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ISSUE 104 THE ART ISSUE

DECEMBER 2013/JANUARY 2014


HANS ULRICH OBRIST
ISSUE 104 THE ART ISSUE LIMITED-EDITION COVER
DECEMBER 2013/JANUARY 2014 BY JOHN BALDESSARI
HANS ULRICH OBRIST

HANS ULRICH OBRIST

123
HANS ULRICH OBRIST HANS ULRICH OBRIST

Each conversation Hans


Ulrich Obrist has informs
the next, expanding an
The Master already vast, global epic.
PORTRAIT BY LEON CHEW

Interviewer

Twenty or so years ago, when I first met Hans Rimbaud transformed his genre, upending Koolhaas to document the aging Metabolism
Ulrich Obrist (whom I always think of as the conventions of its meter and rhyme; HUO architects, whose important voices would oth-
HUO) in Zurich, he reminded me of Rimbaud. has reconfigured the genre of the interview, erwise have been lost.
Not only because he was roughly the teenage distilling and transforming the informational People die, voices fade, but so too does the
poets age when he and I met, but also because I mass of prose, with its disparate themes and very materialthe tapeson which those
felt he was making a new form of poetry, of art. motifsand the usual who, what, when, where, voices have found sanctuary. Tapes, such as
In time, I came to see how true my feeling was. I why, and howinto artifact, a poem of idea the ones HUO used in his interviews years
was amazed that this very young man, without and emotion. His interviews, like poems, focus ago and still sometimes uses, disintegrate. And
funding and without institutional support or and synthesize thought into points of energy soon they will be as mute and dead as many of
commissions from art publications, had set out and beauty. the people whose voices they have held in their
on his own to record what he feared would Turning an interview into a poem would be fragile keep. These voices are not just historical
one day vanish or be forgotten in the greater, an interesting achievement in itself. A book of documents, but have embedded within them a
more seemingly relevant cultural dialogue of such interviews would be like an anthology of host of proposals for what HUO has referred
the moment. works by poets with varying interests. But the to as lost projects, poetic utopian dream con-
His interviews were and remain his divine aggregate, the sheer volume and international structs, partially realized projects, censored
passion: He has done more than 2,250 of them scope of the interviews HUO has done over projects. Are these dreams part of our future
since he began. Little has changed in HUOs the past two decades, gathers the individual inheritance? HUO himself has the dream to
mission and his way of getting to the core of the voicesthe individual poemsinto a master one day curate a large-scale exhibition of unre-
person being interviewedexcept that he now poem, not one rooted in a single nation or alized projects. Preservation of his interviews
interweaves this passion with his full-time cura- heritage, but a vital global epic. It is a unified on tapes, the mandate of the Institute of the
torial work. Novelist Douglas Coupland wrote and unifying poem with a memory of the past, 21st Century, is a hedge against an amnesiac
in his introduction to Interviews: Volume 2: which is our present inheritance and cultural future: The conversations bear seeds waiting
We could have done one interview together, legacy for the future. for the opportunity to flower one day. The
and Id never have to do another interview Perhaps his rush to travel and his urgency to tapes are a strained, delicate net holdingfor
By again. Id simply send people a photocopy of do more and more interviews in recent years who knows how longan otherwise lost past,
our interview and declare, It doesnt get any can be explained by HUOs desire to pre- which is to say, our future.
better than this. Learn from the master. serve traces of intelligence from past decades,
In earlier days, HUO sped from city to city testimonies of those who have not yet been
in Europe on trains and dwelled in their sta- recorded and whose memories might fall unde-
tions, whereas now the circumference of his servedly into oblivion. The fruits of his desire
interviews has widened globally. Planes and to preserve are evident in his many hours of
airports are his hosts. How many actual hours interviews with the visionary architect Cedric A version of this essay appeared in the 2010
Karen Marta is he ever on terra firma? Price and the many visits to Japan with Rem Venice Architecture Biennale catalogue.

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HANS ULRICH OBRIST HANS ULRICH OBRIST

Few have mastered the art of conversation


better than Hans Ulrich Obrist co-director
of exhibitions and programs and director of
international projects at Londons Serpentine
Hans Ulrich Gallery, who, through his ongoing Interview
Project, has recorded some 2,000 hours of his
discussions with notable cultural figures. How,
then, does one interview an ace interviewer?
Surface tapped Paul Holdengrber, direc-
tor of the public-talks series Live From the
NYPL, for the engagement. He, like Obrist,
has interviewed hundreds of personalities
Obrist from numerous professions and walks of life;
guests at the forum have included Patti Smith,
Anish Kapoor, and Mike Tyson. Holdengrber
spoke with Obrist about the curators early
influences, his current projects, and the con-
cept of the gesamtkunstwerk, a work that
integrates and unifies all forms of artor at
least attempts to. The comprehensive nature
of such a work ultimately makes it an unre-
alizable ideal, something to perpetually strive
for but never complete, which is precisely the
quality that makes it interesting to Obrist. impact on me that from then on I started to go
Indeed, many of the curators undertakings to museums every day.
his Interview Project, his Do It exhibition,
and the Serpentine Marathon series, to name PH: Thats a curious use of the word
a feware works perpetually in progress; magnetic. It implies that there is an
theyre always being added to, reinvented, attraction so great that you stick to
and remade. something.

Paul Holdengrber: I would like to start HUO: Thats exactly what it was. My igno-
with what I take to be your ravenous, all- rance of art developed into this magnetic,
consuming appetite. Dorothy Parkers almost addictive eternal return. I went back
line would fit perfectly for you: The cure every afternoon when there wasnt school
for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure to look and look and look and look again.
for curiosity. Talk to me about curiosity It was like a school of seeing. It was a very
and the fact that there may be no cure for lucky situation, because I think a city without
it, except perhaps curation or just talking a museum is a dead city. I really think that a
constantly. dynamic museuma museum as a labora-
toryis as important as a great school in a city.
Hans Ulrich Obrist: Its interesting that there The Kunsthaus in Zurich, at that time, with the
is this connection between curating and curi- visionary curator Harald Szeemann, became
osity. It goes back to my childhood. My par- my school. I learned much more there than
ents, when I was 3 or 4 years old, took me to in any other school. I visited his Der Hang
the library of the Abbey of Saint Gall, one of zum Gesamtkunstwerk exhibition 41 times
the great medieval monasteries of the world. as a teenager.
It burnt down and then was rebuilt, and it
became this fabulous Rococo library. It made PH: How do you recall that it was 41?
a huge impression on me: this display, this time
capsule, where one could look at these books HUO: Because I counted it.
only with white gloves on. Later, when I was
7, 8, and 9, my parents kept going back to it. PH: That says something about you, I
This was before I ever saw art. I realized little would say. Forty-one timesit makes
by little that these monks were bringing all this me think of the Talmudic idea that there
knowledge together. That was the beginning are 47 layers of meaning, and that in some
of it somehow. way you had to go back again and again
to see, see, see, look, look, look. It reminds
PH: Napoleon once said of one of his gen- me of what Werner Herzog tells his stu-
erals that he knew everything, but noth- dents when they want to learn about film.
ing else. He says, Read, read, read, read, read!
Paul HUO: I didnt grow up at all in the context
of museums, and I didnt grow up at all in the
context of the arts. The only place that my par-
HUO: One can look and look and look again.
Its one of the main criteria of why something
is a great work of art: that its sort of inexhaust-
Paul Holdengrber (left) in conversa-
PHOTO: JORI KLEIN.

tion with Hans Ulrich Obrist (middle)


ents took me to that was a kind of museum ible, and there can be, over the centuries, dif- and Rem Koolhaas at the New York
was that monastery library. Then, at a certain ferent interpretations. Thats sort of the big Public Library in 2012. (Editors note:
moment, being completely ignorant about art, paradox of the exhibition, which became my The event pictured and the interview
I came across a sculpture by Giacometti at the medium. With a limited life span, works can on these pages occurred at different
Holdengrber Kunsthaus in Zurich. That had such a magnetic last forever. > times.)

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PH: Lets go back to those early years. PH: Its interesting, because with Walser, Malamud would have understood itwhereas
You mentioned you were 3 or 4 years old you mention someone who spent so many the later Wagner became very overwhelming
when your parents took you to that mon- years in a sanatorium. and oppressive. Its more that early Wagnerian
astery. It was kind of a wunderkammer. Is idea of the gesamtkunstwerk, which Szeemann
that correct? HUO: Yes. As a student, I founded a museum followed up with Rudolf Steiner, with Gaud,
in homage to him. He always paused on his with Joseph Beuys. As a kid, I heard this inter-
HUO: I remember that one had to wear felt walk at a restaurant, and in this restaurant I view with Joseph Beuys, in which he talked
shoes. There was this silent walking through installed a vitrine. I invited artists to exhibit in about an expanded notion of art. It was incred-
the space. it, and we declared it the Museum of Robert ibly catalystic or cataclystic
Walser. I saw that we can create a museum
PH: So it created the sense of entering into every daythe museum is a daily practice of PH: I like cataclystic. I think thats very
a sacred space. invention. After the vitrine in the restaurant, good.
there started to be some articles, and people
HUO: I suppose early childhood experiences from far away came to visit it. But it was just HUO: I was thinking, What would this idea
with books had to do with discovering the a vitrinethere really wasnt a Museum of mean in relation to curating? Curating always
world and trying to bring different forms of Robert Walser. It was just my student museum. follows art; its not the other way around. I
knowledge together. have heard that a curator sets the agenda and
PH: What is so interesting here is that, on an artist follows, but I think its the other way
PH: Books have mattered to you greatly, the one hand, there are those very early around.
both as books written by others and the childhood memoriesthe felt shoes, the As a teenager, I thought about an expanded
infinite variety of books you yourself preciousness of the museum, the fact that notion of curating. That was the beginning of
curate or write. one had to prepare oneself physically, in my idea that one could curate literature, one
ones accoutrement, to receive the beauty could curate a museum, one could curate
HUO: Ive always believed that books grow of that monastic libraryand on the architecture.
out of other books. There were many things other hand, theres something very quo-
that happened in my childhood in Switzerland tidian, something of the caf culture, one PH: I think we should make a distinction
that were influential. On my way to high might say, where a museum can exist any- between an interview and a conversation.
school, when I was 13, 14, 15, 16, there was where, where there are no special shoes Do you think your interviews are part of
the house of Ludwig Binswanger, the psycho- that are needed. In a way, youre oscil- an unrealizable gesamtkunstwerk?
analyst and founder of Daseinsanalysis, who lating between those two worlds, one of war years in Haiti and then Mexico. I Hans Ulrich Obrists new book Do
influenced Foucault. I would pass by this them a world thats confined and removed, HUO: I never thought of them as art. I dont wanted to talk so much and wanted to It: The Compendium (Independent
abandoned house, and I decided to investigate. the other one much more in daily life. know how it started. With you, Im very curi- understand. When I was 11 years old, Curators International and Distributed
I found out it was the house where Binswanger ous about how your amazing conversations my mother said to me, Just remem- Art Publishers).
had his clinic. It was, in my teens, a second HUO: It went from the library and the books started. But in my case, growing up as a single ber, we have two ears and one mouth.
connection to the idea of the atlas, of the ency- to the experience with works. In some way, I child in Switzerland, I had a bit of claustropho- That, I think, was very fundamental.
clopedia, of connected images and how they think it was Calvino who said in his wonderful bia, so I always had this urge to have dialogue. Now what I like to do is listen to
produce meaning. book Why Read the Classics? that the idea is I was looking for these infinite conversations people. I think you and I share that
I would say the discovery of the writer more rereading than reading. Its a voyage of that would never end. curiosity. Something happens when you
Robert Walser was another important aspect discovery each time. ask people questions. In your case, I asked
of my childhood. PH: Yes. Its unachievable in some way. you a question, and the next thing I knew,
PH: Whats the difference between walk- Its perpetual, always in motion, and never there I was, in the middle of Switzerland,
ing and talking and walking and thinking? finished. imagining the little Hans Ulrich Obrist
walking around in shorts, looking at the
HUO: Two readings are never the same, and HUO: Thats why Im so curious to hear from mountains, feeling lonely, and wanting
two walks in the forest are never the same. Its you about how your conversations started, to talk.
an infinity of possibilities. Its also the idea that because for me, I always had these infinite
its never finished. Its inexhaustible. The same conversations, but initially they were some- HUO: At a very young age, when I was
thing is true for a walk. One can always walk how not recorded. They were just my research. 16, I had by then visited all the museums in
again on a mountain or re-walk through the Theyre what brought me to curating. It was Switzerland. I had also started to travel by
forest. Thats the whole Robert Walser idea. always conversations with artists. train and look at museums abroad. This desire
grew suddenly to meet the artists. I had seen an
PH: For me, this notion of reading and PH: Since you ask, Im just so curi- exhibition of Fischli/Weiss and rang them up. I
rereading is so important. Thanks to ous about people. I approach my sub- said, I am a pupil, 17 years old, and Im a very
you, I was recently at the Serpentine jectsand I wonder if this holds true for big admirer of your work. It was obviously
Gallery, in conversation with British youwith the inspiring methodological an unusual thing for a 17-year-old to do. They
essayist and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips. invitation set forth by the historian Carlo were amused by that. They spent an afternoon
Psychoanalytical sessions are really a form Ginzburg. He states that he approaches with me, and said that I should come back
of rereading. Theyre rereading ones past, and starts his research with what he calls next week. That was the day I decided what
going over things, trying to figure them the euphoria of ignorance. For me, it I wanted to do in life: I wanted to work with
out by closely examining them again and started the way I think it starts for us artists. I wanted to somehow become a curator.
again. A successful analysis offers us a in childhood: by our parents talking to A few weeks later, I went to see an exhibi-
reading of ourselves. us. We begin our life in conversation tion of Gerhard Richter in Bern. I spoke to
with our mother or father or the people him at the opening. I was so completely trans-
HUO: Its on a level with the ancient talis- who take care of us. Were very fragile formed and transfixed by this exhibition.
man, and that leads us to the idea of the total as babies; unlike some other animals, we
book as Malamud conceived it. For me, it need care. We need curation as children. PH: You said there was an urgency, a real
went from the total book to the total work of I began by simply wanting to par- desirean appetiteto meet the artists
art, the gesamtkunstwerk. The early Richard ticipate in the conversation, having a in the flesh. Do you feel that there were
Hans Ulrich Obrist at age 21, photo- Wagner designed the gesamtkunstwerk in mother and father who were Jews who moments of great disappointment? >
graphed by German artist Thomas Ruff. a very participatory, open waymore as left Vienna just in time and spent the

