(relational aesthetics )
Lucy and Jorge Orta
( phenomenology )
Zahra al Ghamdi
Fig 1 Rirkrit Tiravanija’s ‘Untitled (Free)’ exhibition recreated at MoMA in 2012 (photograph from MoMA)
Fig 2 Side of the participant interaction in my artwork experment through they try to create the Arabic coffee
In Untitled (Free) (1992) and a series of similar works,(Fig 1) Rirkrit Tiravanija initiated ways of cooking for audiences by using cultural food to create social spaces to enable the public to be part of an art-making process which focused on relational aesthetics. Nicolas Bourriaud said that Tiravanija is the true representative of relational art (Dačić, 2015). One critic described Tiravanija’s work as a “makeshift refugee kitchen” (Bishop, 2004), a comment which confirmed that this work took place in a social space. Tiravanija himself said that the work was based on the idea of food in an anthropological and archaeological way; the experiment did not focus on the artwork but on people and their interactions (MoMA, 2011). This is one type of data collection method which practising scholars commonly use in qualitative research and ethnography, including cultural anthropology, with the intention of gaining knowledge of a group of people through their participation in a cultural environment. “The aim is to provide ‘interactive, user-friendly and relational concepts’, rather than the actual works of art that we are used to seeing, visual representations of objects and ideas” (Dačić, 2015).
The intersection between my work and Tiravanija’s work is that I am building a social space inspired by the traditional practices of Saudi hospitality with the intention of gaining knowledge and enjoying taking artistic practices as a theoretical and practical starting point for exploring the entirety of human relationships and their social context, rather than an independent and private space.
I always invite the audience to come and engage in this practice by excluding my direct participation at the beginning so that the audience is not influenced by what they might be expected to do; it “ushers in a shift in attitude toward art for social change: instead of trying to change their environment, artists today are simply learning to inhabit the world in a better way” (Bishop, 2004). So I greet them and invite them to start interacting and exploring the items which are in the workspace which will help them to understand what they are doing to be the beginning of their own interaction, and I also ask them to make Arabic coffee in their own way(Fig 2). This means creating a new context for my cultural practices in these social spaces through the interaction of participants who do not have a shared culture, whilst Tiravanija always starts to interact with his work by making a directive for the audience to motivate them to interact with the work. In both cases, community participation is called for through contemporary artwork.
Lee's Mingwei’s in The Dininng works(Fig 3), creates participatory facilities for open scenarios which enable outsiders to interact, which creates continuous change during and after the experience, Mingwei said “I arranged to have a private dinner with a stranger on scheduled nights during the exhibition period. I carefully prepared a meal according to the dietary preference of my dinner guest, using food as a catalyst and medium for trust and intimacy” (Perrotin, 2017).
The expression of sharing, giving and spending time together is crucial in Lee’s work as his practice often considers the role of the host. Lee is originally from Taiwan, where social engagement plays an important role in the culture (Tomkova, 2020).
In my work Aljawd Min Almawjud, I prepared a hospitality space with the date and Arabic coffee as ingredients to be used as a catalyst for bringing together personal stories in a practice which supports unity and diversity. The participants share the food and make coffee in their own particular way; it is the focal point in my artwork to give the participants this freedom of direction, allowing them to create a new scenario for this culture. Also, my practice often considers the role of the host because hospitality has always been part of the inspired behaviour of Saudi society and reflects generosity, sharing, welcoming and creating social relationships which are invented by the guests themselves in this contemporary artwork.
In addition, Lee uses documentation through video and photographs (Fig4), to capture these experiences and present them at the end of the presentation as an installation work, as he did in the Dining Project in 1997, which will also be my way to show this experience in the South London Gallery because I believe that the re-experience in the exhibition is no less important than to show the real experience which happened before, and this is the real meaning of this artwork practice.
