Although Tiravanija was born in Buenos Aires in Argentina, he was brought up in Canada, Ethiopia and Thailand and now lives between New York City, Berlin and Chiang Mai, Thailand. This cosmopolitan background has influenced his art practice that creates structures and conceptual spaces for people to share different cultural experiences.
One of his first socially engaged works, pad thai (1990), involved him cooking and serving food to visitors at Paula Allen Gallery in New York. He’s since developed the participatory aspect of his work to incorporate architectural environments that encourage a reevaluation of communal activities.
Community and collaboration are at the core of Tiravanija’s practice. In 1998, he established ‘The Land Foundation’, an ongoing project in Sanpatong, Thailand, that transformed land into an open space owned by everyone for the purpose of proactive experimentation, whether it be cultivating the rice fields or developing sustainable solutions for the locals.
In 2004, he won the fifth Hugo Boss Prize and presented Untitled 2005 (the air between the chain-link fence and the broken bicycle wheel) (2005) at the Guggenheim, which encouraged visitors to use his fabricated television station as a site for free expression therefore making mass media redundant.
Through various media, he continues to subvert the systems that implement quotidian rituals and facilitate propaganda. At Art Basel Miami Beach 2016, his The Tyranny of Common Sense Has Reached Its Final Stage (2016) reflected on the climate of political unease on a global scale by overlaying a statement in typical newspaper font on the November 9, 2016 edition of The New York Times – the day after Donald Trump won the US presidential election.
Wanting to engage visitors with rediscovering, or indeed discovering, the traditions of Southeast Asia, for his Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden commission, Tiravanija has utilised regional materials and traditional crafts of Asia.
At the heart of his elaborate bamboo installation – which is constructed in the same way as hand-built bamboo scaffolding found across Asia – is a Japanese tea house in which visitors will be able to partake in monthly Sunday tea ceremonies.
Tea ceremonies aren’t so much about just drinking tea but about the aesthetics involved in the preparation and the act of considering your guest. Making hot drinks and sharing time with people is not unique to Asia, this is a worldwide ritual that maybe in our fast-paced world we have neglected to appreciate.
Tiravanija reminds us of this in his specially crafted space where hospitality, contemplation, intimacy, collective experience and interaction are paramount.
Mr Low Sze Wee, director of Curatorial, Collections and Education at National Gallery Singapore, said: ‘untitled 2018 is a testament of the gallery’s mission to bridge the connection between art and the public, and cultivate an art-loving community.
‘In working together with Rirkrit Tiravanija – one of the most important and influential contemporary artists of our time, who is richly informed by his own history and experience of Southeast Asia – we aim to present art made accessible and inclusive through its social setting, inspired by Asian culture, architecture and craft.’
Rirkrit Tiravanija: untitled 2018 (the infinite dimensions of smallness) is at Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden Gallery, National Gallery Singapore until October 28, 2018.