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HUO: No, I think its always beenwhat did PH: A secret garden, you say. PH: And learning something from them. was in his house and at a certain moment fell
you call it?a euphoria of ignorance. There asleep. The phone rang, and he answered, then
has never been a disappointment. HUO: Yes, and I always return to that. Ive HUO: Yes. Curating is about enabling, facili- realized what had happened. He said, Youll
developed my public activity as a curator since tating, catalyzing, triggering, and helping to have a great difficulty to transcribe my silence.
PH: We read people, we see their work, 93its been going on for exactly 20 years produce reality. This 89plus project is bring-
and then, when we meet the artists but if, for example, I were going to Poland to ing us into the future. However, Ive always PH: I remember visiting Louise Bourgeois
or writersI wonder if this happens give a lecture at a museum, I would use that as believed that if we want to invent the future, in New York toward the end of her life,
for youthey are not quite what a pretext to spend an afternoon with Czesaw we very often do so through fragments from wishing to bring her for a public interview
you experienced when you were experi- Miosz and learn from the almost-100-year- the past. That means to protest against forget- to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art,
encing their work, whatever their work old poet [who passed away in 2004]. More ting, to look back. Its not because we have the where I was working at the time. Without
may be. recently, after I attended a Google lecture in Internet that we have more information, that hesitation, she responded, My dear man,
Silicon Valley, I went to San Francisco to see we have more memory. I no longer travel in space, only in time.
HUO: There have obviously been moments the engineer and architect Anne Tyng [who I was not aware that you were putting
when conversations went wrong. For exam- passed away in 2011], then 90 years old. I PH: Do you think the contrary is true, together a collection of people over a cer-
ple, my conversation with Stanislaw Lem, would always have these parallel realities, and that we have less memory? tain age. So you have, on the one hand,
the great futurist and fiction writer: He no that somehow has nurtured the whole practice. the 89plus project, and then, on the other
longer wanted to be a science-fiction writer, I dont know if that explains it. HUO: It could be. Amnesia could very well hand, a project of people 89 and over. Its
but claimed to be a scientist. There was a lot be at the core of the digital age. So many artists interesting that youre seeking a younger
of confusion. But these things are very rare. PH: Well, it certainly expresses it. Its hard work on memory and on protests against for- generation to understand. I think we
Enthusiasm is my medium. to explain it because its a work in prog- getting. A few years ago, Rosemarie Trockel, have a lot to gain in knowing how the
ress. In some sense, it expresses the irre- the German artist, whom I met as a teenager, generations younger than us look things
PH: Well, you know the line of Emerson: sistible urge to use every possible occasion said, You shouldnt only visit artists of your up. I mean, I work in a library: What does
Nothing great was ever achieved with- and opportunity for some kind of deep own time. You should look back. She had it mean to look things up?
out enthusiasm. Enthusiasm, in the ety- transmission of knowledge. You were this idea that one should go talk to very, very Recently, I interviewed the computer
mological sense, is being transported by talking about Miosz and Tyng. Theres old peoplewho have lived a century and scientist and composer Jaron Lanier, the
the gods, levitating in some form or fash- a saying attributed to the Malian states- have all this knowledgejust before they die. author of Who Owns the Future? In this
ion. Celebration is what brings usyou man Amadou Hampt B: When a great She thought that it would be so wonderful to book, he writes, I miss the future. This
and mein our shared outlook, together. man dies, a library disappears with him. I research and go see them. I took Rosemaries thought haunts me. I think what he
wonder what the relationship is between advice very seriously. misses in some way is the potentiality of
HUO: Yes, completely, celebration. these conversations we have and the notion Whenever I give a lecture somewhere, I the future as he imagined it. It brings to
I learned everything from artists. From that were finite, that death will haunt us. ask, Is there a Louise Bourgeois in town? Is mind the wonderful line from the French
Gerhard Richter I learned how to install an In one recent case, Im filled with there an artist, a writer, a philosopher, a pio- poet and philosopher Paul Valry: The
exhibition, how to edit an artist book, and sorrow. I was to interview Lou Reed about neer whose work resonates and who has been futures not what it used to be. As a
how to find a title for an exhibition from doing the Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul working for 90 or 100 years? Ive got 38 of person who coined the term virtual Hans Ulrich Obrist and Rem Koolhaas
this little show with him at Nietzsche-Haus exhibition at the Morgan Library. We these interviews, and certainly one of the most reality, Jaron is left with the slightly foul conducting a 24-hour-long conver-
when I was 23. From Christian Boltanski and were going to have a walk-through of the remarkable memories is when I interviewed taste of what virtual reality has brought sation during the first Serpentine
Fischli/Weiss I learned how to do a group Morgan and speak. What happened hap- the philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer. He about in terms of reality. He was more Marathon in London in 2006.
show. Then I started to work withthis is pened. Lou Reed died, and this conversa-
a very big shortcut because we dont have tion can no longer happen. His sudden
time to go through the whole thingKasper death is unfathomable. Im thinking of
Knig, who ran the Stdelschule, and then all those conversations I did have a chance
of a sudden Suzanne Pag, who ran the Muse to have, of which you have had so many.
dArt Moderne de la Ville de Paris. I found Take, for example, Christopher Hitchens,
two museum directors as my mentors. But whom I interviewed about his memoir,
early on, it was all from the artists. Hitch-22, a year before his death. When
When I was 24, 25, my activity became I asked him, Why do you write your
public. In my early years, I was like a private memoir now? Why now, Hitch? He said,
scholar of sorts. After five years, it became Got to do it in time.
very public. This led to the Interview Project.
One night, I was in Frankfurt, and I was a bit HUO: That leads to this idea of urgency, and
destabilized by this public attention. Thomas in some way Ive always believed that every
Bayrle, the great German artist and teacher day could be the last day.
of the Stdelschule, took me aside and said,
Look, youve got to understand that youre PH: One of the things Ive always been
going to burn out if you keep going like this. fascinated with is the relationship between
You can only do this if youve got several aging and taste: what we go back to, what
secret gardens that you can nurture yourself we remain faithful to, and then what we
in. They dont necessarily have to do transmit. I know this is very involved. Its
with curating. They allow you to dis- not really a question so much as a query,
PHOTO: COURTESY SERPENTINE GALLERY.

appear and recharge your batteries. I as something that haunts me, and that I
was thinking all night long about what think also haunts you in some way.
could be my garden. I realized I had
these gardens; I just hadnt formulated HUO: I suppose its a transgenerational proj-
or articulated them. I had curiosityI was ect. Ive always, on the one hand, been focusing
speaking to artists, to scientists, to architects my research on the future. Like what Im doing
and I started to think, If I record these con- now with the curator Simon Castets, with the
versations, they could become a repository 89plus project, on artists born in 1989 and after,
of ideas that I can go back to and develop. the first digital-native generation. Mapping
It was really that night in Frankfurt when I is the wrong word, but its sort of engaging
began this secret garden of knowledge. with that generation.

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than a little critical of what Facebook, for to do with the memory of what Studs Terkel new rules of the game, and the curator picks
instance, has brought about. It puts us in told me. In some way, all of these conversa- them up.
little pockets of reality: Were this or not tions lead to projects that cross-fertilize each With exhibitions, weve had a whole cen-
that. We have to categorize ourselves in other. Its a complex, dynamic system with turythe 20th centuryof attempts at inven-
ways that limit us. many feedback loops. tion. Duchamp said, You only remember
exhibitions that also invent the new display
HUO: Im always wondering about my work PH: How do you prepare? feature.
in these parallel realities. My work is obviously
very nonlinear. Im very inspired by these HUO: With exhibitions, its usually a long PH: Whats remarkable is that youre
architects who work on 30, 40 construction period of incubation and research. Its talking fighting the current in our culture of
jobs at one time and have these parallel reali- to many people, putting a team together. With immediacy, of quickness. Interestingly
ties. In terms of curating, Ive always been, in books, its the same. With interviews, its usu- enough, Werner Herzog and I have been
a similar way, working on all these projects ally reading a lot. Whenever I do, for example, invited to speak in Iceland, and Werner
all the time. a conversation with someone whos not in the said that he would do it under one condi-
art world, whose work I dont know that well, tion: that we speak for five consecutive
PH: Do you sometimes feel its too much? its a discipline of reading. Its almost like being hours.
back at university and having a crash course on
HUO: Its never been too much, in the sense the person and reading everything I can find HUO: Yes, and that obviously leads to Werner
that they all inspire each other. One comes out about this person. Herzog marching long distances on foot.
of the next. As a curator in the 90s, I would
travel 360 days a year. At a certain moment, I PH: Do you think that there is such a PH: When you were on my stage in New
was at home five days a year. thing as over-preparing? York with Rem Koolhaas last year, you
said that every day, wherever you are, you
PH: Only five days? HUO: Yeah, I think there can be over-prepar- buy a book.
ing. I think there can also be over-organizing in
HUO: Yeah, in the 90s. Then, in the 2000s, I terms of exhibitions. I think its about finding HUO: Yeah, thats true. Ive got the Brutally
decided I wanted to do more sustained work a mix between preparing and improvisation. Early Club at 6:30, Ive got my early-morning
with museums. I wanted to have the possibil- For conversations, I put notes together. Its the jogging habits, and then theres this idea of
ity to talk to the public about not only global system of ordering disorder. I can really start buying a book every day. At the Zurich airport
activities, but also local activities. I became the to improvise. In a similar way, with exhibitions, this morning I bought Journey to the End of
curator of the Muse dArt Moderne de la Ville I always want a moment of self-organization the Universe by Urs Widmer, whos a Swiss
de Paris, and then in 2006 I became co-director so that its somehow alive and organic. Very writer in his late 70s. Its his attempt to write
of the Serpentine with Julia Peyton-Jones. This often, projects like the Serpentine Marathon about the impossibility of writing an autobi-
has meant that since 2000 Ive spent most of evolve over 5, 10 years. My exhibition Do ography. He talks about this idea of: We live in
the week in Paris, and now in London. Ive It just had its 20th anniversary; the Marathon the future, we invent it, and then we remember
continued my research by going on trips all 52 is in its eighth year now. Many of these exhi- the future weve created.
weekends a year. Its the idea of editing time, bitions and projects are long-durational. I
which Ive always found very interesting. Its believe in this idea that one doesnt just work PH: What are you most excited about
finding different rhythms of time. on one project, then move on to the next thing. doing in the next year?

PH: You were mentioning Calvino; I PH: Of improvisation, theres a line I HUO: Im very excited about next years
love the series of lectures that he was to always use by the French novelist Pierre Serpentine program. Im also looking for-
deliver at Harvard [Six Memos for the Next Mac Orlan: Improvisation is something ward to the moment of finishing my book for
Millennium]. Alas, he died before he could you prepare. Or Nietzsches line: A Penguin [Ways of Curating]. And I hope that
present them. He has one extraordinary dancer needs to know where he puts his my biggest unrealized project will be realized,
chapter on speed, quickness, and lightness. feet. That knowledge of where the feet which is to have a conversation with Jean-Luc
He invokes the image of festina lente: take fall doesnt come completely naturally. Godard. Its a dream Ive never succeeded in
haste slowly. In your case, theres a sense One also needs to have practiced in order making happen. Which leads to my question
of speech that has a gallop. You were men- to do this and for it to seem effortless. for you: Do you have someone youve wanted
tioning before that you used to travel a I wanted to ask you about the to have a conversation with that has remained
lot by train. I can hear the train of your Serpentine Marathon. Even the notion unrealized?
thoughts, the speed at which words try to of calling it a marathon: You obviously
keep up with what youre thinking. know the Greek origins of it and why PH: Yes. Leonard Cohen.
there was such a thing as a marathon
HUO: Its jumping universes, nonlinearity. when the Athenians announced that the HUO: Amazing.
Many of these conversations grow ideas. For Persians had been defeated in battle. What
PHOTOS: MARINA PINSKY, COURTESY FOR YOUR ART.

example, when Liu Cixin, whos a Chinese brought about the idea that you and Rem PH: Lets end with the words Leonard
science-fiction writer, talked about the future Koolhaas would spend 24 hours speaking Cohen. May our unrealized dreams
and mankind having lost its passion for explor- at the first Marathon in 2006? I might add come true: that before we die, you speak
ing spacethe idea that we need a second age to that: Whats the advantage of such a to Jean-Luc Godard, I to Leonard Cohen.
of explorationit prompted me to make a long conversation? And did you at times,
book on the future in China. Or when speak- like your friend Gadamer, just fall asleep? HUO: Lets make it happen.
ing to Studs Terkel many years ago, he basi-
cally told me, Conversations cannot only HUO: The Marathons have a lot to do with
produce conversations. He told me that at this idea of the rules of the game. The other (TOP TO BOTTOM) Artist John
a certain moment, when [publisher Andr] day Rei Kawakubo was telling me that with Baldessari (middle) and Hans Ulrich
Schiffrin told him he should write a book, all each collection she invents a rule of the game. Obrist (right) at Art Catalogues at
of a sudden he actually started to write books Each collection is an invention. Exhibitions are LACMA in 2012. Scientist, engineer,
based on conversations. Thats interesting about coming up with new rules of the game, and inventor Danny Hillis being inter-
because Ive now started to write a lot. It has recording dialogues with artists. Artists create viewed by Obrist at For Your Art in 2012.

