RIRKRIT TIRAVANIJA: Art is integrated into everything. When it comes to spaghetti western, in a sense, there would be seven stations where [we’re] cooking tom kha gai, which is a coconut chicken soup. I was quite interested in there being a kind of evidence of activity. I was trying to kind of retrieve this condition that was actually around the objects. The fact that people would come later and see a situation that had happened, and then they would have to, kind of, in their own mind try to see the picture of what had happened.
It is about playing with that condition that they are misunderstanding, or misreading, or not reading enough, because they make assumptions. And that's always been part of the battle, is to fight the assumptions. And assumptions are made because they believe they have the knowledge to assume.
Those different ways of kind of organising or kind of setting up a condition for experience is important. So I think in a certain way it's kind of trying to understand how people move through things. How people move through experiences.
Over three days at the Galleria Civica d’arte moderna e contemporanea in Turin in 2001, Rirkrit Tiravanija and his assistants cooked tom kha gai —a spicy and sour chicken soup that is a signature of Thai cuisine—and served it to visitors. He installed seven cooking stations in the space, each consisting of a propane cooker, a pot, a cutting board, bowls, and forks. As visitors finished eating, they placed their bowls and utensils down on the floor, and these items remained there as an installation. Future visitors to the exhibition would see the remnants from the cooking event and be invited to reconstruct in their minds what had taken place. The son of a diplomat, Tiravanija was born in Buenos Aires and raised in Thailand, Ethiopia, and Canada. This experience informed his interest in the transnational movement of ideas and the processes of communication and translation that take place across cultures.
The title of this installation and its seven cooking stations refer to The Magnificent Seven, a 1960 Hollywood Western directed by John Sturges that reinterprets Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film Seven Samurai. The title also invokes the spaghetti Western, a genre of films that emerged in 1960s Italy comprising narratives set in the American Old West. These cross-cultural cinematic relationships provide the key to understanding the installation’s conceptual framework. The universal language of cooking is a way to express an image of cultural specificity. Tiravanija’s work uncovers the associations embedded within Thai food, particularly ‘national’ dishes such as pad Thai and, in this case, tom kha gai.
He first incorporated cooking into his artistic practice with untitled 1990 (pad thai), staged at Paula Allen Gallery in New York in 1990. Pad Thai was invented in the late 1930s as part of the nationalist identity-building project of Prime Minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram of Thailand, and the context of its deliberate construction exemplifies Tiravanija’s approach to food as a tool for articulating a specific cultural idea.
Similarly, in Untitled 2001 (the magnificent seven, spaghetti western), the artist draws attention to how food can be used to create a cultural space through the preparation of a legibly Thai dish in a global context. In addition to his fascination with food, Tiravanija also weaves in coded messages through his use of specific objects and materials. The seven propane tanks of Untitled 2001 (the magnificent seven, spaghetti western) sit upon large steel plates. The colour of the tanks—a bright saffron frequently seen in Tiravanija’s work—recalls the robes of Thai Buddhist monks. Tiravanija’s practice raises pointed questions around art-making, identity, and the space of everyday life by merging communal acts of cooking with object-based installations and serendipity with pre-determined intention.
- Produced by
Yau Mak Matthew
- Curatorial Research
Pauline J. Yao
- Special Thanks