Fig 3 LEE MINGWEI THE DINING PROJECT through lived the practice, 1997
Fig 4 LEE MINGWEI THE DINING PROJECT,1997 Mixed media interactive installation, Wooden platform, tatami mats, beans, rice, video. Courtesy Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan
Lucy and Jorge Orta
In their Meal Act series, Lucy and Jorge Orta(Fig 5), linked food sustainability with participatory gatherings in outside spaces with a considerable number of people sitting at large tables which could accommodate a large number of guests. I think that clearly displays the artists’ aim in this experience by creating a social space and stimulating communication. Orta said, “I am very interested to see the conversations that arise from this project” (Muralarts, 2015), which is similar to my work which focuses on creating social areas in small spaces for between two and eight people who have a role in making this work happen and creating their own scenario by making the Arabic coffee.
One of Orta’s goals was to initiate conversation on vital issues and another was to catalyse learning and spread awareness (Muralarts, 2015); the goal in my work (Fig 6), is not just about eating the food but also about stimulating a deeper conversation, a connection and an interaction, and for these interactions to generate a stronger and deeper conversation creating a discussion about the value of the date socially, historically, economically and religiously through the accompanying pictures, stories, articles and drawings on the walls and in the newspaper model and with the Arabic music which surrounds the work and helps to create an enjoyable atmosphere, also implying a positive cultural environment.
The interesting thing for me in the Ortas’ work is not just the subject of sharing food, community gatherings and spontaneous public meetings, but the method which the artists used to present the work through all the details of shapes, words and colours on the food plates, and then giving these pieces as a home gift of art to each individual participant: “At the end of the meal, each guest took home their porcelain plate contributing to a ripple effect of conversations from the table, to the civic space, to the private sphere, and back to the table” (Studio-Orta.com. 2013). This made me think about the set gift pieces which I dyed and sewed in the Arabic coffee colour and saffron, which represents welcoming and generosity(Fig 7). This reflects a vineyard and kindness, clearly showing how you give your best to strangers, representing the utmost degree of giving.
Fig 5 ‘Royal Limoges’ 70 x 7; ‘The Meal Act XXXIV’, Philadelphia, 2013
Fig 7 Afrah Babkair, The fabric pieces when I dyed and sewed
Fig 8 Suzanne Lacy’s The Crystal Quilt, (1985-1987)
Fig 9 the participants while they tried to create the Arabic coffee,
the yellow colour appears in all pieces
In Suzanne Lacy’s The Crystal Quilt (1985-1987) (Fig 8), the artist carried out a participatory work and created a social space for a group of old women who were part of this work which appeared in the form of performance art. The constant change of their hand movements had the effect of changing the shape of the final quilt installation, which was presented during the experiment and was shown as an installation in addition to the recorded experience.
Vuchetich stated that the women created shapes and colours with their hands. Choreographed by Sage Cowles, these movements were synched to a sound piece by Susan Stone made from their voices discussing life as older women (Walkerart, 2020).
I find this close to my practical aspect, which includes the interaction of the participants in their attempt to make Arabic coffee(Fig 9), which I found interesting, as the yellow colour was always an effect of each different experience, which I tried to express by dyeing the pieces of the fabrics which completed the workspace to become a floor session for meeting and enjoying(Fig 10).
Fig 10 My tried to express by dyeing the pieces of the fabrics which completed the workspace to become a floor session for meeting and enjoying
The Taiwanese installation artist Etopia(Fig 11), created a unique experience by presenting five different dishes for the audience in a quiet atmosphere, stimulating all five senses and creating an ideal society formed by a social bond by inviting people to share in community participation and reflection and to exchange ideas in discussions and enjoy cultural collisions and fusion between the distinct ethnic, age and social groups of Taiwan. Each dish in this work reflected a different meaning and concept of the cultural fusion which had occurred as a result of the experience of colonialism in Taiwan.
My artwork Aljawd Min Almawjud (‘The Goodness of Existence’) clearly shows the stimulation of the five different senses through the basic elements used in this work which represent the spaces of authentic Saudi hospitality. The presence of dates and the aroma of coffee being prepared, along with the sound of Arabic music surrounding the work during the experiment, all had a clear impact on evoking this culture and consequently the cultural, social and participatory practices which it includes from the exchange of conversations and discussion, which I found increased harmony between the participants and created unity and diversity at the same time.
