Art or conversation? A new filmproject by Rirkrit Tiravanija

Issue no5
Oct-Nov 2019
Catalogue Imaginé

Recently I saw Rirkrit Tiravanija’s newest project ‘CHEW THE FAT’ in Gallery Neugerriemschneider in Berlin. (on view untill mid September) The illustrious title of this work probably refers to Tiravanija preparing a suckling pig together with artist Jorge Pardo. In one of the filmstills of the work we see Jorge Pardo holding a glass of wine while talking to Pierre Huyghe. On the foreground of the picture Taravanija - preparing the food for his friends/colleagues - seems to be caught up in a silent concentration.

But his latest work is a far cry from a ‘cooking performance’: it's a documentary-like film-piece. Over the past few years, Tiravanija filmed various conversations he had with 11 artists of his own generation, whose work – like his own – has been labelled as ‘relational aesthetics’. Tiravanija takes a walk with Andrea Zittel through the Californian desert, meets Angela Bulloch and Douglas Gordon in Berlin, chats with Elizabeth Peyton on the veranda of her house in long Island, reads through Liam Gillick’s emails with Gillick himself and cooks for Jorge Pardo. Philippe Parreno, Tobias Rehberger and Dominique Gonzales-Foerster are also portrayed. The only absentee is Maurizio Cattelan, who is nonetheless referred to in each of the conversations.

The floor of Neugerriemschneider is covered with orange carpeting, on which I am invited to sit to watch films on any of twelve monitors, installed in the space. These show a 120 minute film montage of short passages from the conversations, but also the individual portraits of the artists, each about an hour long.

Tiravanija begins every conversation with a question about the reason why each interviewee became an artist, and about their perspective careers. This is about all the structure he has given to the conversations, which consequently wander off in all kinds of directions. Even if you take two or three hours to watch a considerable part of the videos, it’s difficult to detect a coherent story. Beyond the literal meaning, the title ‘CHEW THE FAT’ thus can also be interpreted as a metaphor for what the viewer is about to encounter: talking as a kind of ritual chewing on bits and pieces of the past, hoping some kind of meaning will rise out of it.

In the press material the work is described as a ‘portrait of an artistic generation.’ My travel-companion asked: ‘Is this a documentary or an artwork?’ All I could answer was: ‘You might say Tiravanija’s work took a documentary turn, but maybe the best way to describe it would be as “art of conversation”.’ This of course, needs an explanation.

Maybe it’s not a coincidence that while Nicolas Bourriaud, the proclaimed theorist behind ‘relations aesthetics’, is promoting his new alter modernity-theory, the protagonists of ‘relations aesthetics’ seem to have the urge to look back and pause. It’s as if they want to say: ‘Wait a minute, the art world is moving on now, but history didn’t do justice to us; the meaning of our work has never been really acknowledged.’ According to ‘group-member’ Liam Gillick, the relational aesthetics ‘movement’ has been marginalized as a kind of art solely focused on the encounter of people as a superficial one-time experience, while we should see it as a ‘discursive practice’. Relational aesthetics, to quote Gillick, 'plays with social modes and represents speculative constructs both within and beyond traditional gallery space. It is indebted to conceptual art's reframing of relationships...' So is this then what Tiravanija wanted to communicate with his filmed conversations: countering the cliché-image of relational aesthetics in the form of a highly personal re-staging of the past by means of talking?

charging informal talk with new responsibilities
Not exactly. At least not in a literal sense. This becomes clear looking at another recent undertaking of Tiravanija: ‘The New York Conversations’, a collaborative project he undertook with the Belgian magazine ‘Aprior’, Nico Dockx and Anton Vidokle. Without wanting to do injustice to any of the other participants, this project has a striking resemblance to ‘CHEW THE FAT’. It’s a series of recorded informal lunch conversations between art professionals, in which themes or topics are deliberately avoided and which took place at the E-flux quarters in New York. Since the art world is full of legitimizing talk, it’s about time talk should appear ‘in the place of art’, the editors proclaim, that is to say ‘giving informal talk a form charged with new responsibilities'. This sounds pretty much what ‘CHEW THE FAT’ is about: art as conversation. [figure 2946_2270_rt08-0014-bulloch-03.JPG] But after watching and listening to hours of conversation, I cannot feel much excitement about this art of conversation. I had to think of a passage Monika Szewcyk once wrote, taking up the subject in E-flux journal. She describes 'conversation' as being ‘always political and aesthetic because it shows who we want to see, who or what we admit into our world order.’ And that’s exactly what ‘CHEW THE FAT’ looks like to me as a viewer: a rite of passage of a group of people knowing only too well why they are talking to each other. Instead of 'reframing relationships' or neutralizing the instrumental role of talk in the experience of art (in the sense of an overkill of art world symposiums, discussions, et cetera), aren't they merely adding another layer to it? And somewhere in the vast free conceptual space of talk, the art gets lost.
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Magazine
Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 5 — 2019