam from a tea cup, this show gives us a perspective shifted ever so gently, crisply, from living into delving.
Rirkrit Tiravanija showers the visitor with welcome, a practiced graciousness that has come to define his career. Famously the artist’s debut involved cooking food and serving it to gallery goers. By taking an aspect of daily life and introducing it into an art context, the artist asks us directly why art should even be considered as a fixed object, a material product to be put on display and frozen in time. In his work with hospitality and food, each element served its own role, objects from refrigerator to chair to plate in use according to their own purpose, the attendants participating in the meal as they do regularly in their individual lives, under the aegis of a living art installation. From one perspective it is simply the setting that transforms the ordinary into art, from another it is art laid bare, and exposed as pure relationship, good company even. The artist presents a dynamic conceptual display of non-attachment placed right at odds with the cherished notion of art as a static material product. In this show, the artist will spending a day cooking for attendees, while leaving us suggestions of person in the form of installations. A sparkling, chrome-plated grill, set in a mirrored corner creates a wheel out of an otherworldly immaculate version of the ordinary and useful. A table is stacked with print after print of the artist standing upon the table. Even as the installations remain as objects, they are scarcely removed from the presence and being of the artist himself. Other interventions from this internationally renowned artist discard the pristine object in favor of the interactions between people, such as the Station Utopia project with which he represented the US at the 2003 Venice Biennale, or The Land Foundation in Chang Mai, Thailand, which places art in a traditional agrarian context.
Suthat Pinruthai has a particular penchant for peeling back the tangible presence of objects, and revealing symbol, purpose and reference. Even before he manipulates the character of reality through his art, his choice of objects has a certain aesthetic that creates a mood of intrigue, each element inspiring sparks of curiosity. There is a suggestion in the raw materials of the antique, the rare, and an unusual find. Interest is piqued by the sight of a vintage toy, and then smoothly shuttled into the artist’s message, hidden in plain sight. A long table appears to shelter a number of stored objects; it occurs to the viewer that it is almost incredible for them to be placed together. The table appears to serve as a lectern for modified books, painted with bold red phrases that seem to float like a date-stamp on a photographic print, annotating the whole image, such as … ‘Art is not what Art is.’ We are invited to view an array of old paper and printed matter scattered across a bed, and to wonder at hand-painted reproductions of vintage Jell-o recipes on wood veneer. Alternately whimsical, clever and profound, we are continually taken one step further into a very particular view of life, one that is easy to relate to. In this exhibit, the augmented familiar is expanded one step further into our lives, as the artist’s work is presented in a replica of his bedroom, arranged as they might be within his own private sphere. Drawn into the world of the artist, into the object he has chosen, and then into the life he has breathed into them, we are welcomed into a new relationship with viewing our own lives.
Between these two artists, we are offered a refreshing, open-armed invitation to regard art as something familiar and accessible. We are invited to let go of the material significance of the objects in our lives, and even the value we place in them, and enter a sanctuary that promises to take such considerations with comfort and ease. This is an opportunity to have a glance at the significance of the various items surrounding us, and our relationships with each other, which comprise a fresh contemporary take on wholeness in the human experience.