As Chuck Olsen‘s interview with Bruce Sterling from last week goes online at the NYC vlog Rocketboom and our webcast of Sterling’s discussion with Rirkrit Tiravanija hits the Walker Channel, I’ve got a good excuse to sing the praises of Education’s Sarah Peters (or “sp” as her blog name goes), whose introduction last Thursday night was superb. How she tied together a semi-itinerant Thai “relational aesthetics” artist and a cyberpunk author whose current obsession is the “internet of things” is…Things.
Tonight we are here to watch two people sit on a stage and talk about stuff. It’s a bit old-fashioned, when you think about it, since we have blogs and vlogs and videoconferencing and MySpace for social interaction and learning these days. Why haul down here and pay for parking when you can watch a lecture like this on the web (as some people are doing tonight)? I get paid to be here, so you all out there are the ones who can actually answer this question, but I think it has something to do with the necessity of human interaction. Which has everything to do with the work of Rirkrit Tiravanija.
Rirkrit, as we all have the permission to call him, is an artist who works with environments rather than objects. He is said to have “transformed the notion of contemporary art by taking his environments out of the museum to the ends of the earth, literally.” In the early 90s he made a name for himself by creating installations during which he cooked curries for gallery visitors and staff. He has created low-power pirate radio stations in museums, a pirate television station in Italy, and built a replication of his entire New York City apartment in a gallery that was open 24 hours a day for visitors to use in whatever way they pleased. His ongoing, long-term project called The Land is a site located 20 minutes outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand that was envisioned as an open space without the concept of ownership. Activities on The Land consist of growing and harvesting rice, gardening, yoga, and performance workshops. This site was not intended to be labeled “ art,” yet with the development of so called “ relational aesthetics” and The Land’s various artist-initiated projects that blend environmental sustainability with architecture and video, the art-world has tuned-in to the endeavor. This is not to say that the art market has figured out it, as collectors are happy to purchase the soiled cooking utensils of Rirkrit’s food-based installations. But who could blame them, really. If you can’t purchase a moment, you’d do best to settle for a dirty frying pan.
Bruce Sterling, on the other hand, likes to talk about objects. His recent book published by MIT press called Shaping Things outlines his thoughts on the future of environmentally sustainable, track-able, user-alterable objects. He calls them “ spimes,” and insists that they are coming and we will need them to live. This book is the product of a year her spent as the Visionary in Residence at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. Sterling is foremost a science fiction writer, a genre where his interests in technology, culture and environmentalism merge in fictional futures where massive global-warming induced tornadoes threaten the Midwest, cyber-security experts join the U.S. government to fight against terrorism, and people live in a post-television world.
Back in the present, he is the founder of the Viridian Design movement which strives to popularize ecologically sustainable design. An obsessive blogger, Sterling lives online, blogging his way between speaking engagements in Switzerland, Belgrade, and Texas, giving us web readers the impression that he is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere.
There are numerous connections between the ideas and practice of tonight’s accomplished guests, yet their thinking presents us with a interesting conundrum: Sterling claims that the future of spimes and the “ Internet of Things” will fundamentally change our relationship to objects, while Rirkrit’s environment’s ask us to change our relationship to other humans. In what direction are we really headed, and what sort of interaction do we really need? Let’s let the visionaries figure it out. Please welcome Bruce Sterling and Rirkrit Tiravanija.
Photo: Tiravanija and Sterling in the exhibition OPEN-ENDED (the art of engagement).