In Miami, Artists Rirkrit Tiravanija and Tomas Vu Will Teach You How to Surf

There's only a day left to participate.

Tomas Vu, center, with the author and a few surfers on the beach at the Untitled art fair.

One of the keys to surviving Art Basel week in Miami Beach is taking advantage of the Atlantic Ocean, and artists Rirkrit Tiravanija and Tomas Vu found the perfect way to bring the experience of art and surf together this year in a joint work titled DO WE DREAM UNDER THE SAME SKY. Billed as a “surf inspired participatory installation,” they’re offering custom-designed surfboards for UNTITLED visitors to get out into the water.

This reporter got a quick lesson on Thursday afternoon from the fair’s programming associate, the Hawaiian-born Kea Duarte. She graciously offered instructions while Vu watched from the sand. Tiravanija had bailed, pleading ill health.

It was just my second time even touching a surfboard, and while I didn’t exactly hang ten, I made a little progress.

My board was inspired by an image of a balaclava-clad member of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, while, on the underside, there appears the message “fear eats the soul,” from the 1974 Rainer Werner Fassbinder film of the same name (it is also a title of Tiravanija’s 2011 exhibition at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise). The film deals with xenophobia, making it a perfect statement for the waves of far right-wing sentiments that have swept ashore this year, from the May elections in the Philippines to post-election America.

Also on offer are T shirts for $20, printed by Columbia University students (both artists teach there), silkscreened with images of icons like Ana Mendieta, Joseph Beuys, and David Bowie. They are printed with slogans from various writers, like “up against the wall motherfuckers” (Amiri Baraka) and “the days of this society is numbered” (Guy Debord).

Rirkrit Tiravanija and Tomas Vu
Model for RT TV Boards at UNTITLED, Miami Beach (2016). Courtesy of the artists and Nathalie Karg Gallery.

Rirkrit Tiravanija and Tomas Vu
Model for RT TV Boards at UNTITLED, Miami Beach (2016). Courtesy of the artists and Nathalie Karg Gallery.

The tide was low on Thursday, offering an easy environment for a beginner. Duarte patiently offered lessons on how to center myself on the board, tighten my core muscles to raise my chest, and paddle out to sea. It isn’t easy to keep your balance, though Duarte and a fellow surfer, a hunky guy named Andrea with a bit more experience than I have, made it look easy.

But once or twice, I managed to get a push from a tiny wave and stay on top of the board as I surged forward, and I felt the magic.

Back on dry land, I chatted with Vu about the project. The genesis for it is partly political, but he also emphasized the environmental urgency to it. We need a connection to nature in this moment more than ever, he said.

In the past few years, the artist has shaped dozens of so-called alaia boards, which lack fins and so present a high degree of difficulty. They’re inscribed with Beatles lyrics, an autobiographical touch drawing on Vu’s experience as a child in Vietnam in the ’60s and early ’70s during the war, where a GI introduced him to the band when he was helping to find boards for the soldiers.

Your humble reporter on the beach. Courtesy of the artists.

Your humble reporter on the beach. Courtesy of the artists.

Decades later, the country’s rightward swing, said Vu, says something sad and scary about the US.

“How do we find common ground again?” he said. “Can art do that? I’m hoping. I’m praying. Maybe you and someone who is politically on the right could sit out there and have the same experience and have a conversation.”

But even Vu voiced some doubts about the project’s efficacy.

“Is that too romantic?”

In the past two days, not too many fair-goers had taken advantage of the project, Vu said, despite the fair temperature in Miami right now. Maybe they don’t want to embarrass themselves trying something new, surrounded by onlookers.

However, he praised this reporter for lack of inhibition: “Obviously you don’t give a shit!”

DO WE DREAM UNDER THE SAME SKY runs from 2:00-4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 30, through Saturday, December 3, at Untitled, Ocean Drive and 12th Street, Miami Beach. 

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