"THE HOUSE THE CAT BUILT". Rirkrit Tiravanija
Rirkrit Tiravanija
The house the cat built.
Instalation view.
The house the cat built.
Instalation view.
The house the cat built.
Jorge Pardo "Untitled" 2007
The house the cat built.
Shimabuku "Heart for Rirkrit" 2009


A project by Fundación ARQ ART and Galería Salvador Díaz.

Date: February - July 2009
Participating artists: Thomas Bayrle, Peter Kogler, Jakob Kolding, Gabriel Kuri, Pierre Huyghe, Liam Gillick, Jorge Pardo, Michael Patterson Carver, Tobias Rehberger, Martha Rosler, William Scott, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Shimabuku, Udomsak

Lecture series: How sustainable is sustainability?

Date: 13th, 14th, 15th February 2009
Moderator: Martí Perán
Speakers: Santiago Cirugeda, Colectivo Basurama, Colectivo Ecosistema Urbano, Floov, Nikolaus Hirsch, Andrés Jarque, Kawamura-Ganjavian de Studio Banana, Neil Logan, Makeatuvida, Ernesto Mercado, Tobias Rehberger, Alfred Vernis.

This project has been possible thanks to the support of:

"It is not what you see that is important but what takes place between people". Rirkrit Tiravanija

Rirkrit Tiravanija’s "The House the Cat Built", 2008-2009, is one of the artist’s richest and most personal works in terms of its autobiographical content, the conceptual foundations it brings to bear on the organisation of space, the fourteen world-renowned artists whose works it exhibits, and its tie-in with a programme of cultural activities that aspires to a critical reflection on contemporary western lifestyles.

"The House the Cat Built" opens with Tiravanija’s video piece "Untitled. Black Cats", 2008. This six-hour work, shot in real time, follows the movements of a cat that lives in the artist’s house in Thailand. For this cat, the passage of time is marked by natural events and its own biological rhythms, contrasting with the hectic pace of today’s western society, dictated by stress, targets and a gaze fixed on the unattainable future at the expense of the lived experience of the present. The lifestyle of the protagonist of this video illustrates the principles that Rirkrit Tiravanija champions in his artistic output, his educational labours and as a founder of the "The Land" Foundation in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The images of this cat in perfect tune with the rhythms of the day, nature and its physical needs is a metaphor for the Taoist principle of Wu Wei or "inaction" that has so influenced Tiravanija. Wu Wei is about letting things flow, not trying to impose a course on them by means of artifices that only disrupt their harmony. This Taoist tenet leads us away from our dependence on material things and towards the practice of meditation, intellectual activity and enjoyment.

The container of "The House the Cat Built" is a replica of Tiravanija’s home in Thailand built by the American architect Neil Logan. The artist’s brief was that the house should interfere as little as possible with its natural surroundings. The solution was to build it on a platform so as to preserve the ground vegetation of the site. Likewise, the trees growing on the plot were incorporated into the house’s interior. Letting a tree grow inside is not just about respecting the environment, it also ties in with Buddhist philosophy – the tree is an important element in Buddha’s life and one that is prevalent in his teachings. And it also meshes with Tiravanija’s ideas – shared with other artists taking part in the show – about breaking down the dichotomy between interior and exterior. In architectural terms, Tiravanija’s reference here is Rudolph Schindler (1887-1953), an Austrian-born architect who later lived and worked in the United States.

Tiravanija is among the maximum exponents of the "relational aesthetics" movement, born in the nineties and based on the exchange of ideas and actions among people of different communities and life paths. "It is not what you see that is important but what takes place between people". Tiravanija. The encounter, as such, is an essential building brick of creative development. Creative communication starts with the ability to listen, to share information and respect the diversity of people’s opinions. Art and culture are tools for communication and social creativity that have contributed to the advancement of society, and the home is a universal and fundamental locus of encounter and exchange. The house, as conceived by Martha Rosler and others, is a meeting place where the protagonists live out different types of experience under the one roof. "The House the Cat Built" contains spaces of encounter and exchange like the kitchen, a leitmotif of Tiravanija’s work since his beginnings in 1989, Shimabuku’s "Hearth for Rirkrit", 2009, or the three ambiences that connect the interior with the outside world. Everything in this building, including pieces like Pierre Huyghe’s "All But One", 2002, is an invitation to relax and dispose the mind to meditation. The rooms the visitor-inhabitant traverses are fluid spaces in which no barrier is insurmountable – doors are replaced by lattice structures that permit contact between spaces.

