Bruce Sterling has largely existed on the periphery of my computer science know-how. Even for someone that has studied the science, I never really got into the hacker side of things. (Unless you count my brief flirtation with the film Hackers – for which some of my geek friends would kick my butt for even admitting to it.) I don’t even really follow science fiction that closely, but Sterling has legendary status in the cyberpunk genre, and I have some friends that would readily call themselves devotees. How could I not show up and see what’s what?
Rirkrit Tiravanija was someone even farther out on the periphery for me. I knew he was a Walker artist-in-residence, and that he was creating a cool installation for the upcoming exhibition, OPEN-ENDED (the art of engagement). Aside from the stories I heard about art works in which he cooked up some tasty green curry in galleries for visitors, I didn’t really have an inside track on Tiravanija as an artist.
To be totally honest, by the end of the talk, I wouldn’t say I had a better line on either of these guys. But I did laugh a lot, and they did have my rapt attention. At times the talk seemed to be a rapid ping-pong fire of answers and questions – not necessarily corresponding in an easy way to follow – and if one of them hesitated for a moment, the other readily jumped in with a new idea or outrageous statement. (Okay, almost anything that I’d call ‘outrageous’ was coming out of Sterling’s mouth.)
Some things I learned last night:
- Rirkrit doesn’t collect things for himself. He collects the things that visitors leave behind. However, he suspects those visitors also take things. Rirkrit has been looking for his Patagonia woolly socks for some time. (The woolly socks became a long-standing joke the rest of the evening.)
- Sterling is an admitted Power Vampire – always hunting around for an available outlet to plug in his laptop.
- Rirkrit doesn’t worry about the water supply near his work, The Land, a large-scaled collaborative and multidisciplinary project on a plot of land near Chiang Mai, Thailand. He said there were ‘two water buffalos’ worth out there.
- Sterling followers are enthusiastic! There was a fanboy down in the front row just as eager to join the conversation – throwing out lines to Sterling and Rirkrit. He was very animated – almost kind of thrashing about in this enthusiasm. Gesticulating wildly, if you will.
- Sterling likened the commercial tech industry, and the way they market to the “needs” of customers, to receiving news of your mother’s death from a Mickey Mouse telephone. “Gee, thanks, Mickey!” Bad news coming in cute packages.
- Where are those woolly socks??