Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Serving up cardboard

Rirkrit Tiravanija: Untitled (Pay attention)
One Day Sculpture
New Zealand, nationwide

For this event Rirkrit Tiravanija and his assistants will not be serving up Pad Thai - as is usually the case in many of his performances. Instead the artwork is the posted out invitation that has been sent to those on ARTSPACE’s mailing list – to be held on the date stated: TODAY, and as no mention is made of any specific date, probably yesterday and Saturday too, when people went to their letterboxes.

Look at how this unusual occurrence is contextualised. Click on the ODS website and check out the two paragraphs from Brian Butler (ex ARTSPACE director) and Clare Doherty (guiding instigator of ODS). Their explanatory comments seem so crucial it is almost as if they are co-artists. All three elements lock together.

The slipperiness of focussing the event on ‘TODAY’ is compounded by Butler’s slyly cheeky criticism of mediation. Ostensibly in his anecdote he is referring to Tiravanija’s blank slide that accompanied a verbal description of an early work, but really Butler seems to be talking about his own text, his own participation. He is warning the reader through relating an account of Tiravanija’s anxiety about mediation. He uses the artist’s story to swing discussion back towards the website audience, as if saying: Hey you out there, figure it out for yourself. Don’t rely on middle people like Clare and me. Nevertheless he still contributes - by subverting his own discussion.

Doherty’s text is partially about art history, setting the stage by explaining precedents for Tiravanija’s mail action. More importantly - and contra to Butler - it also discusses the image the artist is circulating: those bright orange circles on poles. Yet we still don’t really know Tiravanija’s motivation in photographing them. Why the interest in the flat fluorescent discs that over recent years have replaced illuminated spheres at New Zealand’s pedestrian crossings? He obviously discovered them during his visit last year.

Does he, like some of us, find them aesthetically repulsive, almost a horrid joke? Is he angered because they might be a cost cutting measure that at night is totally ineffective? That they are invisible and cannot save pedestrian lives.

Or is his interest more general and focussed on the work's title - about attention? Does he worry about what these signs stand for, that they warn us to be ready for people who might suddenly step out from the curb? Or is he like John Cage, and is trying to show us something much much wider - that all sorts of things around us in our environment are worthy of our interest.

Whatever the reasons the artist might have, what of those looking at the photograph? Will any of the recipients getting the card think about zebra crossings at all? Until they look at the ODS website (as currently instructed by text), they could think that one of the houses by the pedestrian crossing will be hosting a free Thai meal with lots of conversation and beer – and be busy looking at that Auckland Street sign on the corner with a magnifying glass.

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