Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Green. . .

Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue said Barnett Newman in 1966. In 2010, Rirkrit Tiravanija comes along and asks us, right, smack in the middle of Bkk at 100 Tonson Gallery which a couple of months ago witnessed just a few metres down, riots and protests, Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Green?
We know with Barnett Newman that he was referring to the primary colours and challenges one to engage, to enter into his painting, a return to pure colour, flat plane. To Newman art is an adventure to an unknown world, it is his function as an artist to make the spectator see the world his way, and favours simple expression of complex thought and lastly there is no such thing as a good painting about nothing . . .(1943)

Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue? - Barnett Newman 1966

In P'Rirkrit's piece there is no blue, but, green which is certainly not a primary colour and comes from mixing blue and yellow . . .where did blue go? . .does the reference to Newman's revolutionary piece (he is considered the godfather of minimalism and to him I pay my dues and respect, from the Broken Obelisk to that steamy simple orange White and Hot) suggest it's existence albeit in the background? Questions and pondering aside once at the vernissage, one can absolutely not disregard the fact that Rirkrit's first solo show in Thailand not at his own space Verr but at 100 Tonson was like a hero's welcoming home party. . .or that is exactly what the jubilant and curious atmosphere at the vernissage would suggest.

Tonson Gallery was turned into a mural and a street canteen all at once, chaotic almost. I had seen the Green Curry piece at Zwirner gallery in NY a few years back, albeit I was not around at the opening but this was something extremely different, this is Bkk, Thailand, not Chelsea, NY.

I entered the space to a mob of people, not mob like in April but a mob of art fans, students, friends and supporters of P'Rirkrit's and contemporary art in Thailand. Even if what was in the gallery might have confounded them, they stayed and soaked it in.

So there I was standing in a mob of people with a backdrop of illustrated revolution, demonstration and state-endorsed brutality and what we as a nation have gone through in recent years. . .queuing for a bowl of red, yellow or green curry on rice. A soup-line, exactly like that on Rajdamri when the Red shirts were around, but this time it is P'Rirkrit's recipe and it is his work and his peoples serving up the food, in a gallery where the revolution illustrated, pain and emotions captured in pencil on a white-washed walls.
The context is different and too much has happened for us to ignore its ramifaications on society and norms which we accept and too often do not question, perhaps what P'Rirkrit has tried to say for a long time now speaks more to us than it ever did before, we might just be more receptive now than ever. It felt completely comfortable even if the backdrop to the installation shows us police brutality and the fact that Thailand is not a "peaceful" country where everyone gets along and speaks the same language as propoganda would make us believe, we are different. Clearly we do not speak the same language and have different needs. This is evident as much in the natural world as it is a nation state, if it were all to be the same, then all roses would be red and that would be very sad for yellow, white and pink roses.

The thing with colour is that they are all distinct yet they can mix together and form something new.

Red means stop, Yellow means get ready, Green means go . . .those are traffic lights . . .it is the law, these norms tell us what to do. What happens then when Red and Yellow decide to fight . . .where's Green? In England the Green party are kind of the liberal hippies always side lined. In this case, where is the Green in the space except for the colour of the curry, we haven't heard of green shirts after all (and where is orange?).

I tried all three colours and thus assured myself that I was not scared of neither red, yellow nor green, though yellow was particularly spicy but clear . . .green was probably the tastiest and red looked good but was a bit bland. Not sure if we were supposed to comment on taste, I just know though that an artist-cooked meal is as good as any.
I have collected bits of P'Rirkrit souvenirs here and there for years, be it jello box from Miami Basel, to a freedom of expression pamplet at the Guggenheim and most recently the Commoner's Manifesto printed in red at the BACC so it was neat to meet the artist in person. He is very nice and extremely funny with sparkling eyes. He told me that the mural will grow, there will be more, at the moment there are cops, monuments, mobs and torutre and the Democracy Monumet. ..I wonder what will be on the wall on the 28th when he has his workshop. I would also love an explanation - all this must represent complex thought after all.

If art is a language then so is food, if art does not speak to you then well, food speaks to our tummies when we are hungry, it engages. . . P'Rirkrit opens up the door and starts the conversation . . . and as we go into the world he creates of mobs, colours, curries, aromas, revolution and freedom, at least for me anyway, it made me question, really what does it all mean and why are we afraid? Differences exist anyway, they always have, to not accept = use of force to suppress some sort of freedom, inequalities, institutional corruption and brutality. It is a bit ironic really with the state of the world and its woes and we queue for curry.

The drawings on the wall engages us as it captures something which is very much, to a Thai person in a our very recent memory, it triggers emotion, whereas before it was our parents and Oct 14th but this time it is May 10th - it forces us to look, watch think and not be afraid, to finally question and engage rather than think it is not our business.

My interpretation from a few bowls of curry, red, yellow and green - rather intriguing, confusing and fun, I think next I would like to try P'Rirkrit's turkish coffee from his cook book . . What is so ordinary through the eyes and the work of Rirkrit Tiravanija becomes utterly extraordinary.

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