The palm trees are laid out everywhere, in rows and clumps, in corners, and all over the structure that from a distance -- with its metal surfaces and elevated floor -- evokes the broken tropical landscapes of war and dislocation. Buenos Aires-born New York-based Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija landed in Mexico City last week to present this his "Palm Pavilion" installation at the Kurimanzutto temporary gallery space in the Condesa on Thursday night. The piece, less interactive than Tiravanija's works tend to be, is a weirdly seductive temple to what (when you think about it) really is one of the most enduring symbols in the history of man, from Biblical times to the Orientalized travel catalogs of today.
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"It's the pavilion for the palm plant, and in a way, a look at the palm plant as a kind of witness to the going-ons in civilization," Tiravanija said on Thursday. "It's interesting that of course the palm is everywhere else but in the West. It's in the 'Other' zones."
The palms, fresh from a Mexico City hardware store, brushed against the bodies of spectators at the opening, who glanced at one another flirtatiously between the fronds while sipping the waters of fresh young coconuts. The plants beckoned from nooks inside the elevated pavilion. There, screens play a video focused on the tree and display cases feature found items such as postcards and soft drink bottles, reminding the viewer of the infinitely layered ways in which this symbol of peace, godliness, and tranquility has been commodified by every new wave of colonialism and globalization.
"Palm Pavilion" debuted at the Sao Paolo Bienal in 2006. At the opening here in D.F. Mexican novelist Pablo Soler Frost read an excerpt from "The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll," the Alvaro Mutis novel whose seafaring protagonist travels the world -- a world of palms, you might say -- in perpetual pursuit of hopeless new adventures. The cover of the novel's New York Review Books translation to English bears an alluring photograph of two lonely shoreline palms plucked from somewhere deep in a tropical imagination. A copy of the book sits in one of Tiravanija's display cases, an emblem every bit as noir as an L.A. sidewalk for a world where palms witness wars, social upheavals, marriages, the births of gods, and sexy art openings.
* Photo above by William Dunleavy.