In addition, the pictures and articles in the zine, as well as the drawings hanging on the wall, helped to create a dialogue which surrounds this culture in all its cultural, economic, religious and social aspects, and to enable participants to learn more about the importance of the presence of dates in this work as an essential element representing traditional Saudi hospitality in addition to its value by its location in Saudi society(Fig 12).
Fig 11. Eatopia, ‘A unique culinary experience’ (25 October 2016)
Fig 12 Zine and Drawing in the wall
Fig 13. Hélio Oiticica, Parangolés (2007), performed as part of UBS Openings: The Long Weekend, Tate Modern, 28 May 2007 (photograph © Tate)
Fig 14 collage photos showing previous experiences and how the participants shaped these spaces.
Amanda Arantes (2019) said that Hélio Oiticica was one of the principal artists to test the idea of eliminating the passive viewer and making the public engage with his work. In Parangolés (2007)(Fig13), he designed brightly coloured fabrics for participants to wear as a way of injecting colour into the space and to animate it by dancing to samba music. By involving members of the public, teachers and the London School of Samba, he questioned the way of prompting them to engage. He also made a video of the performance of Parangolés to demonstrate experiencing a sense of community through participation.
I think it appears here clearly how the viewer or recipient of the artwork becomes an essential element which represents one of the elements of the artwork, so his position shifts from a recipient or viewer to a participant who moves the work to help to show the result of what the artist is waiting for or longs for, adding value and meaning to this work. This means that without the participant, the work is not yet finished.
In all my previous artistic experiments before reaching the final work ‘The Generosity of the Existing’, the audience took its place within these experiences every time. Their reactions gave different perceptions which made me think about the next step and think more about each essential or unessential element which represents this work because the presence of dates and coffee and its equipment and grinding sessions has always been a way to evoke the practice of hospitality which made the audience become an integral part within this space and to get out of it in whatever way they want when making coffee in their own way using the available ingredients and equipment(Fig 14)
In another experiment with relational aesthetics which had nothing to do with cooking and eating food, one of the most influential artists in relational aesthetics, the Cuban Jorge Pardo (Fig 15), explored the boundaries between art, design and shared living spaces. In his work Flamboyant, Pardo evoked the familiar experience of relaxing under a tree, attracting guests to enjoy the lush pieces which, like the striking tree (Delonix regia), exuded a transient beauty. In a ‘living space’, Pardo created a round carpet with broad yellow, copper and orange stripes, thirteen light fixtures and seven rocking chairs, all of which were designed and produced by Pardo himself. “This social event can practically include any profane activity from our everyday lives like drinking coffee, having dinner or booking a hotel room. The whole concept depends on the artists’ abilities to recreate living and real environment which we experience daily” (Dačić, 2015).
This experience for Pardo confirmed that the participatory society is more likely to succeed or occur when the place is prepared for people to sit and relax, and the aspect on which the artist relied was the design of the seating space, taking into consideration the design principles in choosing colours and the form of the chairs, in addition to the general atmosphere surrounding the place, which transformed this installation artwork into a participatory social space to clearly show the aesthetic relations as an aspect on which this artwork depends, This is clearly shown in my installation work Aljawd Min Almawjud (‘The generosity of the existing’) by allocating seats as private spaces for sitting, relaxing and exchanging conversation, which was inspired by the traditional sessions in the authentic Bedouin tent, which is basically dedicated to the reception and hospitality given to a guest, and it is always fixed on the ground in the form of a letter U, which means that it wraps around everyone in this hospitality space and is the start of a cultural practice in all its forms(Fig 16).
I find that these sessions in artworks often form an essential part as they represent the first invitation to people who can predict that in these spaces there will be an interaction between a group of people that will change the scenarios around these spaces every time that it happens.
