Cities on the Move I

Tuk Tuk. Conversation with Navin Rawanchaikul and Rirkrit Tiravanija

Hans-Ulrich Obrist: Let's begin with the beginning. Because the first time I heard about it was when I got this very puzzling and personal – impersonal postcard signed by someone I did not know which arrived towards the end of last year or the beginning of this year. How did it all start? I then would like to know about the Vienna project, about the history of how the collaboration started, how the two of you met. Both of you have been working in sort of different collaborations with different artists.

Rirkrit Tiravanija: Navin and I met when he called me in New York and he was on his way to go to Atlanta to scout out an exhibition for the Olympic Games and at that point he'd already developed his with a taxi gallery and he was planning to invite me to make an exhibition in the taxi and he came over to New York and we had discussions and I said: "Fine I'll do it." Then I went to Bangkok at the end of September last year when the taxi project happened. Navin was also working on a project in the provincial town of Chiang May where he was going to make a kind of demonstration with a parade of Tuk Tuks from a local company which drives from the front of the train station toward the city. There were about 20 Tuk Tuks in this company and Navin invited me to join him thinking about the possibilities of putting something into the Tuk Tuk.

HUO: Was this part of the social sculpture project?

RT: Yes, it was part of the social sculpture project which was just called Chiang May social installation. "A week of cooperate suffering." Which is basically a kind of one week performance.

HUO: Could you tell me about the taxi gallery, how it started, because Rirkrit's show was not the first show in the taxi.

Navin Rawanchaikul: The first was my own show because I just started to think how art relates to everyday life, especially in Bangkok with its traffic and I also thought about putting art in public space and how people would come to see the projects. This is not a show but it is in peoples' everyday life. Some 100 people who do not know open the door and suddenly they are confronted with an art project. Also I tried to make an interaction between passengers and driver. I started with my own project and after that I tried to make a real gallery. The second project was by a Japanese artist and for the third one I invited Rirkrit. We have annual shows and some smaller projects.

HUO: Is this linked to the traffic jam? I heard in Bangkok there are car offices now with e-mail and fax and stuff because people spend some five to six hours per day in traffic jam.

NR: I started for fun because it was so boring to show in galleries because people do not ask anything. Also when I had to go to a building and had to spend two hours in the jam just to adjust my things carefully. Though I thought it would be interesting to put it just in between – between people and traffic. Also in Bangkok everybody knows the traffic. Of course we have only one taxi.

HUO: Was this your first trip to Bangkok?

RT: No, not at all. Actually I have been going back to Bangkok in the last 6 years.

HUO: Was that your first show there?

RT: It is the first show. It is definitely it was the first contact.

NR: For Thai people we know him quite well from magazines but for a show it was the first time.

Hou Hanru: How do you expect people will react to your work here since the context is so different?

RT: I think the context is quite different but I somehow think that – I mean I just talk from the experience of the Tuk Tuk having driven in the street – which is a different experience from seeing it in space. Seeing it in passing is a certain kind of disruption or fascination that occurs at this moment when this image just kind of moves by you and particularly with some kind of people sitting in the back. And of course if people are moving along with you they try to pull up next to you and start to engage and find out. Actually it is also interesting that people know what it is. We went to the garage to get some air and the man immediately said to me, "That's a Tuk Tuk." So I think – of course this is like a shift between images perhaps having travelled to this other part seeing it, picking it up and then suddenly it shows up here. That is kind of another level of perception. And I think that is more interesting and then of course when we park it or when we put it in a position where we kind of attract people to it then even kind of getting them into it and bringing them to the space here. I think there is a whole other level of engagement and that can help. The videos that are on the Tuk Tuk or the little postcards inside. I also find that the driver is also a key element in the structure.

HUO: I just got the news that Niki Lauda will drive the Tuk Tuk next week. Navin e-mailed me when he heard that Lauda Air is going to transport the Tuk Tuk that he would like Lauda to drive the Tuk Tuk. It is actually a pretty fast vehicle.

RT: Yes, it is fast and you can turn over.

HH: A link to another question is the road movie which is also part of the Tuk Tuk game. Is that a gesture that you want to make specifically to look for a certain kind of relationship for the Asian in Vienna?

RT: For me this road movie is really a recording of time and space and my relationship to that kind of recording is really kind of to make a representation – a memory which is recorded. It is taped. That is also kind of shifting in terms of how it is moving along. I like the that it is kind of a third window out of this already open space. You have kind of another layer of architecture which is going on when you watch this kind of road movie.

HUO: At the same time both of you talked about this of the movie. A very specific story about a guy who would drive from Chiang May to Bangkok to Vienna.

NR: We just wanted to combine the moving between one space and another and connect it together. The Tuk Tuk is from Thailand. When we started the movie painting project we also thought to compose a story related to Vienna. We composed a story between people from here, the art world and people in Thailand. A Thai guy comes to Vienna to drive and to meet people. So the story is like a connection between two spaces.

RT: The Tuk Tuk driver actually drives from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and then from Bangkok to Vienna. It is a love story. He engages in a kind of relationship with a woman from Vienna.

NR: First he has girl in Thailand, as well.

RT: But that is kind of a very based relationship, falling in love and then you struggle. I think the narrative of this kind of fictional film was a way of contextualising why the Tuk Tuk travels to Vienna and why there was a certain kind of connection to its presence.

HH: For the next step of "Cities on the Move" since the show is touring. Are you going to make new projects? A new chapter of the movie?