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HANS ULRICH OBRIST HANS ULRICH OBRIST

With Instagram, Hans


Ulrich Obrist showcases the
lost art of handwriting in
The Post-it the digital age.

Man
Hans Ulrich Obrist joined Instagram in galaxies colliding / coexist on axisis written posts reinforce the aesthetic and cultural value
December 2012 and has since posted more in blue highlighter ink with childlike uneven- of the posts themselves. Each like or response
than 400 photographs of handwritten notes ness, and it could easily be a lyric in one of the adds to the aura of what is essentially an elec-
from the distinguished people he meets. One Icelandic musicians ethereal songs. A sugges- tronic record of a written record, a signifier
might expect the feed of one of the worlds tive memo from John Waters reads, Six fuzzy of a signifier.
most influential curators to be a rich collage of beavers quickly jumped the narrow gapa Despite the irony of preserving analog con-
filter-enhanced art, architecture, and beautiful very John Waters rehash of the well-known tent with a digital medium, Instagram seems
people. Either that or a ghost town, an account typographers pangram, The quick brown tailor-made for Obrist, whose projects tend to
updated just a few times out of beginners curi- fox jumps over the lazy dog. And the ever- be cumulative and ongoing affairs. His Do It
osity before its busy user decided that real life audacious Kanye West reminds us that good exhibition series and Interview Project have
was more interesting. taste is a gift but bad taste is a privilege, even been in progress for two decades; he is a pains-
Obrists feed is active but unassuming. He throwing in a doodle of a ninja for emphasis. taking collector who keeps adding to a body
averages roughly one upload a day. His posts Eager to evaluate these gemsand the occa- of work and extending its scope, rather than
are pictures of scrawls on paper, not exactly sional dudare Obrists nearly 35,000 follow- racing toward a completion date. Instagrams
#wow material, and the messages themselves ers, and the opinions and commentaries left single vertical stream helps to marshal the plu-
are often cryptic or illegible (though Obrist in the comment sections are almost as enter- rality of handwriting styles and personalities
always types out the text and attributes the taining to read as the featured texts. Consider Obrist encounters. But it also draws attention
author in a caption). Pay them some atten- the public remarks made for a missive from to the evolution of the feed, which began a year
tion, though, and the images start to take on artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, who, ago with photographs of people and objects
a strange powerone thats not just linked to for her contribution, wrote, We need a new and is now dedicated almost exclusively to
the celebrity or cool factor of the artists, writ- password she said in a small notebook held these handwritten notes. Its development is a
ers, architects, and public figures writing the open by someones thumb. The following fitting metaphor for how we ourselves evolve,
words. comments are sic, with the handles switched a virtue captured perfectly in a note to Obrist
Part of the notes power comes from the to fruit types for privacy: from none other than Frank Gehry. THIS IS
startling reminder that we dont see much MY HANDWRITING, the first line reads,
handwriting anymore. Correspondence today @apple: Your thumb is a pen? Woah! You in nimble chicken scratches. Below it, in shaky,
is rendered in computer fonts and emoji, and are like Robocop or Stationary Manor inky cursive, is another sentence: This was
its entirely possible to have a lengthy relation- something my handwriting.
ship with someone and never know how he @banana: How the f is this art? Ve been
or she writes hello. Were probably missing following u for months, and youve only
something important because of this; studies posted crap.
have shown a link between handwriting and @orange: @banana dislike
personality, how the shape, size, and ligatures @pear: @hansulrichobrist should write
of our script can reveal details about our inner @bananas comment on a post it and
lives and character traits. Theres something Instagram it
@pineapple: yes please do that!
By illuminating but oddly voyeuristic about care-
fully examining a note written by a stranger. It
feels like peeking at a private momenteven
@kiwi: Clearly she has not listened to
Grayson Perrys BBC lectures Tut tut tut
when were reading a message from artist
Sarah Morris that proclaims: Nothing is pri- And so forth. The fact that anyone can con-
vate. Everything is up for grabs. tribute anything to the comments is both the For the following pages, eight of Obrists
One also feels the pleasure of matching best and worst feature of any open web plat- friends sent Surface their own notesin the
texts with ones perceptions of their authors. form, but for an Instagram feed like Obrists, vein of those on Obrists Instagram feedto
A haiku from Bjrkhandwritten or typed / the miniature public forums created by these run exclusively in this issue.
Dave Kim SURFACE 134 135
HANS ULRICH OBRIST HANS ULRICH OBRIST

Bjrk, musician

Konstantin Grcic, designer

Etel Adnan, writer and artist

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HANS ULRICH OBRIST HANS ULRICH OBRIST

Marina Abramovic, artist

Koo Jeong-A, artist (Im Hak is not equal to Mongdal ghost)

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HANS ULRICH OBRIST HANS ULRICH OBRIST

Ziad Antar, filmmaker and photographer (A little bit of oil from the tree of life)

Olafur Eliasson, artist Peter Fischli, artist

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HANS ULRICH OBRIST HANS ULRICH OBRIST

This 29-year-old curator younger counterparts. (Hller introduced the software engineer Tim Berners-Lee wrote the
work of Valia Fetisov and Gamper dialogued proposal for what would become the World
and Hans Ulrich Obrist with designer Josh Bitelli; both Fetisov and Wide Web in that year. The teams research
highlight talents born in Bitelli were born in 1989.) Events in Miami, explores how the web generation collects infor-
South Africa, Madrid, and Latin America are mation and interacts with the virtual landscape.
Simon Castets 1989 and after with 89plus. in the works. Unsurprisingly, many of the participants at
Though such gatherings put 89plus on the the Marathon had a digital component to their
international art-world radar, the platform work: Niko the Ikon and Tierney Finster, win-
PORTRAIT BY KATHERINE WOLKOFF
remains research-based, with partnerships ners of the Re Rebaudengo Serpentine Grant,
It all began with a memorable line in a 2009 at universities around the globe and a virtual screened a semi-nostalgic music video that
New York Times profile of artist Ryan network to study the generation in question. they had shot on a VHS camera, while artist
Trecartin, in which Trecartin says, People In the beginning, we were relying on rec- Felix Melia created an art film for the popular
born in the 90s are amazing. I cant wait until ommendations from friends about peoples Generation-Y app Snapchat.
they all start to make art. works, Castets says. We had an overwhelm- Embracing the new, though, doesnt mean
Simon Castets and Hans Ulrich Obrist both ing amount of data, but its not enough when dismissing the old. When I was going to
read the quote and found it high school, I had to look
difficult to forget. something up in the diction-
Castets recalls that he and ary or the encyclopedia, says
Obristjet-setting curators Castets. When youre look-
with overlapping networks ing up one word, next to it
kept running into each you might see something
other at art events around youve never heard of, and that
the world after meeting at opens up a different possibil-
the Yokohama Triennale that ity. Thats something you lose
Obrist curated in 2008. Later, [in the Google era], but at the
when they convened at the same time you gain a tremen-
Serpentine Gallery in 2012, dous amount of other things.
they returned to Trecartins Two elements unite the
words. It sounded insane, rapidly expanding group
and we were kind of joking of 89plus participants: their
about it, Castets says of the digital proficiency and their
Trecartin quote. young age. But Castets is
The two started think- quick to dispel age as the
ing more seriously about platforms focus. It is not
the idea. Little by little we a project about youth, he
both saw that we had friends says. It is about a generation
of friends who actually were that happens to be young at
from that generation, and this moment. Even so, he
were doing very interesting hopes 89plus will prove one
work, Castets says. These potential advantage of youth-
observations set the ground- ful ardor. Recent art history
work for what would become has proven many times that
89plus, a multiplatform people at age 22 or 23 were
research project co-curated not only active but also pro-
by Castets and Obrist that lific and relevant and doing
explores the mindset, behav- some of their strongest work,
ior, and output of innovators Castets says.
born in 1989 and after. Artists, That line of thinking could
designers, poets, mathemati- apply to Castets himself,
cians, and others around the who in November stepped
world submit their work to into the role of director and
89plus; those submissions curator of the Swiss Institute
then become resources for Contemporary Art in New
the programs research, exhi- York. When announcing his
bitions, or events. appointment, the institute
Since debuting at the cited Castetss age as a way to
Digital-Life-Design conference in Munich you need to address the reality that the bulk help the program expand audiences.
last January, 89plus has organized different of that generation does not live next to us. In Ill bring people from my own generation
iterations of events around the world: con- 89pluss makeshift New York office, which it to the platform, Castets says. I actually think
ferences at MoMA PS1, Palazzo Grassi, and shares with the New Galerie art space in the thats one of the great privileges you have
Art Basel Hong Kong; artist residencies at Film Center Building, a map tracks the plat- working in contemporary artworking with
the Park Avenue Armory in New York and forms upcoming projects around the globe. your contemporaries. Its an apt reminder:
By L.A.-based artist Doug Aitkens cross-country
Station to Station train project; and more. In
October, a two-day Marathon at Londons
Tacked below it, population data from the
U.N. conveys 89pluss inquiry in numbers:
approximately 23 percent of the Japanese
Though the 20-year-old newcomers are worth
tracking and the 70-year-old masters worth
admiring, the in-between generations often
Serpentine Sackler Gallery brought together population was born after 1989, whereas its contribute some of the strongest work. Castets
80 program participants, in addition to estab- 69 percent in Timor-Leste and 67 percent in and Obrist are prime examples.
lished creators like architect Zaha Hadid, Afghanistan.
artist Carsten Hller, and designer Martino Obrist and Castets decided on 1989 as the Simon Castets with packed artworks by
Allie Weiss Gampereach of whom dialogued with their anchor for the project in large part because Dan Rees at New Galerie.

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HANS ULRICH OBRIST HANS ULRICH OBRIST

Serpentine Gallery director Julia Peyton-Jones


may be an Officer of the British Empire and
a commanding presence on the London art
scene, but shes anything but intimidating. In
Julia Peyton- fact, shes gracious, elegant, and egalitarian.
Which perhaps explains her successdespite
many obstaclesat turning the once-fledg-
ling Serpentine into one of the worlds most
respected public arts institutions. Before start-
ing at the gallery in 1991, Peyton-Jones was
the curator of exhibitions at the Hayward
Gallery; prior to that, she was a practicing
Jones artist and a lecturer at Edinburgh College of
Art. Her beginnings suggest an almost paint-
erly outlook: Each decision Peyton-Jones
has made over the yearsfrom conceiving
the Serpentine Pavilion in 2000 to hiring co-
director Hans Ulrich Obrist in 2006can
be viewed as a brush stroke. And todays
Serpentine, the cumulative result of that effort,
is her ongoing masterwork. Surface executive
editor Spencer Bailey sat down with Peyton-
Jones for breakfast at the Pelham Hotel in
Londons Kensington neighborhood to dis-
cuss her role at the galleryand what its like
to work alongside Obrist.

Spencer Bailey: Twenty-two years ago,


the Serpentine was not the powerhouse
it is todayyou couldnt even put on a
show in the wintertime due to heating
issues. Youve been quite the problem
solver. Whats been your approach?

