Have you visited the bamboo maze at the Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden of the National Gallery Singapore yet? It’s Thai contemporary artist Rirkrit Tiravanija‘s latest site-specific installation, incorporating his long-held practice of creating installations, events and experiences that involve the engagement and participation of audiences and viewers.
The work is an example of what art critic, curator and historian Nicolas Bourriaud described as “relational aesthetics” in his 1998 book of the same name and that he defined as:
“A set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space.”
In simple terms, the goal of most relational aesthetics art is to create a social experience – one in which the viewer’s participation and involvement in an artist-created event becomes the art. To that end, artists often transform a physical space, not necessarily a gallery or museum, into something that is to be used for a social event, which may be a communal meal, playing music, or just sitting around and having a chat.
Argentinian-born Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija is one of the most well-known practitioners of relational aesthetics and, in one of his earliest such works, at the Paula Allen Gallery in New York in 1990, cooked and served the popular Thai noodle dish Pad Thai to visitors.
I thought that it would be apt, in the light of the opening of his most recent installation at the National Gallery, to revisit this historic work and try to make Pad Thai from the artist’s own recipe. Like the previous recipe for Negroni, this recipe also comes from the book Rirkrit Tiravanija. Cook Book: Just Smile and Don’t Talk.
As you can see from the ingredient list, most of the ingredients are readily available at your local market or supermarket here in Singapore (and probably anywhere else in Southeast Asia). You do need to use the skinny Thai rice noodles, Sen Lek, for an authentic Pad Thai though – not the fatter local Kway Teow noodles. As U and I happened to be in Bangkok recently, I took the opportunity to get a couple of packets, but you can get them here in Singapore at the Thai Supermarket at Golden Mile Complex.
I prefer prawns to pork in my Pad Thai so, with apologies to Rirkrit, I tweaked his recipe a little! He also recommends using smoked tofu, if possible, and I tried asking in Bangkok, but failed to get anyone to understand me, so had to make do with just regular local tofu.
Rirkrit merely says, in his recipe, that you need to pre-soak the Sen Lek rice noodles, which come in packaged dry form, in warm water. I suggest you follow the specific directions (which hopefully come in English and not just Thai!) on the packet of noodles that you have, as I did. Be prepared to soak the noodles for quite some time to get them to the desired consistency.
Drain the noodles and set them aside. Fry the garlic in oil, then add chilli powder, palm sugar and tamarind juice and fry until fragrant and the sugar has melted. Add some of the chopped peanuts, tofu, preserved turnip, chives and fish sauce and, finally, the prawns (or diced pork, as in Rirkrit’s recipe). Then add the noodles and mix well.
Make a little hollow in the middle of the noodles and add the beaten eggs, wait a while for the eggs to cook and begin to solidify, then scramble them and mix well with the noodles. Garnish with remaining chopped peanuts, raw bean sprouts and squeeze some lime onto the noodles before serving. Enjoy!
[Note: Are you an artist with a recipe you’d like to share? Get in touch with us for a chat!]