RT: Yes, I think that is definitely going to happen. It is kind of a simple narrative with a basic story and of course he is kind of searching. He encounters the other in different space. It is kind of reversal. He comes this way instead of the other way around. Once he arrives he wants to see. Where does he go in order to find his way back. That would be kind of the situation.

HUO: Are centres multiplied?

RT: I think it is more about a multiplication of the periphery. Because then you realise that your centre is actually on the outside. That is what I think.

HUO: The next question would be about the inside outside thing, the way you use the museum specificly here in Vienna. The Tuk Tuk here is almost like a ready-made. It is kind of an altered readymade. You have added monitors, postcards and different things and logos. At the same time it exists in real life, it exists on the streets in Vienna. There is a second Tuk Tuk driving around in Vienna and you have the museum in progress billboard which is in dozens of locations all over in Vienna. If you could talk a little bit about this relationship of the outer institutional space, the boundary break in the sixties or seventies where there was the of leaving the institution. Here it is maybe more using the institution as one part of the project. When you exhibit in a museum you always also do things outside.

RT: In a funny way it goes back to an of centre and periphery because then we think of the institution Secession as the centre – in terms of the location where the is happening and how do we kind of find ourselves engaged to the outside. I think we really planned to do both in a kind of strange way both. We used the institution as a sight in a funny way instead of trying to take things out we take people in. We go out to the city and then trying to engage people and bring them back to the structure here. I think that we have to kind of locate ourselves without any kind of site.

HUO: So is it oscillation?

RT: Yes.

NR: I think we also like to use the site like a road movie between our piece and the city. That is why we are linking between the institution and the road. We are driving during the day and people see it. When I work in the museum I always think how we can connect between people coming to the institution and people in their everyday lives – ordinary people. The question in my work was always how can art relate to everyday life. Like the taxi project or the Tuk Tuk in Vienna. Some would call it exotic. It is always different things, always coming to connect.

HUO: How far do you see a blurring between art and life? Alan Karpow talked about the "blurring of art and life". Do you see a difference of this practice of the Nineties after the generation of Fluxus and so on?

RT: I would say that we are "in the blurr". It is moving. You can't see it. I mean you can't do it. You don't know how to define it. You are inbetween both things. What do you actually see?

NR: The move.

HH: How can you see to what extent the Tuk Tuk can represent a certain kind of Asian image?

RT: I think of it as a mutation. There are certain kinds of colours and sounds and smells that are different. But I think it is a kind of mutation that actually works better within the context where it is working. In a certain funny way when it moves back – it is not something that doesn't exist here – it is just mutated. When it moves back here it actually fails.

HUO: When it moves back to where?

RT: Back to here. To where the form originally came from. It actually fails because it is maybe too efficient in being inefficient which is about a certain kind of economy. I would say that the kind of flux or the kind of shift that happens with this form can only happen in places which are constantly in the blurr. It is not located in the object. Therefore it doesn't actually have to work so well because you know that there is gonna be another one coming.

HUO: To what extent does this change the object. How do you see the relation between the process and the object? What status has the object for you?

RT: I am never engaged in the object. That is why the videos are kind of the link to the blurr.

HH: Let's take an example. You could bring a Toyota car as an image of Asia and at the same time you could have a Tuk Tuk and you make a decision to use the Tuk Tuk instead of the Toyota.

RT: I would say it is because it is an inefficient machine. But I was trying to say that it is a machine which is inefficient. My interest at one point was that it actually failed the safety test and would not be able to run.

HOU: And it almost happened.

RT: Yeah, and one of them definitely will not be able to pass the test. That is interesting. You can go just as well go and get these horse carriages bring them over here and have them drag those Tuk Tuks. That would kind of mutate it again in relationship of the context. I am kind of interested in that but it actually manages to barely pass. We don't know how much longer it's gonna run.

NR: Yes, it gets problems every day.

HUO: It is very interesting what Hanru is explaining why a Tuk Tuk and not a Toyota is very interesting.

RT: But between all that relationship the Toyota is based on a Model T Ford. It is not coming from. Maybe the axe, maybe the trim, maybe the steering wheel. Some kind of image, some kind of ambience even. But still it comes from the model T: It still comes with the four wheels. It still has an engine in the front. It actually has a certain kind of being Asian, being Japanese because it has mutated itself from the original and returned as something more efficient.

HUO: And it is very popular. You told me that Tuk Tuks are now getting very popular in China and in Colombo.

NR: The Tuk Tuk is very interesting. I went to many garages to find one. Everywhere they make different ones, quite the same. They look the same but they are different. They just buy an old machine, the engine and then they create their own body: for garbage or even for fire. In Bangkok there are a lot of small streets. They try to use these cars because they go around very well.

RT: An aspect that I find interesting about the structure of the Tuk Tuk is that it has kind of a central steering. You can drive it on the right or the left side of the road without any kind of consideration. There is a kind of division between the sensibility of driving on the left hand side or the right hand side. We were having this discussion last night about how the Russians were buying old cars over from Japan crossing the water. Everyone was driving on the wrong side of the road with their steering wheel because the rest of the country has to drive, you know. This kind of difference of sides of the road is kind of something interesting which somehow the Tuk Tuk manages making it more efficient. We had to bring one of these left-hand drive cars down here and then drive it on the right.

HUO: We could cite Chitti Kasemkitvatana who said this great thing related to what Rirkrit said about the context of the Tuk Tuk. He said in Bangkok the Tuk Tuk driver faces the pollution, in Vienna the cold weather.

NR: In the Tuk Tuk everything is in the open air.

(November 1997)