Rirkrit Tiravanija “We don’t recognise what we don’t see” at STPI, Singapore

Titled “We don’t recognise what we don’t see,” the show is a visceral experience provocatively designed to engage the mind and senses, conceived from works created during Tiravanija’s third residency with STPI (over a period from 2019 to 2023).

As the starting point of Tiravanija’s Extinction series, he appropriates paintings by the Old Masters to comment on how the Enlightenment exacerbated the nature-culture divide, with a thirst for science and knowledge reducing the agency and regard for non-human lifeforms in the natural ecology. He disrupts the narrative of these artworks by removing all traces of living creatures and screenprinted extinct or quasi-extinct animals with solar dust ink in their stead, visible only when ultraviolet light is shined on the artwork’s surface. In doing so, Tiravanija spotlights the disappearance of these animals, and how such historical reverberations and ways of seeing may have contributed to our “blindness” and disregard towards the extinction crisis.

In Tombstones, 20 tombstones for 20 extinct animals are engraved aluminum plates and arranged in a graveyard, monuments to what once lived but has ceased to exist. In the words if curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, the graveyard is also an “anti-extinction” work, as it encourages the audience to create a frottage with the “tombstones” as the base. As the audience repeatedly imprints an image of the animals, they assume a vital role in the existence and circulation of the artworks. Through this, Tiravanija memorialises and conjures up the past lives of these animals, their disappearance in contemporary times, and speculates on what else may disappear down the road, with the (ghostly) appearance of these animals as harbingers of a dystopian future.

The exhibition’s titular work “We don’t recognise what we don’t see” commemorates the relationship between the orangutan mother and child—a bond that is widely associated with the orangutan. Instead of representing them alive, Tiravanija used skulls for the mother and child instead, playing with the motif of memento mori. This sobering reminder of mortality is only visible via ultraviolet light, as he thoughtfully invites the audience to acknowledge the silent and invisible threat of extinction plaguing living creatures all around the world, as well as to reckon with humankind’s own possible extinction.

Born from a meditation on the value and treatment of other lifeforms, Tiravanija concluded that humankind’s inconsequential regard for animals and our natural world stem from mankind’s hubris, blinding us to the devastating consequences of the cumulative destruction around us.

The enduring collaboration with the STPI Creative Workshop team is evident in his ceaseless exploration of materials and techniques throughout his residencies, buoyed by the first in 2013, and the second in 2015 with Anri Sala, Tobias Rehberger, and Carsten Höller. From 3D printing to the use of thermochromic ink (a heat-sensitive ink), the artist displays a keen awareness and playful sensitivity in creating a conceptually and technically cohesive body of work.

curated by
Hans Ulrich Obrist

at STPI, Singapore
until June 4, 2023

Leave a Reply