Rirkrit Tiravanija: Time Travelers Chronicle (Doubt): 2014 – 802,701 A.D at Singapore Tyler Print Institute
“There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space except that our consciousness moves along it.”—H.G. Wells, The Time Machine (1895)
In 1992, Rirkrit Tiravanija converted the spaces of 303 Gallery in New York into a kitchen where he served rice and Thai curry to a crowd that became unwitting participants in a hybrid installation titled Untitled (Free). Seven years later, Tiravanija further blurred the experience between art and life in Untitled (Tomorrow Can Shut Up and Go Away) (1999) by re-creating the interior dimensions and spaces of his three-room East Village apartment, then extending the invitation to the public to spend time in it the way they would in a friend’s home.
The transactional quality in Tiravanija’s hybrid installations is unmistakable, even for those who are sceptical of art that takes participation as its point of departure as well as its endpoint. In fact, it’s better termed as relational aesthetics, a concept coined by Nicolas Bourriaud as a practice that seeks to establish “live” encounters in a carefully constructed environment where the experience of the viewer becomes the art in question, despite that smacking a little too optimistically of art’s relatively recent paranoia regarding the audience’s role and function in the gallery space.
At the very least, Tiravanija’s staged tableaux of exaggerating, then capturing unscripted human responses throws the spotlight on the fine demarcation lines that stand between viewer, materiality, and artist by shifting the onus of art production to spectator-artist interactivity, even if the purpose of what the spectator is supposed to glean from his or her participation is often unclear. Considering Tiravanija’s constant desire to redefine these boundaries, it is surprising to find the apparent absence of the patois of socially engaged art and interpersonal activity in his latest show Time Travelers Chronicle (Doubt): 2014 – 802,701 A.D. at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute, a conceptually driven exploration of time and space that’s loosely inspired by H.G. Wells’s novel The Time Machine.