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Artist Rirkrit Tiravanija on the honor of Mexican ceramic traditions and the intoxicating inspiration of psychoactive drinks

Renowned artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, whose work transcends classification but blends conceptualism with performance and relational aesthetics, has traveled to the Mexican state of Oaxaca several times over the past two years to observe the ancient techniques of master potters from various villages. . Tiravanija initially planned to create a “pottery cookbook” that would juxtapose reinvented examples of craftsmanship with traditional recipes, which would be recommended by chef Elena Reygadas of Mexico City’s Rosetta restaurant. But, as Tiravanija spent more time with the artisans and worked alongside them, the project evolved into “a larger, more ritualistic and ceremonial work,” he says.

The culmination of the project was premiered at Kurimanzutto in Mexico City earlier this year in the exhibition Mezcal versus Pulque (until July 16), which includes a wide range of vases that echo various traditional shapes and designs of Oaxaca pottery. The works were carried out in collaboration with Cooperative 1050ºa collective led by the artist Kythzia Barrer and made up of potters from Oaxaca, Puebla and Chiapas.

A wooden structure at the center of the exhibition was modeled on an abandoned stone house in Rio Blanco, Tonaltepec, and filled with several pieces of ceramic. Also featured in the exhibition are two large-scale paintings stained with black ash and clay emanating from a mezcal vase and a pulque vase. As with his fundamental works that use cooking and collection as a medium, such as for example Untitled (free / yet) (1992/1995/2007/2011 – ongoing), in which the artist and collaborators serve free food through a temporary kitchen, the opening of the exhibition involved a lively taste of traditional psychoactive drinks.

Installation view of Rirkrit Tiravanija: Mezcal against Pulque in Kurimanzutto, Mexico City, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Kurimanzutto. Photo: Gerardo Landa Romano.

“It’s all rooted in the idea of ​​being together and having an energy exchange,” says Tiravanija. “At first the potters I met were very cautious because there had been others before me who had taken these pieces and left them with practically nothing. I was a foreigner who had come to their mountain, but then we cooked and ate together ”.

He adds: “There were questions and doubts but, at the same time, everyone was quite open. It was a great experience to be with people I couldn’t even speak to, as I don’t speak Spanish well enough. We had to look each other in the eye and move our hands, but we still had a profound communication ”.

Mezcal and pulque were “the excuse for pottery,” says Tiravanija. “I started drinking pulque thanks to chef Reygadas and I was in love with him. In Oaxaca there are beautiful mezcal and pulque made by locals with very old and traditional techniques, and potters who make jars for these drinks ”.

Tiravanija says the project stems from his broader focus on the oriental traditions of the tea ceremony and the meticulous and austere process of creating the steeping vessels used in the ritual. “There are some similarities in the technique, but what I found is that Eastern traditions also involve many more tools, while with Oaxaca pottery there is no wheel,” he says. “Roll the ball over a small piece of scrap ceramic and then move your hand if it doesn’t spin smoothly.”

“The potters of Oaxaca are very careful about their lives and what they do,” adds Tiravanija. “This is not work, it is the whole meaning of their humanity and everything they have learned from the past; they hold more than 5,000 years of knowledge ”.

• Rirkrit Tiravanija: Mezcal against Pulque, until July 16 in Kurimanzutto, Mexico City

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