Art Basel 2015

Curry on the Messeplatz: Rirkrit Tiravanija on his Much-Hyped Installation in Basel

Rirkrit Tiravanija sampling his wares at his Art Basel installation.

Rirkrit Tiravanija, right, sampling his wares at his Art Basel installation.

A new project by Rirkrit Tiravanija, “Do We Dream Under the Same Sky,” is set to be one of the most visible and talked-about works at Art Basel, simply because it’s right there: spread out across the messeplatz, directly adjacent to the fair’s entrance, so big you’d think it’d be visible from space. Along with a few collaborators—the architect Nikolas Hirsch, the scholar Michel Müller, the restauranteur Antto Melasniemi—Tiravanija has created a gigantic hut out of bamboo, underneath which is a series of gardens, platforms for the preparation of food, and tables for quick meetings. Fairgoers are welcome to drink tea made from herbs in the garden, or have a snack made on site, or perhaps to just take a breather.

(This is another reason for the work’s inevitable popularity: the press release notes that “the installation invites the audience to enter a sphere of recovery,” and by Tuesday afternoon, many will need recovery indeed.)

The work was officially unveiled Sunday evening after a weeks-long construction process, when the director of Art Basel led early Basel arrivals in a toast to the artist, who was there in his red sunglasses, and very much in demand. Tiravanija was holding a glass of mysterious green liquid.

“What’s the drink?” I asked.

“It’s non-alcoholic coconut milk,” he said. “I’m on a fast today, so I’m drinking green juice.”

“We should all be on a fast today, probably,” I said, taking a sip of champagne.

The work came about when the artist Pierre Huyghe donated some acres to The Land Foundation, the art space 20 minutes outside Chiang Mai, Thailand that Tiravanija established in the late nineties. Having acquired this extra annex, the artist saw an opportunity to begin the building process in Basel, and then bring everything that’s made and accomplished here on the messeplatz back to his foundation in Thailand.

“We’ve always worked on parallel structures, finding alternative ways of realizing things that we otherwise couldn’t because we didn’t have the resources,” Tiravanija told me underneath his installation, as chefs began to prepare the ingredients for the project’s inaugural meal. “So when Art Basel asked me to propose a project for this situation, it took me a while. Then we started a discussion about building a structure.”

And while it’s great to have some nourishment amid the madness, right here in the middle of all the action, the most important thing here is the connection Tiravanija has threaded between the monied confines of Basel, Switzerland and the bare plains of Chiang Mai, Thailand.

“It’s not so much that we tried to emulate The Land itself,” he said, referring to his foundation, “but make another model using what was available and then bring it back to The Land. Everything that’s made here, built here and used here will be sent back to The Land to be realized to its full potential. It’s kind of like a symbiotic growth.”

And then the aroma of Thai chilies and fish broth began to waft through the crowd. The food was ready. And, having tried it, I can say this: brave the lines and try Rirkrit’s curry. If you’re lucky, maybe he’ll ladle it into your bowl himself.

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