Julia Peyton-Jones: Its like when you look at


a painting youre doing and you say, It needs
a bit more red in the top right-hand corner.
You look at what youve done, and you always
say, Is it complete? Can I improve it? What
does it need now, what do I need to do? The
idea of change is actually embedded in it. You
never get to a point where its fixed. Of course,
this approach is a strategy, but its not a busi- The exhibition not only escaped the contro- PORTRAIT BY LEON CHEW
ness plan. versy, but was considered to be richer. We did
a show with Basquiat in the early 90s that
SB: Would you say you have business [industrialist and art collector] Peter Brant still
savvy? Youre clearly skilled at manag- refers to as his favorite showing of Basquiats
ing the public image of the gallery. workor at least he did 18 months ago. At
that time, there was a very urgent need to show
JPJ: When I started in 91, the building was a work by artists who were regularly discussed
terrible mess, a complete disaster. It needed internationally, and whose work had not been
to be renovatedit was a whole fundraising seen in the U.K.
thing. And then, post-renovation, I had to If Id sat down in 91 and said, Im going
figure out how to use this new platform. to do all these things, I wouldnt have been
It was very usual for me to go out to dinner able to imagine it. But if youre living in the
and hear people say, Contemporary art? Oh moment, I think it becomes clearer. I wouldnt
dear! Im sorry, but this is not serious. The say it becomes absolutely clear, but it becomes
press would say to me, Tell me why this is art. clearer. The overwhelming desire is for us to
Tell me why my child of 3 couldnt do this. I present programs that I think are needed for
would reply, Dont disregard the Serpentine our institution. Thats really it. And to develop
as being a little tearoom, because youre wrong. the institution for the programs we need to
Its not. Its really completely different because present here.
it can do all these things.
In the early days, we did a Man Ray exhibi- SB: Over the past 20 years, there has been
tion that included loans from the MoMA, Tate, a cultural shift in the U.K. in how people
and other major museums. It was organized think about architecture and art. What
very quickly at a time when there was a huge changed?
polemic about Man Ray and authenticity. Our Serpentine Gallery director Julia
exhibition fell smack into that whole discus- JPJ: At the heart of it, we became less of an Peyton-Jones in the new, Zaha Hadid
Spencer Bailey sion, and we were able to hold our heads up. island. I remember well a lecture Hans Ulrich designed Serpentine Sackler Gallery.

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HANS ULRICH OBRIST HANS ULRICH OBRIST

gavehe was on a panel at the South Bank, at JPJ: In the 90s, we held a series of gala din- incredibly exciting about that was that he and
the Hayward. He talked about the Eurostar ners with Diana, Princess of Wales, who was his wife, Nina, were extraordinary in the way
and how it changed the psychology of this our patron, and Vanity Fair, which was our they embraced the project. I mean, we had
country. Thats something that I think is abso- sponsor. When she died, and Vanity Fair absolutely no money. I dont mean we had a
lutely true. We stopped being an island, and in was no longer sponsoring us, we wanted to couple of thousand pounds. We had nothing.
a way got over colonialism, too. We realized do something for our 30th anniversary that No money at all. And we were also dealing in
how small we were, and how big the world would be in no way compared to those galas of a discipline that we had no knowledge of. We
was. The demographics of London began to the 90s. The idea was hatched that we would had knowledge of working with artistswed
change, which was massively vital in changing ask Zaha Hadid to create a pavilion. I wanted commissioned them many timesbut archi-
the culture of the city and country. Also, the there to be something that was resolutely dif- tecture was not the same. Still, we did it. It was
fact that were a financial center is a huge asset. ferent and would also encapsulate everything like a thriller: Are we going to get what we
It was a kind of opening up. It was a psycho- the Serpentine stands forsomething of-the- need? Are we going to find somebody to pay
logical and literal opening up of the country moment, forward-looking, surprising. We for it? Is the scheme going to fly?
to new ideas, new inspirations, new influences. asked Zaha to design a structure for the same
At the heart of it, culture plays a massive part amount of money as it took to hire a tent back SB: This brings up an interesting point:
of that, and I think it was triggered by Frieze, then, and she did it. What happens to the pavilions after
which absolutely blasted everyones conven- The thing that was unbeatable and super theyre taken down?
tional ideas about what art could be, how it important about this pavilion was our abso-
could be shown, by whom, and to whom. The lutely incredible position in a Royal Park. We JPJ: Theyre all sold. Because we still have no
formulaic way to do things the way theyd were not allowed to keep it up for more than money to do them, the financial package is
always been done no longer applied. Here was a day. Which wasnt a problem, because we a very simple one: We get support from the
this group of artists who were wildly different. were doing shows that only lasted three days construction industrywe have people who
It was exciting, stimulating, engaging. for these gala dinners. The brilliant thingand sponsor the pavilionsand the sale of each
what changed everythingwas that Chris one contributes to no more than 40 percent of
SB: How did the Serpentinethis small Smith, Secretary of State for Culture, Media, its cost. Usually theyre bought by individuals.
gallery on a small islandbecome one of and Sport, who was a visionary man, came to in 2007, and another project for one of our Zaha Hadids Serpentine Pavilion
the most influential galleries in the world? this dinner. He was responsible for the Royal SB: The early pavilions must have seemed summer parties, which was not our commis- in 2000the debut of the Pavilion
Parks. He loved the pavilion, and I said, Well, like daring ventures to a lot of people. sion, but it was brought into the context of program.
JPJ: If you run a public institution, it comes can it stay for longer? He said, Of course, the Serpentine.
with a responsibility, crudely put, to bring why not? He had the gift to change every- JPJ: When you do something thats very public, I told her, We need to do this. Its an oppor-
people in and educate them. We obviously thing. That opened up that possibility, and it with which you have no experience and no tunity. Its against the odds that were going to
want to do that at the highest level possible. I stayed up for a month. money, its like, Hmm, hows this going to get it, but we really need to do it. So we did
want as many people to come as we can possi- The next year, the great decision was to do it work? But it remains an incredibly exciting the Sackler design, which was something that
bly fit in the building. If we have up to 800,000 againor not. There was an immense amount project. The risk is there from the outsetthat was formulated very quickly from a drawing.
people in one year, I would be delighted. of to-ing and fro-ing, but we did do it again. Daniel Libeskinds Serpentine Pavilion hasnt changed. And the outcome is com- We put together the business plan, and then
Thats the purpose, thats what we do. I look We invited Daniel Libeskind, and what was in 2011. pletely undetermined when you start. You began a series of interviews with the Royal
at it from the viewpoint of: Okay, do we need really have no idea, just as you dont when Parks. Not only were we not a frontrunner,
more red in the top right-hand corner? What youre commissioning artists. we were the least likely of the candidates to
else is needed to make the picture more com- A couple of years ago, somebody described get it. The feeling was that we had a building
plete? Talking about painting is perhaps an us as amateurs. I was very offended. I was in the Royal Park and that it was somebody
old-fashioned idea, but I think the principle like, What are you talking about, amateurs? elses turn. Once they awarded the building
is there. We are very professional! Then I thought, to us, the Royal Parks said, When are you
Absolutely, were amateurs. And how fantastic going to start? They put us on an incredibly
SB: Do you see the Serpentine as a is that? Because it means that we dont know tight timeline. We were successful in the bid-
painting? enough. And if we ask something thats a com- ding only because wed raised all the money.
plete taboo, we dont know enough to know I dont know how it works in the U.S.,
JPJ: Not in a literal sense. But I do see it in its taboo. We can be fearless in a way. We dont but in the public sector in the U.K., when
terms of an approach to making something. I know what the boundaries are because nobody you decide youre going to build a museum
come from a generation when going to art col- else is doing it. or adapt a museum, you do the scheme, and
lege was seven years: I did foundation, under- I was asked recently, Whats the definition then you say to funders, Would you like to
graduate, postgraduate at the Royal College, of the exhibition program? And the answer support it? Its a process that can take years,
and I always worked throughout that time. I gave was the definition of the Pavilion pro- decades in some cases. But this was not the
The two things ran in tandem, and happily gram, because I think they can be transposed. case with us. We were told, as soon as we got
so. While being resolutely in the world of a We ask the architects or artists to design a it, You need to start. And if you dont start,
student, I was always very fascinated with pavilion that encapsulates their architectural you will be paying rent in spite of the fact.
how you make your way in the world and language and pushes their architectural vision The Department of Commerce picked Zahas
generate a self-supporting construction. That to the limits. Were encouraging them to do scheme, which was part of our business plan,
ranged from being made head of the kitchen something within the context we provide. so there wasnt an opportunity to say, Oh,
department at Bonhamsat the time, there lets recast this and go out to competition.
were three auctioneers: Sothebys, Christies, SB: You chose Zaha Hadid to design the Not that we would have wanted to.
PHOTO: COURTESY DANIEL LIBESKIND.

and Bonhamsto doing the most menial jobs. new Serpentine Sackler Gallery, located a
That was all somehow part of the fascination short walk from the Serpentine. Why did SB: Whats Zahas relationship to the gal-
of engaging with life. you hire her firm for the job? lery now?
PHOTO: HELENE BINET.

SB: How did you start the Serpentine JPJ: It was an interesting situation because she JPJ: Shes a very dear friend of our chairman,
Pavilion program, for which you commis- didnt have until now a building in the center Lord Palumbo, whos also chairman of the
sion a different architect or design team of London. We chose Zaha because wed had Pritzker Prize. Shes one of our advisors for
each year to build a temporary pavilion a long history with her: one unrealized proj- the pavilion and is a trustee of the gallery. She
on the gallerys lawn? ect and three realized projects. She had done often says, Oh, Julia, you never listen to my
the pavilion in 2000, the Lilas installation advice!which is not true. We do absolutely

SURFACE 146
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HANS ULRICH OBRIST HANS ULRICH OBRIST

the Marathon is a very particular, signature


listen to her advice. And she has been an who has spearheaded it at the Serpentine.
thing of his.
incredible supporter. When did you personally become inter-
ested in architecture?
SB: The Serpentines not simply a con-
SB: Zaha may have started the pavilions,
temporary art gallery. Its also exhibiting
but Hans Ulrich started your annual JPJ: Im interested in making things more than
architecture and design. Its multidisci-
Marathons, the weekend-long forums in anything else. Thats not limited to architec-
plinary. Do you view it in that way?
which speakers from various fields give ture. Im fascinated by this idea of making
short talks on a given theme. something where nothing exists. That relates
JPJ: Of course. However, I think its very diffi-
to things across the board. Its about making
cult to make those claims unless one can really
JPJ: Yes, and the Marathons are very much a an institution. I suppose this sounds a bit
substantiate them. If you want to talk about
part of the way the Pavilion program devel- grandiose, but its not meant to be. Im quite
being multidisciplinary, you have to be able
oped from the time Hans Ulrich joined the gal- interested in doing things that are not possible.
to cut it next door to institutions that do that
lery in 2006. The Marathons are extraordinary. If youre the size we are, everything is a gift.
discipline. Im not sure were there yet, though
In the same way the Pavilion is an exhibition Were in a Royal Park, we have to tend to the
it is our intention and desire. Its not to say we
of architecture, the Marathon is an exhibition building, we cant go outside it, we have very
dont do itwe do. But its the question of our
of ideas. Its a wonderful concept and really limited money, very limited resources. So what
level of ambition. If you take the Marathon or
at the very heart of our collaboration and the do you do? First of all, you accept it, and then
the Pavilion, they are very clearly distinctive
starting point of our discussions. We talked a you say, How am I going to improve the
projects that occupy that terrain. Other people,
great deal before we decided we were going to situation? And then you begin to put things
of course, do wonderful architecture projects,
work together. together. That means you can do everything
but I think its true to say there is no other
youre not expected to do, and not allowed to
organization thats doing a project like we do
SB: How do you and Hans Ulrich collabo- do. That can be done in a wide variety of ways.
on an annual basis. Weve inhabited that space.
rate at the gallery? We regularly say to each other, Lets think the
Sou Fujimotos Serpentine Pavilion in 2013.

unthinkable. Lets think, What if? We set our


SB: So youre finding voids that exist in
JPJ: Were both co-directors of exhibitions standards high, and then go from there.
the art world?
and programs, so the job is divided between
us. Hes director of international projects, and SB: Whats been the biggest shift at the
JPJ: No. Its not so opportunistic. Not that
Im director of the institution. We have a very Serpentine since Hans Ulrich started?
I have any problem with opportunism, far
fluid relationship. The program is where we
from it. Its more to do with the way we move
connect at the heart of everything. But hes JPJ: Connection. He doesnt say it so much
into other disciplines: The artists, architects,
an excellent fundraiser, very good at table- now, but its this idea of being a juncture-
or designers we show are interested in that
seating plans. I was an artist and have been a maker. I think what he sparks in mewhich
discipline. It comes out of a need rather than
curator for all my life. Its the idea of one plus is a fascination of hisis making those con-
Hmm, what do we feel like today? Ah, lets do
one equals eleven. Hans Ulrichs knowledge nections. And also a sense of play, in the best
dance! Its programmatic layering thats very
of culture is astonishing. How lucky we are, possible sense. Hes obviously very serious,
important, rather than just bolting things on.
how lucky I am, to be able to have this fantas- intense, all of that, but at the heart of it, hes
One project weve started is an engage-
tic collaboration that is, as you might imagine, amusing. Theres a common ground. Its an
ment with literature through our Bridge
quite stimulating and productive. open discussion, always. And thats exciting,
Commission audio walks. Because were in
because there are no boundaries in the sense
a Royal Park, we cant commission artists,
SB: When did you first meet Hans Ulrich? of I cant say this or We shouldnt discuss
architects, or designers to make an umbilical
that. Its very open, and within that openness,
cord between our two buildings. Its just not
JPJ: We were introduced by the artist Richard you discover possibilities you didnt see before.
possible. So we decided to commission writ-
Wentworth, who mentioned him to me. Thats what makes change possible.

