So now we know. The Absolut Art award isn’t just about the honor or the prestige. It’s also a very handsome 15,000 euros that the artist can use in any way they like. As to how 2010 winner Rirkrit Tiravanija will use it is anyone’s guess.
At the Absolut Atelier the press were treated to a casual interview with Rirkrit by Swedish art world gadfly Thomas Nordanstad, the mellow-toned MC of the award dinner. I’m told later that Nordanstad had run a gallery in New York in the early ’90s and that is how he’d met Rirkrit, and as a judge on the award panel he’d presumably had put in a good word for his old friend. During the interview with the artist yesterday the vibe was friendly and convivial to the point that it felt that it was more a “chat” – this wasn’t to be any sort of interview where the artist would be challenged and, as the pair sat comfortably on a couple of leather chairs, the conversation drifted without much focus. The chat was accompanied by a Power Point conversation that wasn’t “in any particular order” or any “particular chronology”.
Rirkrit has been described as “the poster boy for Relational aesthetics” insofar as his work is all about constructing events and situations rather than making objects. In ’91 the artist created a work where visitors to Nordanstad’s NYC gallery were treated to free pizza slices and spring rolls. When questioned about the origin for his interest in not making things Rirkrit explained that early on he’d been fascinated by museum objects and “their lack of life… I wanted to take those objects and reanimate them back into the everyday.”
Oh boy, the “everyday” – there’s that word again. I had to admire Rirkrit’s candor. When talking about his work ethic he declared that he tries to work as little as possible. He’s a Buddhist and therefore pretty much everything he does or doesn’t do is all part of the process. One project was impressive for its canny combination of doing nothing but still coming out ahead. A recent project called “The Land” involved convincing the Moderna Museet to build a couple of prefab houses that were transported to Chiang Mai in Thailand ( one of the artist’s residences) where they were set up as the first units in a projected “retirement home for artists” where they can sit around and talk about things other than art. Rirkrit and Nordanstad thought all this very amusing. There is a serious intent behind what appeared to be the greatest art blag of all-time, namely an interest in Utopia, but you had to admire the artist’s chutzpah.
Rirkrit’s major claim to art fame are his cooking performances and for the evening’s party to welcome Daniel Birnbaum as the new director of the Museet, the artist cooked up a storm of noodles. Although perhaps familiar to Sydney residents who patronize Tum Tum’s Thai Takeaway, this was wildly exotic for the Swedes who approached their free meals with fascinated trepidation, much as the way they regraded the strange bottles of Ginger beer being added to their vodka, something called “Bundaberg“.
The evening’s entertainment was provided by a series of overlapping performances kicked off by senior artist Karl Holmqvist. Asking for silence from the rowdy crowd, Holmqvist began reading a poem called “The Future Home of Chrome” in a manner that sounded like a cross between a Gregorian chant and an electronic computer voice. The words of the poem, it transpired, were cannily adapted lyrics from “Hotel California” and “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves” with the occasional addition of statements such as “chrome reflects then disappears” and the refrain “the personal is political.” It was without a doubt the finest performance of its kind ever witnessed by your correspondent. When Holmqvist was relieved and the saffron robed Mai Ueda led the audience in a collective OMMMMM it seemed the night wouldn’t get any better. The later appearance of No Wave legend Arto Lindsay (Mars, The Lounge Lizards, Ambitious Lovers, John Zorn projects) was a stunning combination of Latin crooning and incredibly loud guitar. The coup de grace of the night was a DJ playing ultra rare low frequency sine waves at gut crunching volume.
As I wandered in a daze back to my hotel liquored up on free drinks I had to admire the Swedes. They really take the avant garde seriously.