Fig 15 Jorge Pardo’s ‘Flamboyant’ (photograph by courtesy of the Pinacoteca de São Paulo)
Fig 16illustrative image of the seating area inside the Bedouin tent
Fig 17 ’What Lies Behind the Walls’ by Zahrah Al-Ghamdi (2020)
Fig 18 Afrah Babkair, 2021, Photograph of a date, Arabic coffee, saffron and cardamom
Fig 19 sharing the hospitality culture with people
Zahra Al-Ghamdi is a Saudi artist who strives to revive and explore Saudi identity, memory and culture through architecture. She showcases ancient history by collecting natural environmental elements such as clay, rocks, leather, shells and water and creatively displaying them in different places. Her specific site-work What Lies Behind the Walls in Desert X shows(Fig 17) the connection between the desert landscape and architecture through a sculpture which echoes a traditional building and expresses the emotion and memories related to her culture in the form of a monolith fertile with cement, soils and dyes specific to each region (Desert X, 2021).
In this experience, Al Ghamdi evokes the history in outside space in another place which is not the same as her original culture place; she seeks to share her culture with the world, and also I think that she included a message asking us to open doors and to start to remove barriers in the way of the integration and cultural exchange.
And this is what I seek to achieve through my artwork. In my work Aljawd Min Almawjud, I used the sample items to represent the traditional culture of hospitality from the date, Arabic coffee and (Al Dallah), saffron and cardamom, to evokes this culture in a different location in another place with different people who do not have the same culture(Fig18). I found that these elements evoke the original place of hospitality in the Saudi desert, while I am in another place at my table in a different country, and this represents the vital link between these elements in the representation of the original culture – and paramount among them is the date.
I seek to share my culture with the world, reflecting my identity within this narrative, allowing the audience participants to create a new scenario for this original culture. I imagine this as a unique place of interrelations where we can harmonise without issues of difference, in a message asking the world to open doors and start removing barriers to achieve a social sharing community(Fig 19).
This experiment inspired me to explore more deeply the idea of embodying different elements which can evoke the culture, memory, places and history in a virtual location and the traditional hospitality places where I share with my work. I think that a different expression is created to remind us of the family places in Saudi which are filled with hospitality and connections and enable us to live in the current new place where we are now. It is an experience which expresses different sides of the various philosophical theories of relational aesthetics, phenomenology and psycho-geography.
There are other examples which have embodied the culture through the memory of the past, place and space. In My Mother's Rug(Fig 20), a project by the Saudi artist Saeed Al-Qamhawi, Saudis’ migration from their towns and villages to the country’s main cities was the principal idea. He used the rug which had been a wedding gift from his father to his mother as an allegory for the last connection with his hometown when he moved to Riyadh city, which is an example of a place of hospitality and generosity. He transferred the original material of this carpet to preserve it technologically and recreated it horizontally on the sand in repeated areas defining the Saudi home’s seating areas.
The method used by Al-Qamhawi to present the carpet was intended to revive the place and his memories to save it from damage in a different way. This experience had a direct impact on the audience when they interacted with the sandy areas where the carpet was projected and reflected, where each of them dealt in a different way which might have brought back memories of a place, and time since childhood, play, meeting family and friends. The projection which represents the rug he used to sit on in our home spaces is like the same thing. In its translucent light form, it penetrates our bodies, and the texture of sand gives participants a different feel as they interact with the work in a way that the artist did not expect, resulting in a more profound meaning for these places.
On the other hand, I think that having Arabic coffee in my work has let all persons live these experiences in a way which is the same as their authentic culture, in addition to the smell of coffee, which I think evoked different memories for each person; it is known that most cultures have a traditional tea or coffee, and this is represented in most cultures in various rituals to sustain and revive these cultural practices, which I sensed during the attempt of the participants in the Arabic coffee industry, where each of them lived this experience in a different way to be in the end a space for the exchange of this cultural knowledge.
Fig 20 Saeed Kamhawi’s ‘My Mother's Rug’
Fig 21 Fahd Al-Naima’s drawing
One Saudi Arabian artist who uses drawing(Fig 21) to reflect the Saudi culture in different subjects is Fahad al Naima.