PHOTOS: FUJIMOTO, IWAN BAAN. ZUMTHOR, JOHN OFFENBACH. SERPENTINE SACKLER, LUKE HAYES.
ers to write a short story for the time it takes
Richard was a trustee at the time. I invited The connections are his neurological con-
to walk between one building and the other.
Hans Ulrich to curate a show called Take nections, which are enormous, but theyre
Theres one story a month, 12 a year. Its an
Me, Im Yours in 1995. We continued to also his connections to people across all dis-
international group, and the idea is that at the
stay in touch. I later went to see him lecture, ciplines. Thats whats incredible. Obviously,
Peter Zumthors Serpentine Pavilion in 2011.
end of the year well have a library of contem-
SANAAs Serpentine Pavilion in 2009.
and following it, we went out to dinner. We
porary writing. Its something thats incredibly
took a taxi together to his hotel. I dropped
appropriate for the Serpentine. When we talk
him off, and we were laughing about the fact
about it, people smile.
that the Hayward needed a new director. We
Thats really what I would call the inter-
both were really giggling about who would do
disciplinary programming we need to be
that. Not because its the Hayward, but this
doing in the future, the kind that comes out
idea of who would be the director of a public
of a need for the institution and has an obvi-
institution like that, how unbelievably hostile
ous resonance with what were doing. Thats
it is. We began this conversation that lasted
really the future. If we do that in all the disci-
a year about what it meant to be a director
plineswhich has always been our intention
of an international institution and what the
for the two buildingsthen we will make the
possibilities were, what the limitations were,
Serpentine an organization thats thinking in
how things could change. It was a conversa-
a very interesting way about its position, its
tion about ideas. In the end, I thought, This is
relationship to its context, to the public, and
ridiculous. We talk every single day, hes com-
also to culture overall.
pletely fascinatingwhy arent we working
together? I then invited him to come to the
Serpentine. We devised these rather lengthy
PHOTO: IWAN BAAN.

titles, but actually theyre very descriptive of


what we do.

SB: Hans Ulrich is certainly interested in


architecture, but you seem to be the one The recently completed Serpentine Sackler Gallery, designed by Zaha Hadid.

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HANS ULRICH OBRIST HANS ULRICH OBRIST

In addition to his many


interviews, doodles by Hans
Ulrich Obrist offer a look
Character into his life and mind.

Sketch

Hans Ulrich Obrist has been drawing since he drawings, inspired in part by Georges Perec documentsa kind of toolbox. This is why
was a teenager in the mid-1980s. This was the and the Oulipo movement in France in the theres no annotation of any kind for them.
time when he first started meeting artists in 1960s, are essentially a form of public notation. Obrist simply didnt keep track; they werent
Switzerland and elsewhere through his travels. The presence of paper plays an important that important. What was more crucial for him
These first encounters with artistsAlighiero role in Obrists drawings. A fair number of was the moment that was experienced in the
Boetti, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Gilbert them are made on hotel stationery. There process of listening, making, talking, or doing
and George, Gerhard Richterwere what are also papers from the various institutions whatever it was he felt worth doing. The draw-
made him decide he wanted to work with art- where Obrist has worked or curated. There are ings are merely expressionistic remainders of
ists and that curating would be his work, even drawings made over printouts of emails and what was not consumed as fuel for planning
though he admittedly didnt really know what texts, like a kind of contemporary palimpsest. an exhibition, editing a book, or imagining a
a curator did. Layers upon layers of notes, names, and ideas Marathon. Still, hes conscious enough about
Obrist took night trains all over Europe, that exist on the same plane but evoke radically drawing as an essential act in the process of
going to as many as 30 cities in 30 days. It was different parallel realities. his work that he carries around piles of paper
during these trips that he started to draw. At Obrist loses the pens he uses to draw as reg- in his suitcase when he travels, in case some-
first, the drawings were systematic notes and ularly as he loses the drawings themselves. He thing strikes him as worthy of remembering
sketches about exhibitions, and simple lists often draws with pens from the hotels where on paper.
IMAGE: COURTESY HANS ULRICH OBRIST AND BADLANDS UNLIMITED.
of things he had seen and artists he had met. he stays. Many pens come from stewards and Obrists sketches teeter on the edge of
According to Obrist, these drawings served stewardesses on flights, and from lobbies of being recognized as artworks. They are cer-
no real purpose. Whats more, he generally lost offices he passes by. He claims to never own a tainly beautiful and enigmatic. And they
them as soon as he made them. pen longer than a day. captureas any work ought tothe act of
As Obrist began his career as a curator, he Looking at just a few of Obrists drawings, becoming something neither predicted nor
continued to sketch. Over time, what he made one would get a sense of a fertile, frenetic, and pre-established.
changed and diversified. There were still the possibly obsessive mind. Yet their intensity Are they real works? Who knows? Then
drawings related to exhibition-making. But and variety betray a semblance of continuity again, nobody who recognizes what they
during the 1990s, Obrist began his Interview between concerns and attitudes that he returns really are cares.
By Project. And during those recorded conver- to over and over again. Seeing many of them
sations with artists, philosophers, scientists, in a sequence, its possible to feel as if one is
writers, and anyone else who piqued his curi- looking at the rhythm of how he thinks. Even
osity, Obrist would write notes and sketch though some drawings are much denser than
out ideas and images that came up as he was others and some are just one or two words
interviewing. He also began to do more public on a piece of paper, one can feel the pulse of a
speaking. As a result of nervousness, he began mind at work and at play. This is an edited version of the introduction
to obsessively write and sketch before and Obrist has never paid much attention to his to the forthcoming book Think Like Clouds
Paul Chan sometimes during a lecture or speech. These drawings. To him, they were merely working (Badlands Unlimited), by Hans Ulrich Obrist.

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HANS ULRICH OBRIST

153
IMAGE: COURTESY HANS ULRICH OBRIST AND BADLANDS UNLIMITED.
IMAGE: COURTESY HANS ULRICH OBRIST AND BADLANDS UNLIMITED.

152
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HANS ULRICH OBRIST
HANS ULRICH OBRIST

155
IMAGE: COURTESY HANS ULRICH OBRIST AND BADLANDS UNLIMITED.
IMAGE: COURTESY HANS ULRICH OBRIST AND BADLANDS UNLIMITED.

154
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HANS ULRICH OBRIST
HANS ULRICH OBRIST HANS ULRICH OBRIST

Paul
Who is Hans McCarthy
Artist

Ulrich Obrist?

PHOTO: JOSHUA WHITE, COURTESY THE ARTIST AND HAUSER & WIRTH.
I met Hans Ulrich a long time ago, in the mid- figuring out if we would do it. Then I decided taken that kind of risk. It had to do with really
90s at a dinner in Zurich, through [art dealer that we could go for it. wanting to see it done, and for me, it might
and gallery owner] Iwan Wirth. It was all super risky because of how large not even have happened if he hadnt shown
One time, he had come to L.A., and I it would be. Once we decided to do it, it was up. Its very typical of him to be positive and
had a model that I had made of the White all about trying to get it done. Then, once it supportive of the artist. Art is what he cares
Snow installation [that was shown at the was done, the reality hit: Could we even move about. As told to Bettina Korek
Park Avenue Armory earlier this year with it? By moving it, would we destroy it? The
the exhibition title WS]. Id given up on it gamble was really big. There were all kinds
and decided that I would move on to another of issues, including the [explicit] content of
project. I figured Id maybe come back to it the piece. They werent sure they could show
Friends & in a couple of years. I was kind of okay with
just leaving it in the studio. Hans Ulrich saw
the model, and we had a talk about it. I dont
it. Even after the piece was made and being
moved therethe trucks were leavingthe
Armory was still asking, What have we
know how long it was after thatmaybe six agreed to do?
months or a yearwhen he called me and All the way through, Hans Ulrich was
asked, Could we put the White Snow piece completely supportive, always positive, while
in the Armory? I didnt know what it would knowing there was the possibility that it might A scene from Paul McCarthys WS
mean. It was a one- or two-month process of not happen. A lot of people wouldnt have
Collaborators SURFACE 156 157
(2013) at the Park Avenue Armory.
HANS ULRICH OBRIST HANS ULRICH OBRIST

Jacques Samuel
Herzog Keller
Founder and senior partner, Director,
Herzog & de Meuron Beyeler Foundation
My earliest memories of Hans Ulrich go back Since I moved from Art Basel to the Beyeler really doing everything to make the artist feel
to the mid-90s. He was a character I would Foundation, weve done numerous projects comfortable, to make the artist look good, to
come across at biennials: a pale, young, tall together. I helped him realize his Do It book give the artist a platform for what she or he
man schlepping around a large bag with lots and the Tempo Del Postino exhibition at would like to communicate. Hes never as
of documents, usually catalogues, always run- Basel. Currently were collaborating on the manicured as critics, trying to put himself up
ning around at a very fast pace. At that time, 14 Rooms live art show hes co-curating with front or showing how intelligent he is, how
there werent so many people at all the big art Klaus Biesenbach for Basel next June. I also much he knows about the artist. Theres a level
events around the world. Whenever I showed invited him to curate an exhibition of Gerhard of confidence and trust between him and the
up somewhere, Hans Ulrich was often already Richter [which will be shown at the Beyeler artists. In that, artists reveal things that they
therebut only for 24 hours. Foundation from May 18 to Sept. 7, 2014]. It would not usually share.
The first project we did together was in 2000 will be both Richters and Han Ulrichs first Hans Ulrichs brain is so big, and it works
when I was the director of Art Basel. At that large-scale exhibition in Switzerland. so fast. If his brain were a muscle, it would be
time, art fairs were just galleries showing art- We see each other quite a lot, and we com- a big bodybuilder; it would look like Arnold
works in booths. I thought they should have municate at least once a week. After we found Schwarzenegger in his best days. If you ask
a stronger cultural component; involve art- out that were both very hard to reach, we him to generate an idea, he just cant stop gen-
ists, curators, and collectors; and educate the started to call each other every Monday morn- erating them. For every opportunity you give
public. Hans Ulrich seemed to me the right ing. Sometimes its not possible because were him to have an idea, he will find plenty. Ideas
person to create new platforms for dialogue in on a plane, or were far away, but in general we come to him all the time.
the art world. So I invited him as the first guest talk on Monday mornings. Thats our profes- Hes someone whose horizon extends
of whats now Art Basels Salon. Although he sional relationship, but were also friends. He beyond art and into science, architecture, lit-
came half an hour late, it was an instant success. never takes holidays, but if he did, he would be erature, film, and so on. He has a broad sense
Through that, I asked Hans Ulrich if he would one of the people I would go on holidays with. of the world. Hes also someone who doesnt
be willing to work with me and a small team to Hes an adorable man, a genius and generous, want art to be in an ivory tower; he wants art
create a series of talks, panel discussions, publi- and a bit eccentric, with a big heart and a great in life, he wants it to reach a large public, and
cations, and artist interviews during Art Basel, sense of humor. he still wants it to be able to preserve its intrin-
which we named Conversations. Hans Ulrich Ive always loved his interviews, especially sic qualities. Hes a fantastic agent for art and
wasand isthe spirit, the director, the mas- when theyre live. When hes speaking with artists in the world at large. As told to S.B.
termind behind that. From that moment on, an artist, the conversations show how much
weve never stopped collaborating. Hans Ulrich is the artists best friend. Hes

Weve known each other more than 20 so direct. Thats not his character. His magic can one bring things down to the ground with
David
years. Hes interviewed me quite a few times. somehow is that he can be influential and be such a way of living? The great thing about
Through the Serpentine Pavilion project [in present without being intrusive. Its kind of an him is not that he does so many projects, but Chipperfield
2012] we really started to understand better absence of intentionality. that so many projects come out well and are
what we could do together, how we would I think whats super surprising is that you innovative and new and interesting.
work with artistsin this case, Ai Weiwei. I dont really know what Hans Ulrich does, but Being around Hans Ulrich is very often
Architect
think we started to appreciate what the other you know he does so incredibly much. We sheer pleasure. You feel he makes the moment
did. Since then, we have made this collabora- could say nice things about Hans Ulrich that very special. I think this is a very extraordi- Ive never really worked with Hans Ulrich, both on the same plane to Berlin and seated Hans Ulrich is a very free spirit, continu-
tion more intense. We have two or three ongo- everybody else would also say: Hes amazingly nary and artful way of living. In this sense he but he has been a continual presence in my next to each other. He takes on board a suit- ously curious. I remember one time at an event
ing projects. connected, he knows all artists, all architects, is like an artist himself. He says, This is the life, the most energetic, purposeful person Ive case on wheels and a briefcase. How long in Morocco his plane was delayed and we kept
The Serpentine Pavilion project was very all curators. He knows everything and every- moment, this is what we have to do. As told ever met. are you staying, Hans Ulrich? I ask. Just a getting messages that he was stuck somewhere.
fast. Pierre [de Meuron] and I could see how body. Hes like a living network. When youre to Spencer Bailey Theres a story he likes to tell about us. I day, he says, leaving me wondering what he He eventually arrived at 11 p.m., and was due
helpful and how stimulating it must be for an with him, you feel connected to other people, travel a lot. I always arrive at Heathrow early, could have in such a big suitcase. On board, to depart at 6 the next morning. Yet at mid-
PHOTO: LUKE HAYES.

artist to work with Hans Ulrich when hes other projects, other ideas. semi-conscious. I have a bowl of cereal, read he opens the suitcase, and its full of papers, a night he headed off to see a certain institution.
doing a show, because hes so encouraging, He has an almost nonphysical presence, a newspaper, and stay in my bubble. I use huge wad, like a mobile office. His underpants Id turned in by then. His almost childlike
hes so dear and careful. We always felt he was something fugitive. His constant traveling plane time to sleep, even on a short haul. So and shirt are in his briefcase. It was charming. enthusiasm is contagious. He has an incredible
so supportive, but he would not come and say, enhances this impression. I often wonder how Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiweis Im going through security, and Hans Ulrich We talked for the hour-and-a-half flight. Such charge. As told to Nonie Niesewand
Lets do this and not that. He would never be he can physically and mentally bear that. How Serpentine Pavilion in 2012. is calling my name. To my surprise, were is his enthusiasm to spark ideas.

