Montien Boonma and Rirkrit Tiravanija


untitled 2000 (let it go)

When it became apparent that Montien Boonma, who was born in Bangkok in 1953, would not be able to make the journey to Salvador, Brazil, because he was ill with cancer, from which he died in 2000, France Morin tried to figure out how she could ensure his continued involvement in The Quiet in the Land. Upon returning unexpectedly to New York in May 1999 for the funeral of her friends Penny and David McCall, who had died in a tragic car accident in Albania on a relief mission, she ran into Rirkrit Tiravanija. Born in Buenos Aires, in 1961, and now living in New York, Tiravanija was a friend of Boonma's who had studied with him in Thailand. Morin asked Tiravanija, who is perhaps best known for integrating the activities of cooking and eating into his work, if he would be interested in coming to Salvador to prepare a series of meals with the children of Projeto Axé. He said yes, arrived in Salvador on September 1, and dedicated his project to Boonma.

Of his work, Tiravanija has stated: "I grew up around the kitchen of my grandmother, who was a well known teacher of both Thai and Continental cuisine; besides teaching, she had her own restaurant and her own television show. This became a significant factor in my development as an artist. I learned the arts of sharing and giving. This sharing and giving came in the form my grandmother knew best: the preparation of food and the sharing of meals. In my work of the last ten years, I have become known as the 'cook' of the art world. I have, more or less, used the kitchen and cooking as the base from which to conduct an assault on the cultural aesthetics of Western attitudes toward life and living. I have found food to be a common medium for creating conditions and experiences for communicating that does not always entail language, but has a spiritual dimension. In the communal act of cooking and eating together, I hope that it is possible to cross physical and imaginary boundaries."

For his project, Tiravanija organized a meal at each of the three units with which the group of artists with whom he was overlapping were working: Opaxé (Vik Muniz), Modaxé (Rivane Neuenschwander), and Casa de Cultura (Marepe). He regarded his project as a supplement to each of these artists' projects, as well as to Axé's own commitment to providing three nutritionally balanced meals a day to the one thousand children it serves to help ensure that they thrive physically. However, the primary function of Tiravanija's project was not to provide the children with nutritious food, but to give them, and to receive from them, spiritual sustenance: "The energy of the children, both young and old, is both paralyzing and inspiring, and I have tried to come close to how Projeto Axé thinks and shares. I hoped to be able to reciprocate in the works, or rather nonworks, I produced. I hoped that these works would embody a spirit that would carry us to another place and show us another reason for being. The rituals of cooking and eating are as much a part of the cultural identity of the community as music or the movement of Capoeira. How is it possible to spend the time of preparing and sharing a meal in a productive way, rather than just for subsistence?"

The first meal took place at Opaxé on September 7, the last day of Muniz's stay and a celebration of the whole unit. Tiravanija prepared a Thai meal with the children, involving their participation by asking them to cut vegetables, pluck mint and basil leaves, and do other preparatory work. While they were preparing the meal, he talked with them about their ideas of giving: to whom would they give if they could, and what would they give? Stressing the meal's communal aspect, over dinner he talked about the ingredients used in the meal and about the similarities and differences between Thai and Bahian food. He prepared similar meals with the children of Modaxé and Casa de Cultura.