Rauschenberg is not the only explicit art historical reference. Punctuating the scrolls in silhouettes of blue, red and black ink (“my kilometer marks, in a way,” says Tiravanija) are images of a urinal and a mussel pot—allusions, respectively, to Duchamp and Broodthaers. Duchamp, recalls Tiravanija, inspired him fundamentally:
I started making art because I saw the Duchamp urinal in a slide show—that and Malevich’s White on White. I didn’t know anything about art. I wanted to be a photojournalist. Within a period of two months [in an art history class in high school, in Ottawa] I saw these two works, and I just stood up and said, “I have to look to see what it is to be an artist.” So I applied to art school.
As for Broodthaers, the mussel pot has been, for Tiravanija, a particularly resonant emblem of the fusion of art and life; Tiravanija has himself often included similarly tiered Thai lunch pails in his projects. Having recently returned to the Neiman Center, Tiravanija is now completing three smaller, more conventional offset lithos that depict, in grids, the repeating silhouettes of the urinals and mussel pots, along with Thai signage. Thus he continues, in a retrospective vein, to link his practice to that of these two modernist precursors.
“Tiravanija most often if not always leaves both his exhibitions and works untitled,” the artist wrote, in third person, in the catalogue for the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen leg of his 2004 retrospective. He continued:
Also always within the parenthesis . . . we can see that Tiravanija wants to direct our attention to the subtext, or subtitle, of how we can direct our thoughts and ideas towards the experience we are having with his works.6
Considering the print’s parenthetical subtitle, the map of the land of feeling, one wonders if, in this work, Tiravanija has not taken what for him is an uncharacteristically sentimental turn, as he looks back over 20 years. One is also reminded of Jasper Johns—in particular, of the title of Johns’s homage to Frank O’Hara, In Memory of My Feelings, and of his works titled “Souvenir,” which reproduce within their compositions a passportlike image of the artist. Even if inadvertent, the connection to Johns, whose prints are so much about the recycling of motifs and themes in his own art, and the consequent contextual alteration of meaning, is striking. Tiravanija’s own practice has involved restagings of his participatory exhibitions, sometimes more than once, and each time they are subtly altered in content and effect, depending on the particular place and circumstances.
In fact, the passport itself is an object that Tiravanija has returned to on several occasions, specifically as an index of his movement through the world. For a project and exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1998, Tiravanija published a three-volume catalogue in the form of a passport: Rirkrit Tiravanija: Untitled 1998 (On the Road With Jiew Jeaw Jieb Sri and Moo). It reproduced images connected to a cross-country road trip Tiravanija and a group of Thai art students made from Los Angeles to Philadelphia, visiting monuments and artworks along the way (Spiral Jetty, Rudolph Schindler buildings, etc.). Some of these images reappear superimposed on the passport pages in the Neiman print. In addition, for the past seven years, Tiravanija has engaged an artist in Thailand, Disorn Duangdao, to hand paint facsimiles of his passport. “He was very skilled, and he needed a job,” says Tiravanija, “so I had him copy my passport by hand. And then we put it back together as an artist’s book. He’s done three of them so far—and he’s working on another right now.”
Embedding his passport in the mass of cultural information that determines and overdetermines historical and artistic subjectivity, Tiravanija charges the impersonal, bureaucratic document with meaning. He charts a borderless place—perhaps the land of “feeling,” but surely that of the contemporary “global” artist constantly on the move. Tiravanija only remarks that he has a “terrible memory,” and that the print was made to help him remember. It is a typically understated observation—one that leaves the complexities of interpretation to the observer, an active participant in Tiravanija’s sociable enterprise.
Currently On View “Publisher’s Spotlight: The LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies at Columbia University,” at Pace Prints Chelsea, New York, through July 9.
1 “Rirkrit Tiravanija: A Retrospective (tomorrow is another fine day),” Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam (Dec. 4, 2004-Feb. 6, 2005), and Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (Feb. 10-Mar. 20, 2005). There was also audio with a text co-written by Tiravanija, Bruce Sterling and Philippe Parreno, which became a radio play, at the Serpentine leg in London (July 5-Aug. 21, 2005).
2 Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are taken from interviews conducted with the artist and Tomas Vu at the LeRoy Neiman Print Center, Columbia University, Mar. 7, 2011. (An artist in his own right, Vu is also showing prints in the Pace show.)
3 Because he has so many residency visas, Tiravanija must carry the whole passport bundle (including expired passports with current visas) with him during his travels, in order for customs officials in various countries to review its history. He regards it as a single passport, and I refer to it as such throughout this article.
4 For a wonderful little video documenting Rauschenberg talking about the print, go to sfmoma.org/multimedia/videos/23.
5 There is no information about whether the print will be editioned. According to an Apr. 15, 2011, email from the artist’s studio assistant Glorimarta Linares, it is being published by Hiromi Yoshii Edition, Tokyo, in collaboration with Tokyo Wonder Site and SIDE 2, and produced at a workshop in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan.
6 Rirkrit Tiravanija, “No Ghosts in the Wall,” Rirkrit Tiravanija: A Retrospective, Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, 2004, as reprinted in Claire Bishop, ed., Participation: Documents of Contemporary Art, London, Whitechapel, and Cambridge, MIT Press, 2006, p. 152.