SURFACE 158 159


HANS ULRICH OBRIST HANS ULRICH OBRIST

John
Baldessari
Artist

I met Hans Ulrich when I was in Paris doing We just worked on a show together at the it], but what was shown was the correspon-
a show with Marian Goodman [in 1997]. Garage [Center for Contemporary Art] in dence. Hans Ulrich is somehow still convinced
Marian asked if I would like to have dinner Moscow, 1 + 1 = 1. It was from a whole series it can be done. He fills me with optimism. In
with this young guy who was in town, and it of works that had been spread over four or his mind, anything can be done. I really like
was Hans Ulrich. I kept calling him Hans, and five gallery shows. It came about when Hans that attitude. As told to B.K.
Marian said, No, its Hans Ulrich. Ulrich called me up and said, How about
Hans Ulrich and [artist] Meg Cranston doing this as a show at the Garage? I said
did a lot of the work on [my two volumes great, because I hadnt had the opportunity to
of collected writings]. The books are a way unite these works and see them together.
of understanding and going back and think- I also participated in two other Hans Ulrich
IMAGE: COURTESY THE ARTIST.
IMAGE: COURTESY THE ARTIST.

ing about what was going on in my head. Im shows, 11 Rooms in Manchester and 13
glad I wrote things down. Its good to review Rooms in Sydney [both co-curated with
my thinking process, what was absorbing me Klaus Biesenbach]. For Manchester, the idea
and what was interesting me. I never thought was to realize a project I had proposed for
it would be two volumes. That was Hans the Information show at MoMA [in 1970]. John Baldessaris Double Vision:
Ulrichs idea, and then I jokingly came up with MoMA had said no, and then somehow Hans Lewitt (2011). (OPPOSITE)
the title [More Than You Wanted to Know Ulrich found it and said, Why cant we do it? Baldessaris Double Play: Eggs and
About John Baldessari]. Manchester made assiduous efforts [to realize Sausage (2012).

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HANS ULRICH OBRIST HANS ULRICH OBRIST

Klaus
Biesenbach
Director, MoMA PS1, and
Chief Curator-at-Large,
MoMA
I met Hans Ulrich on a night train in 1993 on time. He had the Leonardo da Vinci rhythm: sessions and phone conversations that weve
the way to the Venice Biennale. At the time, He would sleep for 15 minutes every three continued since the 90s have accompanied
there were no cheap flights, so you took night hours. We would wake up at 5, get ready, real life.
trains. I remember I locked the compartment I walk to Burger Kingwhich opened at 5:30 I consider Hans Ulrich a pacemaker, a cata-
was in. I pretended I was sleeping and that the or 6and then we would do constant studio lyst, an encyclopedia, an idea machine, and a
compartment was full. In Innsbruck, Austria, visits until we dropped. Weve frequently been very close friend. We were, in the mid-90s,
somebody entered the compartment and working together ever since. on the advisory committee of an institution
brought in all his papers and books. I wanted My relationship with Hans Ulrich is rooted in Japan. We travel the world with each other,
the light out; he wanted it on. He wanted to in the 90s, when the Internet wasnt so ubiq- and its always about art and facilitating for
read and work, and I needed to sleep. In the uitous. We used to do these telephone con- the artists. Hans Ulrich makes everything into
IMAGES: COURTESY THE ARTIST.

morning, we started to talk about contempo- ferences. Actually, we still do them. Last year, a serious series by his never-ending curios-
rary art. Thats how we met: fighting over a when Hurricane Sandy happened, we were ity and peripatetic moving-forward. Hes an
train compartment. in the midst of a telephone conference. It got incredible gentleman. He has the best manners.
The first thing we worked on together was so loud on my side that at some point Hans Hes a very, very curious curator who tries to
research. Hans Ulrich used to have an apart- Ulrich said, Whats going on? I said, Hans meet and hear and see every significant image
(TOP TO BOTTOM) John Baldessaris ment in93 and 94 on Crampton Street in Ulrich, my phone is going to die soon. There and idea in the world, literally not leaving any-
Double Bill: and Duchamp (2012). London. We called it the Crampton Street is a flood in front of my building, I have no thing out. As told to S.B.
Baldessaris Double Bill (Part 2): and Disaster. He and his partner, Koo Jeong-A, electricity anymore, and I see that the power
Lger (2012). and I stayed there. He wouldnt sleep at the station is on fire. These long brainstorming

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HANS ULRICH OBRIST HANS ULRICH OBRIST

Olafur Anton
Eliasson Vidokle
Artist Founder, e-flux

Ive known Hans Ulrich for, I dont know, 15 and it has taken 10 years or so. That we dont you do things, but why you do things, and
years or so. I did some of my first exhibitions repeat ourselves is not totally true, but gener- this, I think, is valuable. One can say that the
with him, and whats important to me is that, ally speaking, there has been, I think, a pretty core quality of Hans Ulrich is that hes not
in a way, we are still working on the thing we straightforward trajectory. Think about it: In about formulas; hes more about the relevance
started on. Clearly, there is a dimension of the an hour or so, you cannot capture 10 years. to the time in which we are right now. This
never-ending story, and as time passesas the When I sit down and talk to Hans Ulrich, the is why making an interview over 10 years
years go bythere is a certain value in this. conversation is not just 10 minutes old; its 10 obviously takes this whole other dimension. I
I think we have done maybe eight, nine, years old. Theres a certain depth of friendship. dont know whether anybody will ever listen
or 10 interviews now. Which isnt really true, I mean, its incredible. through all of them. As told to B.K.
actually. We have only done one interview, Hans Ulrich keeps asking, not about how

John
Brockman
Founder, Edge Foundation
I remember Hans Ulrich came to visit me at is a conversation, and the scientists were So was Marina Abramovic, with Dr. Ruth.
my farm to do an interview. I think it was completely ignorant of what the conversa- Hans Ulrich and I have done several proj-
the best interview that anyone has done with tion was at the timethey were stuck in 19th- ects. One was Maps for the 21st Century
me. It was February 1999, and it was titled and early-20th-century art ideas. (Has this at the Serpentine Gallerys Map Marathon [in
Brockmans Taste for Science, or How to changed? No.) 2010]. Another was Information Gardens
Entertain the Worlds Smartest People. In terms of working with Hans Ulrich, I at the Garden Marathon [in 2011].
Im interested in science and art, but Im leave the art up to him and focus on the sci- Hans Ulrich is one of a kind. In a world Hans Ulrich and I met in Madrid about 14 sorts of different reasons, from censorship, to I meant it as a real agency: one that would
not at all interested in this conflation of ence. We havent been trying to bring artists where almost everybody puts on yesterdays years ago. We started spontaneously talking loss of funding, to ideas that are unrealizable administer unrealized artworks and amass
people talking about art and science together. and scientists togetherintentionality kills newspapers as ideasin a world where most at an exhibition, and I gave him my email by definition. He was fascinated by this idea, an archive. This archive would sometimes be
I learned about science by working with artists. these projects. Science is a methodology for people have never had an original thought address. I had just started e-flux, and he was and I became interested in it, too. Everything displayed somewhere, and perhaps someone
John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Nam June representing knowledge; art is something else. almost everything out of his mouth is inter- curious about it. He sent me a really long text in our world is a product of someones idea. could go through it and select something for
Paikthey would give me books. Scientists in Artists can be inspired by science: They can esting and fresh. in German about art and the InternetI guess This building is an idea, this table is an idea, realization. We started from there.
the McLuhanist sense were like the beacons attempt to make it visible, and it can be the Ive never thought about my relationship he assumes that everybody speaks every lan- this pen and notebook is an idea, each of which Unbuilt Roads was comprised mainly of ideas
of the avant-garde, sending signs to the public canvas. Turning that around and having scien- with him, except that were good friends. I guage that he does. As a joke, I did one of the has reached a moment of realization. But for by artists Hans Ulrich knew personally. I sug-
about what was coming up next. If I had an tists do art doesnt make them artists. bring the scientists to the party, and he brings early versions of automated online transla- every idea that gets realized there are probably gested to make the agency radically open, so that
Edge Foundation event with [mathematician The project with Hans Ulrich that I liked the art. As told to B.K. tions, before Google, and it was completely thousands that dont. If you imagine the world anyone could submit an unrealized project. This
Benot] Mandelbrot, every artist would come. the most was in Iceland, where he interviewed incomprehensible. It sounded like a robot had as a kind of iceberg, where physical reality is is because its not only artists who have ideas to
But when the artists presented their work to me in front of an audience. This was about written it. When he saw it, he went, Wow, this just the tip of unrealized ideas of all sorts, it make art. Im completely fascinated by unreal-
scientists, it would be like ships passing. Art three years ago. Olafur Eliasson was there. is incredible. Its better than the text that I sent becomes really fascinating. ized art ideas by people who are not artists, or at
you. Weve been friends and collaborators Unrealized ideas are particularly interest- least not professional artists. We created a very
ever since. Weve done many projects together ing in art, because, for example, in architecture simple online form in which you could submit
in all sorts of capacities. Sometimes Im an there is a tradition of presenting them. This is text and images, and we circulated an open call
artist and hes a curator; sometimes Im a pub- because most architecture projects are in fact for unrealized art projects. So far, weve received
lisher and hes a writer. Our roles constantly never realizedthey remain proposalsbut several thousand submissions of all kinds.
Zaha reverse. Its a very unusual collaboration. Its there are exhibitions, there are books that For me, this almost becomes like a topo-
never the same. circulate and are discussed, and in this way graphical survey of the contemporary artistic
The Agency of Unrealized Projects is some- unbuilt structures enter the discursive space of imagination. To date, the agency has done three
Hadid thing that came about when we were going to architecture. In art, however, its really tricky, exhibitions. Each time we present the agency,
a conference in Rotterdam. Both of our planes because if an artwork isnt made, it just does the archive keeps growing, and now were
Architect arrived at some insane hour. We were on the
street in Rotterdam at 5:30 in the morning,
not exist. For me, what was interestingand
urgentwas to create a place for ideas that
about to take the crucial step and put the whole
archive online. In theory, we dont see an end
which was too early to check into the hotel, have never seen the moment of realization, and to this because theres not a lack of unrealized
I think we first met while I was designing intuitive and knowledgeable interviewer gallery. I like so much of his work, but his and we had nothing to do. We ended up in a to develop a circulation mechanism for things projects. We plan to continue until we collect
the 1998 exhibition at the Hayward Gallery the Conversation Series interviews we did shows with Rem Koolhaas were especially caf and had breakfast together. He was telling that are unmade: unwritten books, unmade them all. As told to S.B.
[Addressing the Century: 100 Years of Art were excellent. memorable. He has a very sharp mind and me about this book, Unbuilt Roads, that he films, unwritten concertos, unmade objects.
and Fashion]. Weve done some great inter- Hans Ulrich is a superb curator and has so much passion. Hes a lovely guy and good had published in the early 90s. It was a book When Hans Ulrich and I were talking at An illustration of Hans Ulrich Obrist
views, talks, and panel discussions together done a great job at the Serpentinethough friend. I love his energy and sense of humor. of unrealized art projects for which artists sent breakfast that morning in Rotterdam, I sug- by artist N.S. Harsha for the Agency of
around the world. Hans Ulrich is such an my opinion is biased, as Im a trustee of the As told to N.N. him projects by fax that were unrealized for all gested we open an agency for this purpose. Unrealized Projects.

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HANS ULRICH OBRIST HANS ULRICH OBRIST

Peter Tino
Fischli Sehgal
Artist Artist
We met through [writer and curator] Jens I think Hans Ulrich has very nice gestures. A lot of people think they have him figured
Hoffmann. It must have been 2001. Jens and With one particular gesture, hes kind of an out, and after a while they realize its not that
Hans Ulrich rang the doorbell to my studio, introvert and extrovert at the same time. He straightforward. As told to S.B.
and I came down. They were in a taxi, and speaks, then his arms open, and he kind of tilts
we went for a ride. Im not sure if it was an his head. I once pointed it out to him, and he
appointment. Maybe they just showed up, tried to replicate it, but he didnt have the right
which seems unbelievable nowadays. attitude. I then tried to replicate it, and I also
Our first collaboration was when Hans failed. As a person who has a love for chore-
Ulrich invited me to be part of Do It, ography, its definitely something to watch out
and then I was part of an exhibition called for. If you cant understand what Hans Ulrich
Manifesta 4 in 2002. He saw my piece there, is saying, just check out his gestures!
and he immediately asked me if I wanted to Asking why people are fascinated with
do an interview, which I guess is his way of Hans Ulrich is like asking Coca-Cola for its
talking to people. Although it was a proper recipe. Its just a very specific mixture. Hes
conversation, it turned out to be a very enjoy- modest, hes obsessive, hes very intelligent,
able moment. We published it a few times, and hes very extroverted, and yet hes also very
weve done a number of interviews since. shy. He combines a lot of opposites somehow.
Im not sure hell like me saying this, but in What I often say to people when they first
a way Hans Ulrich was saved by art. For him, meet him is: Its very easy to overestimate
its a psychological necessity. him, and its very easy to underestimate him.

