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Rirkrit Tiravanija: “The Way Things Go” @ YBCA

Arin Rungjang, Golden Teardrop, 2013, douglas fir and California redwood,  5,500 brass teardrops
Rirkrit Tiravanija is a hugely influential artist working in relational aesthetics, a field where meaning resides less in objects than in the constellations of relationships surrounding them.  As such, The Way Things Go: a Special Curatorial Project organized by Tiravanija can be opaque at times, but several well-conceived installations and films drive home what it means to live in an interconnected global community.
Far and away the best piece in the show is Golden Teardrop by Arin Rungjang.  This spherical arrangement of approximately 5,500 brass teardrops is suspended from ceiling-high beams made from reclaimed fir and redwood.  The teardrops are sensual, high-polish brass, and their installation, in a geometric maze of repeating forms, creates the illusion of complex patterns that shift as you view it from different angles.  
Directly opposite is a projected video detailing two interwoven stories centered around the Portuguese

Arin Rungjang, still from Golden Teardrop video, 2013, 32:07 min.

dessert, ovos moles.  One is the personal story of a Japanese woman traveling, finding love, and learning to make the dessert.  The other is a historical tale told in Thai, touching on colonialism, trade routes, and cultural exchange with the conclusion: “history is like the yolk that was thrown away, like the birth of ovos moles.”

Much of the work on view focuses on food and its global migration.  Lonnie Van Brummelen and Siebren De Haan’s Monument of Sugar consists of 304 industrial-sized blocks of sugar and a silent film detailing the complicated machinery, both literal and figurative, of the sugar trade.  The meaning of the piece lies in the sugar’s dual classification as both commodity and art: in order to ship sugar internationally you must comply with numerous tariffs, regulations or outright bans.  However, as material for an art piece or monument, the blocks are able to skirt and defy most of these restrictions.  The fact that the blocks themselves are subject to delay and excess scrutiny, and how that relates to the human side of production, underlies and complicates this otherwise stark installation.
Another of the standouts in this exhibition comes from The Bitter Melon Council, a promotional board for an under-appreciated vegetable.  It’s the creation of performance artists Jeremy Liu and Hiroko Kikuchi.  Appropriating the deadpan language of a corporate advertising, they create a campaign to promote the cultivation and enjoyment of the bitter melon known as goya.  The installation consists of glossy cardboard testimonials and recipes presented like entries in a trade show, but it goes well beyond the ostensible subject.  The text describes several San Francisco residents’ experiences with displacement and eviction, a scenario all too familiar in a city plagued by skyrocketing real estate prices.  Opposite the recipes is a “bitterness algorithm” drawn in chalk detailing the many avenues people take to becoming “bitter.”
Maria Thereza Alves, Wake in Guangzhou: The History of the Earth, 2008, paintings, photographs, marker
A few landmark older works make it into the mix.  The 1978 Luc Moullet documentary, Genesis of a Meal ,tracks the supply chain of three foods: tuna, bananas, and eggs to French supermarkets from Senegalese fishing boats and Ecuadorian plantations.  Everywhere along the chain he finds exploitation, racism, and consumer complicity.  At one point, he turns the camera on himself indicting the viewer and the filmmaker as contributors to the waste and destruction wrought by an “absurd” system that throws out “30 percent of all bananas” while non-white workers go hungry.  In many ways, Moullet was ahead of his time, as films and initiatives seeking to curb the denigration of the “Global South” have just recently gained traction.  Another classic film, Fischli and Weiss’ The Way Things Go (1987), from which the exhibition takes its title, is aseminal demonstration of cause and effect. Its focus is a warehouse-sized Rube Goldberg contraption that sets off a series of chain reactions (crashes, explosions, fires, collisions and falling objects) that, in the context of this exhibition, mirror the interlinked, but often opaque flow of capital, labor and raw materials around the globe. 
Peter Fischli & David Weiss, The Way Things Go, 1987,  film,  30 min.

Maria Thereza Alves’ For Wake in Guangzhou: The History of Earth, follows the global dissemination of seeds as a manically scrawled collection of arrows, Xeroxed images, diagrams, drawings and handwritten notes.  They wend along the walls of a curving corridor and implicate various world-historical figures (as well as animals) as seed carriers in a “conspiracy” spanning all of human civilization.  Other works that attempt this approach are near-misses: Shimabuku’s I’m Traveling with a 165-meter Mermaid manages to convey some of the significance of the artist’s journey with an evolving mermaid legend from 13th century Japan, but sinks under too much trivia.  Chihiro Minato’s The Museum of Gourd, has many compelling gourd-based pieces, but is similarly weighed down by dull trinkets.

Also on view are pieces by Michael Arcega, Camille Henrot, Pratchaya Phinthong, Thasnai Sethaseree, Superflex and The Propeller Group, with work ranging from pirate costumes and video to prints, ceramic artifacts, models, scrimshaw and Americana.
With The Way Things Go, Rirkrit Tiravanija has put together an assortment of artists whose works mesh well with themes of social exchange, post-colonialism and relational aesthetics.  Though the quality of that work varies, the highlights – especially Fischli and Weiss’ and Moullet’s films — make this a strong and diverse show you don't want to miss.
Rirkrit Tiravanija: “The Way Things Go: A Special Curatorial Project” @ Yerba Buena Center for the Arts through May 24, 2015.
About the Author:
Mikko Lautamo is an artist living and working in Sacramento. His work uses programming to create never-repeating loops of digital animations based on social systems, biological entities and interactions.  He teaches Electronic Art at Sac State and has exhibited work in Sacramento, Melbourne and online. His work can be viewed on Vimeo.  Prior to this, his most recent Squarecylinder review was of Richard T. Walker’s exhibition at di Rosa

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