Rirkrit Tiravanija

Read the interview with the cover artist of ArtReview Asia's November 2013 Power 100 issue

By Mark Rappolt

Rirkrit Tiravanija, Untitled (Running out of Time), 2013. Photo: MONA/Rémi Chauvin. Rirkrit Tiravanija, Untitled 2012 (Freedom Cannot Be Simulated), 2012. Photo: Jens Ziehe. Courtesy the artist and Neugerriemschneider, Berlin

ARTREVIEW ASIA You’re doing the cover for our Power 100 issue. The vision of power, the power of vision.
 So how is power exercised in the artworld? Does it have a capital ‘P’?

RIRKRIT TIRAVANIJA I think of all places, 
the one that is very aware and weary of power 
is the artworld. Perhaps it’s a strategy, perhaps it’s a game, but I think different spheres of the artworld use (and display) power differently. Generally I don’t think most artists think about power in the same way that, say, a collector thinks about it.

It is certainly played with and played out, but one has to wonder if it is all of any consequence. I think it is interesting that there are some very powerful people in the artworld that never make the list, and I think that is where power lies.

ARA What role does art and the artist play in the broader social conversation today?

RT There are different levels or layers of engagement. If we look at Olafur [Eliasson]’s recent ‘little sun’, we can say it is broad. Or if we look at Thomas Hirschhorn, it’s narrower but nonetheless a broader reach than most artworks on display at Frieze Art Fair. But most conversations about art these days may not be so much social but rather commercial.

ARA Is art today for a few insiders, or for the many?

RT Art today is for the many insiders. There seem to be more and more people interested and involved with art, but that involvement isn’t about how art is relevant to the spiritual human construction. Rather, it is more for the material/ informational consumption.

ARA You used an extract from Calvin Tomkins’s interviews with Marcel Duchamp in one of the artworks for this issue. In particular one in which the artist talks about the effect of commerce on art. Why did you choose this? Is Duchamp a particular influence? Do you believe that artists are more integrated today than they were at the time of the interview? Can the mix of art and commerce be problematic?

RT Yes, Duchamp is a marker in the landscape I keep looking back to, to see how far we have come, and perhaps we can see that we haven’t gotten very far. Or perhaps it’s just cyclical, 
like Groundhog Day. The thing is, we already know how it is we wake up to each day, but we haven’t been able to change our desires enough, or perhaps we have not had enough desire to change things to move the situation into another plane.

Perhaps we believe too much in power. I think I was more focused on Duchamp’s idea of going underground, perhaps like a groundhog after he has seen the daylight or the light of day.

ARA Perhaps I just want to ask the question that Tomkins asks Duchamp: do you feel the commercialisation of art in our time is the leading influence on art now?

RT Yes.

ARA The impact of the kind of ‘integration’ of art into commerce that Duchamp talks about seems to have increased today in one way. Things are culturally as well as commercially exchangeable: both from one culture to another (let’s say a Takashi Murakami show in Doha, for example, or in a different way, your use of the Thai constitution and Dieter Roth at Neugerriemschneider last year). Is this a good thing? Is it really possible for art in all its forms to be an international language? Doesn’t that negate its ability to be specific? (I’m not suggesting that these things apply to you – quite the opposite – but it seems to me that there are some dangers here.)

RT I think it is both integrated and specific. Perhaps specificity changes with context.

ARA I guess that last might really be a question of translatability (partly with the Roth reference in mind). Are there some things that cannot be translated into art? That create a limit to the number of people who might be able even to ‘get’ them? And does an artist have a duty to reach out to an audience (I guess you could be seen as someone who does make an effort to reach out
to audiences)?

RT Well, a sausage is a sausage, whether one refers to Roth or not. But I don’t know if it’s about reaching out as much as it is about being clear, or being readable, and perhaps readability addresses translatability. But we need to believe in what we are talking about.

ARA Can art change society, or does it just make people aware of the potential for change in society? Perhaps I’m partly interested in how this might apply to the land foundation. [Initiated in 1998, the land is an experiment in generating a self-sustaining open space ‘of and for social engagement’ out of an artistic community.]

RT Art can change society. The land foundation isn’t about art, but many artists are involved.

ARA Are there differences between works you make in Bangkok and in NewYork? Does the atmosphere around you affect you in this way?

RT I guess that goes back to the context (condition) question. There are no differences in attitude, but perhaps the form can be in flux. I don’t know about atmosphere, but people rioting in the street affects me. Republicans wanting to repeal the Affordable Care Act affects me.

ARA You’re perhaps best known still for cooking meals in galleries. Can being ‘known’ for something in this way be a burden or a problem? Perhaps because people attend a show not to look but to have their preconceptions confirmed?

RT It is a burden one must use to kill preconceptions. Disappointment is good for the human social experience.

ARA Can anything be art? Is art inherent in concepts or in objects? Can an object detached from a concept be an artwork?

RT Yes.

ARA To what extent is art an expression of free will? Do you believe in free will? Are you free to break the law?

RT We are never free, because we are burdened by too many preconceptions. What is breaking the law if you have no preconception of what it is?

ARA What are you working on at the moment?

RT Free will.

This article was first published in the November 2013 issue of ArtReview Asia