Social engagement artists Rirkrit Tiravanija and Tomas Vu and writer and artist Yasi Alipour discuss creative life in the context of our new social reality.
Rirkrit Tiravanija was born in Buenos Aires in 1961 and was raised in Thailand, Ethiopia, and Canada. He studied at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto (1980–84), Banff Center School of Fine Arts (1984), School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1984–86), and Whitney Independent Studies Program in New York (1985–86). Since the 1990s, Tiravanija has aligned his artistic production with an ethic of social engagement, often inviting viewers to inhabit and activate his work. In one of his best-known series, begun with pad thai (1990) at the Paula Allen Gallery in New York, Tiravanija rejected traditional art objects altogether and instead cooked and served food for exhibition visitors. For his second solo exhibition in New York, held at 303 Gallery in 1992, Tiravanija filled the white rooms with stacks of cultural cast-offs, rendering the space into what seemed like a storage facility, demoting the primacy of the revered art object.
Over the following years, the artist ignored the prescribed division between art and life, constructing communal environments that offer a playful alternative venue for quotidian activities. In 1997 Tiravanija began an engagement with the monoliths of modernist architecture when he installed in the Museum of Modern Art’s sculpture garden Untitled: 1997 (Glass House), a child-size version of Philip Johnson’s famed Glass House (1949). Similarly, untitled 2002 (he promised) is an arena of activities ranging from DJ sessions to film screenings within a chrome and steel structure inspired by Rudolf M. Schindler’s iconic Kings Road House (1922) in West Hollywood. For A retrospective (tomorrow is another fine day) (2004), viewers are guided through a seemingly objectless modernist space in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, inhabited only by minimal architectural interventions, tour guides, and theatrical readings by Tiravanija’s friend, artist Philippe Parreno. In 2005 Parreno and Tiravanija collaboratively constructed five puppets caricaturizing themselves and three other artists (Pierre Huyghe, Liam Gillick, and Hans Ulrich Obrist), which were then employed for the film untitled 2005 (stories are propaganda). His engagement with propaganda can also be seen in his ongoing series of commissioned drawings derived from newspaper images and in untitled 2006 (fear eats the soul/ November 1–8, 2004), in which Tiravanija painted the phrase “fear eats the soul” over the front page of The New York Times. For his ongoing project The Land (begun in 1998), a collaborative artistic, architectural, and environmental recovery project in Sanpatong, Thailand, residents and artists are welcomed to use a plot of land as a laboratory for development‚ cultivating rice, building sustainable houses, or channeling solar power.
In the Rail:
Tomas Vu was born in Saigon, Vietnam and at the age of ten moved with his family to El Paso, Texas. Vu received a BFA from the University of Texas, El Paso, and went on to earn an MFA from Yale University. He has been a professor at Columbia University School of the Arts since 1996 and was appointed the LeRoy Neiman Professor of Visual Arts in 2000. In 1996, Vu helped to found the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies. Since its inception, he has served as Director/Artistic Director of the Neiman center. Vu has exhibited nationally and internationally and has had solo museum shows in Japan, Italy, China, and Vietnam. He has had solo exhibitions at Milwaukee Institute for Art and Design (1998), Museum Haus Kusaya, Yokuska (2001), Centro Colombo Americano, Bogotá (2012) and the China Central Academy of Fine Arts Museum, Beijing (2015). In collaboration with Rirkrit Tiravanija as part of their series Green Go Home, Vu received a solo exhibition at Vargas Museum, Manila, in the fall of 2017. Vu is also the curator of the traveling group exhibition DRAW, which was inspired by the drawings of LeRoy Neiman and has since included over 100 artists. DRAW has had iterations in China, Serbia, and the US, and is headed to Berlin, North Carolina, and Cuba next. Vu has received many awards including the Joan Mitchell Foundation Fellowship award (2001), Guggenheim Fellowship (2002), Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program (2015), Residency and Audience Award for Best Artist at the 30th Biennial of Graphic Arts Ljubljana (2016), the Louis Comfort Tiffany Artist Award (2017), and the Arts/Industry Residency at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (2018). He lives and works in New York City. (https://www.tomasvu.com)
In the Rail:
Yasi Alipour (Columbia University, MFA 2018) is an Iranian artist/writer/folder who currently lives in Brooklyn and wonders about paper, politics, and performance. She is a teacher at Columbia University and SVA and is currently a resident at the Sharpe Walentas Studio program. For further information, please visityasamanalipour.com.
Yasi is also a contributor of the Rail. To see a full list of her contributions, please visit https://brooklynrail.org/contributor/yasaman-alipour
Marcella Durand — recent books include The Prospect, forthcoming from Delete Press as soon as shipping is safe again, and her translation of Michèle Métail’s book-length poem, Earth’s Horizons (Black Square Editions, 2020). Other publications include Rays of the Shadow (Tent Editions, 2017); Le Jardin de M. (The Garden of M.), with French translations by Olivier Brossard (joca seria, 2016); Deep Eco Pré, a collaboration with Tina Darragh, (Little Red Leaves); AREA (Belladonna); and Traffic & Weather (Futurepoem), written during a residency at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. She is currently working on a new book-length poem forthcoming from Black Square Editions.