Maja
Hoffmann
Founder, LUMA
Foundation
One day in 1985, Hans Ulrich called us and there. We had the idea to not bring artwork, wouldnt be enough for himbut also archi- I met the young Hans Ulrich Obrist in 1992 Philippe Parreno and Liam Gillick. The list Brazil] at a conference, and in Munich, where
asked if he could come to our studio. He was a but rather just bring him the things that he tecture, philosophy, music, every field. at Jan Hoets Documenta 9 on a rainy eve- of artists in the show ranged from Lawrence he has invited me twice to the Digital-Life-
teenager. It was pretty exceptionalnormally needed in a kitchen, like special, food-size As told to B.K. ning outside of the show. [Parkett editor] Bice Weiner to Daniel Buren, from Uri Aran Design conference. Each year, I see him in
curators or collectors came. He was very inter- packages for restaurants. He filled one part of Curiger introduced us. From then on, we to Klara Lidn and Anri Sala, from Rirkrit London, Paris, or Arles for our think tanks
ested, wanted to know everything, and asked the kitchen with all of that stuff. He had no can kept bumping into each other, with a sudden Tiravanija to Pierre Huyghe. In 2010, he was with my core advisory group: Beatrix Ruf,
smart questions. openers. There was one big crate of chocolate increase since 2006 or 2007. I have a lovely, the nominator of a selection of photogra- Tom Eccles, and Philippe Parreno. Ive also
PHOTO: MORLEY VON STERNBERG.

During our third or fourth meeting, he cream, which he was able to open without a delightful relationship with him. Starting this phers for the Prix Dcouverte des Rencontres seen him in New York, Stockholm, Dubai,
came up with the idea for a kitchen show. can opener. At the end of the show, the cans year, hes a member of the LUMA Foundation, dArles. This show then traveled to the Sharjah, Venice, Turin, Zurich, and on top
We went and saw his apartment. He had no were all gone. which I founded in Zurich in 2004. Garage in Moscow under the title How Soon of a Swiss mountain. And in the Caribbean,
use for his kitchen, because he didnt know Hans Ulrich is one of the most curious LUMA has helped the Serpentine Gallery is Now? where he took off his shoes, but not his Agns
how to cook, so he wondered what he could people Ive met. Hes always hungry for new produce three pavilions: SAANAs in 2009, Hans Ulrich is an original innovator, a B suit. As told to S.B.
do with the room. Normally a kitchen is the things: Whats next, whats next, whats next? Peter Zumthors in 2011, and Sou Fujimotos researcher, and a brain. His interviews in
most useful room in an apartment, but not for Hes really sharp, always looking at the future, Fischli/Weisss Rock on Top this year. We also worked on a group show books or on video are incredible. He tours
Hans Ulrich. He transformed it into an exhibi- but also very curious about the past. Hes not of Another Rock (2013) at the [in 2012], To the Moon via the Beach, for the planet with them. He is ubiquitous. Ive
tion space and asked if we could do something only super interested in the field of artthat Serpentine Gallery. Arles, which Hans Ulrich co-curated with seen him pop up at Inhotim [art center in

SURFACE 166 167


HANS ULRICH OBRIST HANS ULRICH OBRIST

Bice Philippe
Curiger Parreno
Editor, Parkett Artist and filmmaker
I met Hans Ulrich when he was 16 years old. He then started to follow us to gallery open- Hans Ulrich has his wonderful energy to
It was 1984, and we had just started Parkett. ings so he could sneak in with us to the din- connect totally different worlds, totally differ-
I think it was before we even published the ners afterwards. ent intelligences, and he creates a sort of new
first issue. He showed up at the office, and Karen Marta was at the time the New York geography of intelligences. I think its like an
there was this very, very young person saying, editor of Parkett, and she always was great image of a moment of history. Nobody does
Oh, I have heard you started the magazine. in sending me stuff I should know about New what he does. He breaks up the boxes where
I want to buy the special-edition issue you York. She had sent me an article from The things are usually stored, and he connects
announced, done by the Italian artist Enzo New Yorker about Walter Hopps, and I them on a lively, energetic level. He doesnt
Cucchi, but I cannot pay for it in full. Can I thought he was an incredibly important just do another dead thing, but a very lively
pay you 20 Swiss francs every month? We figure. I told Hans Ulrich to read it, because thing. I think he one day should become the
were, of course, touched. I mean, we were I knew that he had aspirations to also become curator of one of those World Expos.
just in love with this young boy immediately. an important curator. As told to B.K.

Stefano
Tonchi
Editor-in-Chief, W
Hans Ulrich is a good friend. Ive always been evolution of art and what art means to differ- da Vinci type of guy. At the same time, hes a [Artist] Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster men- move on to something else. Hans Ulrich never art without the exhibition, and that an object
one of his fans, even if I have not read every- ent generations. kind of magician. He appears and then dis- tioned Hans Ulrich to me and said that we does that. For him, its never complete. Hes a exists only when its exhibited. An exhibition
thing he has writtenits too much. You need Hans Ulrich makes his office wherever he is. appears. Its like real and virtual. Sometimes should meet. I knew he was a young curator, true believer in art, and when you believe in art, is all about the negotiation of an objects pres-
to be like a marathon runner to read it all. Last time I saw him, we were in Hong Kong. you wonder: Does he exist? Or maybe there is and Id seen some of the talks he was doing at you have to keep doing and redoing. Things ence and its appearance.
Hes very well known for not sleeping, but We were having breakfast at the Peninsula, and more than one of him! As told to S.B. the time. Wed kind of been moving around have to be reinvented. Hans Ulrich knows that. One memorable time with Hans Ulrich
IMAGE: COURTESY PILAR CORRIAS.

thats just what he does. He reads everything. there he was with two other curators, three each other for a while. Then, when he orga- He has fantastic intuition. In many ways, hes was when we went to Ireland. We drove for a
Hes in his own time zone somehow. There is artists, and suddenly the breakfast room of the nized the show Alien Seasons in 2003 at an inventor. while, and we were talking nonstop. After 10
no way to say where he is, because he doesnt Peninsula became his personal office. We had the Muse dArt Moderne in Pariswhere he The show that was a breakthrough for minutes, he said, Why are they all honking at
have a time zone. He text-messages me in the great conversations. was a curator at the timewe started working himand mewas Il Tempo del Postino. It us? Its really weird. And we realized we were
middle of the night or whatever the time is His knowledge reminds me of a humanist, together and talking nearly every day. was one of the most important things Ive ever driving on the wrong side of the street. That
where he is. like somebody from the Renaissance. He can I think hes one of the only great curators done, and it was a true encounter between him was a funny thing. As told to S.B.
Im very interested in his 89plus project. go from science to architecture to pop culture todayor the last one. The joy for me is that as a curator and me as an artist. Both of us had
We wrote about it in W magazine recently. I to entertainment to fashion to design. Theres with Hans Ulrich the conversation never stops been convinced that the only way to measure Philippe Parrenos In Preparation of Marilyn:
think its a very interesting way to look at the nothing he cant talk about. Hes this Leonardo when a project is finished. Normally, people art is to do so through time, that there is no Biometric Portrait (2012).

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HANS ULRICH OBRIST HANS ULRICH OBRIST

During a visit to Milan in February 2001, Hans They tackled the technical differences that
Ulrich Obrist met with 20th-century Italian might influence the way they used these dif-
architect and designer Ettore Sottsass to con- ferent vocabularies, but nothing more.
duct one of several interviews with the legend,
Ettore Sottsass who passed away in 2007. The following is an HUO: Whenever your writings are
edited version of the previously unpublished published, there are always lots of ques-
conversation. tions, discussions that cause upheavals
in artistic circles. And this happens not
Hans Ulrich Obrist: Id like to begin this just here in Italy but also abroad among
interview with the catalogue of your first younger architects, with debates over
exhibition, held in 46, which you curated what you assert fearlessly. Your position
with Bruno Munari. is immensely relevant because you speak
rather critically about the world of highly
Ettore Sottsass: I was living in desperate specialized architecture. You have defined
straits in Milan, quite penniless, and we were a much more transversal approach in
working on so-called abstract or concrete art, practice, and for this very reason, perhaps,
as it used to be called then, with immense you also interest young architects today.
enthusiasm. People just didnt want to know
about it. Actually, I could be described as an ES: The important thing is to think about
outsider back then. I was a pupil of Luigi whats happening. For example, I come from
Spazzapan, a gestural painter who worked the mountains. I was born in Innsbruck,
in a very graphic style. Just thinkgestural Austria. I spent my childhood surrounded by
painting already in 38, 39! Even my own woods, mountains, high crags. I have a sense
abstract art was halfway between gesture and of weight thats quite different from Norman
figurative representation. It wasnt unrecog- Fosters, though I have no idea where he was
nizable as such, but underlying it was a form bornat any rate, he has an idea of weight
of figuration. The abstract art of Munari or quite different from mine. Weight riles him,
[graphic designer] Max Huber or Max Bill but it comforts me. If a thing is heavy, I feel
was by contrast a much more concrete form laid back about it. If its flying through the air,
of abstraction, much more downright, more then I start to worry. So there are these differ-
geometrical. ent strands in our visions of the planet, of the
cosmos, and the feeling we have, right from
HUO: Lets examine the importance of the start, about these things.
fluidity and circulation between sepa-
rate disciplines. HUO: I find nowadays that its really
interesting to try to grasp our relation-
ES: However you look at it, I feel the task of ship to certain developments in science. Ettore Sottsass (left) and Hans Ulrich
the designer or the architect is to design the Its interesting that scientific progress Obrist in Milan in 1999. (Editors
artificial environment, from objects to archi- began a big debate about uncertainty. note: The taking of this image and the
tecture, spaces, and so on. Each design corre- interview on these pages occurred at
sponds directly or indirectly to an idea one has ES: About unreality. > different times.)
of life, of society, of the relations between the
individual and society. It corresponds to the
form of the weltanschauung [or worldview];
it remains the basic cultural background. And
this happens in whatever you do. Whether I
design a vase or design architecture, there is
always this background, this basic cultural
background. The difference, then, is only
technical. Its clear that if Im designing archi-
tecture, I need to know things that are not
the same as what I have to know to design a
glass vase, and to design a glass vase you need
to know things that are not the same as what
you need to take a photograph. But apart
from these technical differenceswhich are
certainly important because they have an effect
on what I can design and conditionthere still
remains, deep down, what I think of life, why
I do things, what I imagine happens when I
design something. So I dont see the point of
any clear-cut distinction between disciplines.
Hans Ulrich Take the Renaissance. It was hardly an acci-
dent that the Renaissance was a period when
PHOTO: ARMIN LINKE.

many artists imagined, above all, a new kind of


life. They imagined a new society, a new vision
of the world, a new, say, interpretation of the
potential of life. They didnt make a major dis-
tinction between Brunelleschis dome and the
design of, say, some other work of architecture.
Obrist SURFACE 170 171
HANS ULRICH OBRIST HANS ULRICH OBRIST

