Safety Curtain 2006/2007

Fear Eats the Soul

"I make no signs, create no picture, rather I'm effectively interested in attitudes, a shift in the way of thinking. I don't make anything where everybody can agree, no pronouncements: 'That's what it's all about in the end.' It's something much more volatile and elusive [.], another notion of culture," says Rirkrit Tiravanija.

The artist responsible for the Safety Curtain for the 2006/2007 State Opera season was born in Buenos Aires, grew up in Canada and Thailand and today lives in New York and Berlin. A commuter between metropolises and cultures. Not a painter, not a sculptor. A communication specialist, an interaction professional. When Rirkrit Tiravanija produces art, he offers the viewer the greatest thing to be had in this world: freedom. The freedom to decide. The artist provides structures and delivers the setting for everyday genre scenes but the work first comes into being through the action and participation of the audience.

"Das soziale Kapital" ("The Social Capital") was the name of a project for the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Zurich. There Tiravanija opened his Migros supermarket branch. You could go shopping, curry was cooked, music was made, cars repaired, beer and cola served. On the television was Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "Angst essen Seele auf" ("Fear Eats the Soul") (1974).

The film, which tells of social prejudices and dependencies, is the theme of the Safety Curtain. Rirkrit Tiravanija translates the story – the relationship between an ageing cleaning woman and a Moroccan Gastarbeiter (guest worker) – into a cool, abstract picture: the film title in Helvetica, the most neutral of all fonts, on the colourful television test card. The indignities and cruelties suffered by social outsiders packed into one sentence, the hope of a future without fear portrayed backstage of the non-representational. In addition the artist, a master of cultural sabotage, sends out a sound before the overtures that can be heard when the opera curtain rises.

Tiravanija undermines behaviour patterns: in the museum there is cooking, in the gallery people sleeping, in the opera: people watching television? The artist changes the viewing regime and dissolves familiar modes of The removal of the aura of the bourgeois consecration game has begun.

Tiravanija localises the myth of Fassbinder at an interface in an intermediate area in front of and on the stage, in the twilight of reality and illusion. But what happens behind the stage, behind the illusion? What is the meaning of the questions of exclusion and inclusion, who may play and who may not, questions which the theatre, which Fassbinder raises? What is reality all about? The cineasts among the opera audience will remember Fassbinder's model for "Angst essen Seele auf": Douglas Sirk's "All that Heaven Allows" (1955), a melodrama about the socially unacceptable love between a rich widow and a gardener: trivial subject matter in a refined, stylistically polished production – also an interface to opera.

Knowing his work, it can be assumed that with the Safety Curtain in Vienna, Rirkrit Tiravanija is completing a sculptural, artistic process without however giving it a concrete name. He uses language as a medium and leaves open the possibilities of interpretation. The freedom remains for opera goers to make themselves comfortable within the given framework or to set off into the atmospheres of concept art which Rirkrit Tiravanija has freed from the bonds of insider reference. His parallel worlds are accessible for everyone.