Fahd Al-Naima’s drawings focus on one of the cultural symbols in Saudi Arabia: camels. They reflect the legacy, culture and close relationship between Saudi humans and animals which exemplifies the Saudi heritage and the desert. The strong and explicit line used by the artist reflects the depth of this relationship as a shorthand symbol which results in a group of lines, shapes and elements which express the culture, history and cultural practices which are related to it. Naima's work has always inspired me by its rapid, strong and direct drawing in which I find a strong link with my drawings of dates and their geographical characteristics(Fig22).
I think that for me and for al Naima, our drawings present the lived experience, a denomination of history and culture in the most extreme stage of its abstraction and reduction, which helps us to understand and represent these samples, shapes and culture well. In addition, I think that the date aspect in my drawing reflects its importance, value, meaning and position in Saudi society.
It continues to inspire me to expand the scope of my work and delve more deeply into the date component of hospitality and everything associated with it.
Fig22 Afrah Babkair, A4 Drawing on paper ( Date between the Saudi society)
Kim Hong-Doh was one of the most famous Korean artists for drawing(Fig 23) natural life and reflecting the lives of people in natural environments in works which represent farmers and the world of harvest. This is clearly seen in his famous paintings created during the Chŏsun dynasty which focused on the cultural characteristics of Korean food simply and precisely in documentation and expression for a period of time in which he was present and which he reflected realistically (Kyung Chung et al., 2016). And we can notice, his interest in details is used as a means of exploring the behavioural impact of an urban place, a theory called psycho-geography.
The drawing sketches which I use in my installation Aljawd Min Almawjud evoke and visualize the history of my culture from what I currently know, hear and witness in a simple way to delve into the public and social life narrative. Drawing for me is an everyday research for understanding the meaning of this cultural practice within this society and then using these drawings as a means to explain this culture for the audience from the period of nomadism right up to the present day, and the value of the date to revive this culture by reflecting narratives, memory places and social spaces in the drawings(Fig 24). In addition, the presence of these drawings on the wall opposite the ground session created an additional space which prepared the public space for this place, enabling the audience to wander around, rotate and sit to spend time in several places, deepening the concept of social space.
Genre paintings by Kim Hong-Doh show that food is a symbol of power which can be used to control people, and people have shared their feelings and affections through food culture (Kyung Chung et al., 2016). And this is what my drawings reflect to show the date as a power for giving people energy and creating the feature to wrap around it to result in endless social sharing.
Fig 23 Kiroseyeonkyedo’, (耆老世聯禊圖, A Banquet for a Mutual Association of Elderly People) by Kim Hong-Doh (1745),
Fig 24 Afrah Babkair,A5, Drawing on paper
Fig 25. Julie Mehretu, ‘Middle Grey’, 2007-2009, ink and acrylic on canvas
304.8 x 426.7 cm (courtesy of the artist and The Project, New York)
In another perspective of psycho-geography, Julie Mehretu, in her huge-scale drawings(Fig25), unleashes lines, shapes and emptiness in the space to reflect the positions, issues and conditions inside her society. Her work represents the social, political and economic background in different places drawn from points, shapes and abstract lines. In exploring palimpsests of history, from geological time to a modern-day phenomenology of the social, the works engage us in a dynamic visual articulation of contemporary experience, a depiction of social behaviour and the psycho-geography of space (Marian Goodman, 2013).
The lines and shapes which I used in drawings in my work Aljawd Min Almawjud accompanying this work undoubtedly represented the social, cultural, economic and religious situation of traditional Saudi hospitality growing from the nomadic Bedouin culture passed down across the generations in their social sharing through the practice of hospitality(Fig 26).
Mehretu begins with the premise of architecture as a medium of social history and power and proceeds to imagine a new present (Marian Goodman, 2013). In my work, I begin with the shape of the date as a factor of social history and energy and continue to create a unique practice.
Fig 26 Afrah Babkair, A4 Drawing on paper ( Date between the Saudi society)