Rirkrit Tiravanija curated the selection of 14 artists taking part in the show: Thomas Bayrle, Peter Kogler, Jakob Kolding, Gabriel Kuri, Pierre Huyghe, Liam Gillick, Jorge Pardo, Michael Patterson Carver, Tobias Rehberger, Martha Rosler, William Scott, Shimabuku Rirkrit Tiravanija, Udomsak. Some of these authors belong to the same generation as Tiravanija himself, and some are bracketed with him in the "relational aesthetics" movement; the case of Huyghe, Liam Gillick, Jorge Pardo, Tobias Rehberger or Shimabuku. Others, like Bayrle, Kogler and Martha Rosler, form part of an earlier generation, while names like Jakob Kolding, Michael Patterson-Carver or William Scott are newer to the art circuit for reasons of age or personal circumstances. In his curating role, Tiravanija was guided by the works’ affinity with his own basic values.

Ann Lee is a character created by Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno after buying the copyright off a Japanese producer of manga animation. The two artists then gradually built her a new identity in what stands as an acute reflection against authorship, royalties and the mystique surrounding artistic creation. This idea of debunking the romantic notion of the author, of the unique work cast directly by the author’s hand, is one that is shared by most of the artists present, among them Bayrle, Kogler, Pierre Huyghe, Tobias Rehberger and Jorge Pardo. As Pardo says "I belong to a generation that doesn’t believe in the purity of anything, that a work of art is the product solely of the artist or that only the critics can have authentic insights into its meaning." Collaboration is part and parcel of the working methods of many of these artists. "For me, collaborations are not about playing with ideas, they are actually the starting point of my work" he adds. That is why artists like Gillick, Pardo, Rehberger, Shimabuku or Tiravanija himself want to devise spaces of encounter and interaction. They understand art as a means of reflection and exchange. The event unfolding in a public space is a large part of what art is about. Art is as game and the people are players, challenging the old distinctions and hierarchies through new forms of communication and producing a symbiosis between contemporary creation and everyday life.

The house is the ideal scenario for this proposition about the proximity of art and life. On the one hand it takes artworks out of the revered, feared and, at times, hated "white cube" of museums and galleries, and gives artists the chance to place their work before an eclectic public as regards age, background and provenance. Martha Rosler, for instance, has been working since the late 1960s to dynamite the relationship between art and the privileged classes, and to draw in a broader public than the museums can reach. Artists like Kogler or Jakob Kolding have sought to dismantle the traditional opposition between "high & low culture". Kogler uses wallpaper, a furnishing element, for his indictment of the distinction between highbrow and lowbrow, between the applied and plastic arts. Jakob Kolding’s work incorporates manifestations of urban culture like graffiti, hip hop, electronic music, skaters etc. He may appropriate the poster format or use collage as a medium for the confluence of disparate elements in a break with the traditional supports of academic art. Artists like Pardo or Rehberger regularly work with everyday objects, many of them of household origin. Rehberger analyses the "conflict" between functionality and aesthetics by reference to the daily objects with which we all feel so comfortable without ever considering their exact role and rationale. Martha Rosler again, in her "Iraq series", shows the interpenetration between the distant war zones and the domestic ambience, in order to emphasise that war – the maximum exponent of macropolitics – is perfectly interwoven with the micropolitics of the household space.

This mixed bag of elements of diverse origin is mirrored in Tiravanija’s choice of artists taking part in the show. Many of the 14 already enjoy international recognition while others proceed from more alternative circuits. This is the case of Michael Patterson Carver, recent recipient of the New Museum of New York’s Altoids 2008 award, but an artist who has lived and worked on the margins of the system, or William Scott, whose work has just recently entered the professional artistic circuit through the organisation Creative Growth (California, USA) supporting creative talents with physical or mental disabilities.

"The House the Cat Built" is supplemented by a programme of encounters and debates. One such activity was a discussion panel titled "How sustainable is Sustainability?", where participants could air new theoretical and practical proposals regarding the sustainable use of resources, equipment and design, and sustainable social mores. Sessions unfolded around an invitation to lunch, which was served to the public throughout the three days the debate lasted.

The topics broached during this relaxed exchange of views were:
   - sustainability applied to architecture and the design of household object
   - the "Do it yourself" movement as an alternative to industrial production and a way to recover waste materials.
   - artists working formally and conceptually in accordance with the principles of social and environmental sustainability.

This programme rounds off "The House the Cat Built", a work which poses searching artistic, philosophical, social and environmental questions and remains permanently open to new events and interventions.

"The House the Cat Built" is a key piece in Rirkrit Tiravanija’s artistic trajectory for its autobiographical content and its materialisation of what is, for Tiravanija, the ideal space in which to live, communicate and create. The 14 works contributed by international artists manage to simultaneously harmonise and feed off each other, configuring a space that aspires to be home and witness to countless other stories.

Pia Ogea

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