HUO: They talk about uncertainty. This presentiment even in the use you make of HUO: I read your texts on kitchens Fiat or Mercedes keep on turning out 2,000
is the doubt. the terms planetary or global that is by chance, as well as your other books, automobiles a day, theyve got to go some-
really worth exploring, given the dimen- during a period not far from when I first where! And if we tell Fiat to quit making cars,
ES: Its a doubt thats developed in my own sions they have achieved today. On the began to take an interest in the work of therell be thousands of people out of work. I
mind. But I think Im not the only one to one hand, all your work is research into Italo Calvino. I often wondered whether feel this kind of impossibility, this thing I call
feel this. I believe its valid for scientists, too. archetypes, or rather into global elements, or not there was a connection between destiny, something inevitable.
A few years ago, I began to have some sense while on the other, you also studyyou you two.
of the scale of the cosmos. I told myself our explorethe local in great depth. This HUO: Its also interesting to see whats
planet is in the solar system, which belongs to a presents us with a paradox, a fertile con- ES: No, I knew him, but only casually. We happening in Asia. There are a lot of
galaxy, and in this galaxy there are hundreds of tradiction, dont you feel? never went beyond wishing each other good Westerners, planners, who tell the politi-
thousands, perhaps millions, of solar systems, evening, and we never worked together. But cians, Youve got to prevent the kind of
and there are several billion galaxies. Well, at ES: I feel very deeplyeven if one is an athe- as for what youre saying, in 56 I went to problems we already have from taking
this point I said to myself: I cant understand ist, even if he doesnt seek the truththat America for the first time, and I met George root here.
what all this means. Even the fact that we could we are all compelled, conditioned, to act out Nelson. We EuropeansI dont know if
see the earth from the moon or from the sky a comedy. Were doing it here, too, at this we can say we Europeansbut we who ES: Thats inevitable. It would be like tell-
stunned me. It confirmed the fact that this moment. You ring me, you arrive, we do these belong to these cultures on this side of the ing someone who lives by the sea not to go
planet is a paltry orb spinning in a void. From things. At this moment, the comedy is reduced Atlantic, we have death in our pockets. We out in a boat, not to go fishing, or someone
one minute to the next it could blow up or to these actors: you, me, and our photogra- can never forget this destiny. When I used to who falls in the water and cant swim not to
collide with something, or just die slowly of pher friend. You know theres this humdrum talk with George about death, he said, We drown. True, theres a life jacket, but thats
cold, or whatever. I feel that in olden times routine, and theres also this, say, humanity. Americans never talk about death. Theres an not the solution. Thats why we increasingly
the whole effort consisted in trying to reach What would be interesting, or at least Id find architect from San Diego whos been working talk about humdrum, everyday things, about
some point, to identify reality; today, its just it interesting, would be to understand, or try to with me for years, Johanna Grawunder, and private peace and quiet.
the opposite. Today, we cant get a grasp on understand, what the essence of this humanity whenever she sees something even indirectly
anything. Existence is fragmentary, because is. Not its relationship with the cosmos, but its connected with death, she says, Thats very HUO: About a micro-utopia.
we no longer accept the logic that we hoped inner essence. Why we are men, what we are strong. Why is this? By contrast, in India, I
would tie up everything. Even that great sci- doing as men, what responsibilities we have found it very consoling. When you look out ES: Yes, I think so. Andrea Branzi sent me a
entist strapped to a wheelchair, Hawking, said as individuals with respect to society, and so the hotel window every half-hour, you see a text where he says that we can only work on
this: If we could find a formula that holds forth. I find this is the most fascinating part of corpse being carried off, wrapped in a shroud the micro-situations. Thats why I think the
together the universe, Id know what to think thinking at the current time. Heidegger already and strewn with flowers. This ability to relate Dalai Lama enjoys a certain success. [Laughs]
of God. The fact remains that this formula had this fixation with trying to understand the to this inexplicable phenomenon is consoling. Its got nothing to do with it, really, but classi-
cant be found! It doesnt exist! human essence. Why do we think? Why do cal Buddhism, not the institutional kind, had
At any rate, the same problem exists in we have these relationships? How far can we HUO: So you think the architect ought this idea of working on our micro-existence,
everyday life. When I read a newspaper, for develop this line of argument, this comedy? to make these things visible in his work? on micro-gestures, micro-events.
example, I cant grasp the dimensions of whats How can we control this comedy or at least Or other things that are more important
happening between here and, say, the Middle know something about it? If you did an exhi- to you? HUO: In connection with what youre
East, between here and New York. bition in a kitchen, for example, that would saying, theres also a text from 1988
interest me greatly. To me, its like saying: ES: Its no use asking me this because by devoted to houses, in which you describe
HUO: As for science, I asked myself a lot Okay, weve got to eat, we talk about eating, now I think theres nothing to be done. This these micro-entities that appear in every
of questions quite recently, after reading and we feel were intellectuals in this place, a is because we now live in an industrial cul- culture.
a book by a famous cyber expert who place where you eat. ture. We invented the machine a few centu-
worked in the 50s for Olivetti. You, too, ries back, and I feel the machine fulfills its ES: Which of my texts was that?
since the 50s have worked in that field, HUO: About your research into kitch- own destiny just as bronze, say, meant a new
and I wondered if you had any contact ensI read a really interesting article way of waging war, of killing. The fact that HUO: The one in which you describe
with scientists. dating from 92. When did you start a lot of products can be mass-produced with places you visited and the impression
working on this topic? machinery, resulting in masses of products, you got of them. Your description, which
ES: No, but when I worked at Olivetti on elec- inevitably means that we have to sell these is very precise, shows theres always
tronics, it was back in 1959 or 1960. ES: I cant really say. I think some time in the products; we have to give them to someone, someone who has developed houses by
60s. and selling them inevitably entails all the pos- adapting to the given conditions, just as
HUO: When you were working on that sible forms of persuasion so people will buy mushrooms adapt to a forest.
first big computer [the Elea 9003]? HUO: There are a lot of photos you took them. The upshot is that we think less and
of kitchens. less because were increasingly conditioned. ES: Its a situation that becomes clear if you
ES: Yes, a huge computer. It was in Pisa; I For all these reasons we can no longer say, travel. For instance, in Myanmar you see
arrived by train. Then I had to get a horse- ES: Yes, there are a lot, partly because first I I wish the world was like this or like that. houses that clearly correspond to a definite
drawn carriage, because there were no taxis, was married to a lady by the name of Fernanda The point, if there is one, is to find a way to world. At the same time, the environment
and it took me to the outskirts of Pisa, where Pivano, a writer well known in Italy for navigate our way through this destiny. determines the way the house is built. If
there was a 19th-century villa surrounded by translating and writing about contemporary theres a stream and the women have to
a garden. Inside there were all these white- American literature, and she couldnt even HUO: How do you think we can reverse fetch water, then the house is built near the
coated engineers walking among miles and make a cup of tea. For reasons I wont go into this process? stream. I could give plenty of other exam-
miles of cables snaking across the floor. Even now, we split up, and I met another young ples. In mountain areas, the houses are made
electronics in those days was a bomb of uncer- lady, Barbara Radice, and she has a lot to say ES: I dont see a way. Anyway, Im not some- of stone; in deserts, of hangings. All of us
tainty. It still worked with valves, valves of about cookinghow its done. She talks a lot one who wants to change the world. carry around our own cultural symbols.
colossal dimensions. Now, not so many years about it, not fervently, but almost as if it were There are peasant houses where they hang
later, we all have nice little packets of electron- a sacred ritual. For example, the other day she HUO: How do you view the city? Say, a sheaf of corn over the door for good luck.
ics in our pockets. asked the chef at the Torre di Pisa how many Milan, or the city in general, the plan- Then there are bank buildings that have
minutes a certain kind of pasta had to cook. ning issues involved? massive doors that overawe you, so when
HUO: You were one of the first to speak The chef, a woman, said, Minutes? I just look you go and ask them for money, they make
about a planetary and global influ- at the pasta. Meaning she didnt need math- ES: The city is jam-packed with cars. In you feel: Watch out! Youre coming in here,
ence. Many of your writings were very ematics, or to measure time, but a visual, sen- Milan, you can hardly move, and we all keep and were going to make mincemeat out of
advanced in this respect; their topical- suous contact with the pasta to know if it was saying: Hell! Its full of cars, how can we you! >
ity seems very significant. There is a cooked or not. She needed years of experience. keep going in a city like this? But as long as

SURFACE 172 173


HANS ULRICH OBRIST HANS ULRICH OBRIST

HUO: How do you see the question of Anyway, we proposed a form of zoning to pre- HUO: Can we go back to the question ES: Not against it. We tried to go beyond it. We
housing in the city? vent what happened in Beverly Hills, where I asked you earlier, about your interest were never against anyone. I come from the
there are big chic areas with peaceful streets in other disciplines, the interdisciplinary Functionalist schoolGropius, Le Corbusier.
ES: As long as humanity goes on growing and then huge tenement blocks in the outer approach so obvious in your work? One When I was young, they were my myths, and
at the rate were growing now, the distance city. I feel we have to think a bit more carefully thing that comes out in your texts is the Ive never forgotten them, Ive never despised
between one person and another is going to about these situations. In short, planning is a experienceor rather, the attemptto them. But Ive always thought all this wasnt
grow bigger, like the distance between one makeshift science! found the Global Tools design school. enough, that we could go much further. To
place and another. So this idea that we can go those generations, the word functional
from house to house on foot as one did in the HUO: In a text of yours I read, you ES: Its not that I founded it. I was part of the meant ergonomics more than anything else:
Middle Ages, or the idea of the piazzathey describe an imaginary journey through Archizoom Group with Andrea Branzi, plus the relation between the human body and
just get lost. People living in a group of houses your drawings, and you speak of an some other people, especially some young physical space, a relationship based on mea-
all gathering in a kind of outdoor salon or archive. Id really like to see this place. The Florentines. In Florence in the late 60s and surement. But to me, functionality often
piazzathats simply unattainable nowadays. text also speaks of a cupboard as a myste- early 70s, there were some very aggressive involves issues that cant be measured.
In Milan, I only ever visit one or two districts, rious, scented place. groups that came from the political protests
thats all. All of us living in big cities just really of 68, and we were all beginning to question HUO: Having begun with a question
live in one or two districts. ES: Yes, I once wrote about this cupboard our role. We asked ourselves about the pro- about your first exhibition, Id like to
where I keep all the paints, the papers, my fessional position of designers in relation to finish with a question about exhibitions
HUO: But what about the subway system? instruments for drawing, and whenever its industry. It was a period when I was hardly and museums. The point you mentioned
opened, it gives off a wonderful perfume. working any more. I no longer worked as a is fairly traumatic: the overriding need
ES: True, but if one of the young women who designer. I only worked for Olivetti because it to bring back all the senses to museums,
works in my office says she has to leave home HUO: What about the archive? was a rather special company. But it was there because they are totally excluded.
at 7 a.m. because she has to be here at 8, I that I first refused to see myself as an industrial
instinctively feel, Poor thing! In New York, ES: Some time ago I published a book of designer in the classic sense of the word. ES: Yes. I think, for instance, that a museum
its even worse, because you have a two-hour photos with an English publisher, Thames of design is out of the question. It just cant be
train ride every morning and two hours every & Hudson, titled The Curious Mr. Sottsass. HUO: Meaning opposition. done. An object has a value because we can
evening to get home. You get home and your Theres also an edition in French. For the touch it and use it. Even a museum of archi-
house stands in the middle of a garden, but its occasion of its release, about five years ago, ES: Yes. In this context, we founded Global tecture is almost out of the question in terms
no use, because when you get home you have I began to organize my photo archive better. Tools, which lasted just a few months because of my idea of architecture. Architecture is a
to hit the whiskey to get over the traveling, and Ive almost finished. the more extremist youngsters tried to destroy space where you can walk: You pass through it,
thats no solution either. We all know about any intellectual operation. It was the period you touch it, you see the light. I really believe
American and English garden cities, but you HUO: Whats the importance behind this of the Cultural Revolution in China, and they a museum of applied design done like the few
get home so shattered from hours of commut- concept of traveling? were dismissive of everything. This experi- Ive seen is pointless. They generally take a
ing that you no longer feel the house belongs ence of ours didnt last long. The idea was to razor and put it on a pedestal. But a razor isnt
to you. You ask me what I think about the ES: Well, curiosity. Theres an almost para- retrieve elements that had disappeared from a sculpture, its a razor. Even a chair is a chair,
problems of the city, but I dont know what to noid form of curiosity to see whats on the design or had never been part of it. and you have to sit on it. So theres a big dif-
answer. Ive often asked myself how I would other side of the fence and also the urge to ficulty in doing a design museum.
conceive a big city. We worked on a master see if some things are confirmed or not con- HUO: Did you try to redesign some social The same is true with a contemporary art
plan in Korea, a project for the layout of an firmed by it. But actually I believe you travel aspects of the design profession? museum. Conceptual art comes out strangely
urban area around Seouls big international to confirm your ideas, and whatever you cant in a museum. You go there and see a white
airport, one of the biggest in Asia. Theres a confirm you discard as you travel. In a certain ES: In a sense, yes. We hoped to have a gallery room with a line and you say, Heck, is that
lot of competition in airports, between Japan, sense, you redesign yourself when youre trav- we could use to hold exhibitions, to present meant to be strange? At times, I think muse-
Korea, China. eling. But then there was a moment when I felt our work together, without too many con- ums ought to be enormous, underground,
the need to get away from Italian provincial- straints. In the end, we found a gallery, but the gigantic archives, with the part the public
HUO: Because theyll soon be having the ism, even European provincialism. gallery owner happened to be a big steelmaker, visits just putting on temporary exhibitions
World Cup. so those extremists objected, We cant work that closely reflect what is happening outside,
HUO: During these trips, did you meet in this gallery because well be conned by the historical changes, etc.
ES: Perhaps, but at present theres also com- any artists and intellectuals? steelmaking capitalist.
petition for business. To build this airport HUO: So, underground, thered be an
[in Korea], they filled in the sea between two ES: Sometimes I did, sometimes not. I went to HUO: In Global Tools, there always infinite archive, and above, changing
islands. For 10 years theyd been unloading Japan a number of times and always met archi- appeared this sense of resistance to pri- appearances?
soil between one island and another, and tects. On one of my trips to India, I stayed orities, to the exaggerated importance of
they asked us to put forward some ideas for with [painter] Francesco Clemente at his place the visual sense in our culture. ES: Each person would visit the museum
a master plan. The project grew out of this. for a month, and I learned a lot there: for a number of times because every exhibi-
We asked ourselves: What should we do in instance, this idea of accepting the corruption ES: More than the visual sense, it was resis- tion would be different. I dont think theres
a place like this? The only thing we could of things, the destruction of things, as destiny. tance to the priority and the predominance much interest in museums conceived the way
think of was to lay out some big express roads I learned that in India, because the people there of the intellect over the senses. The whole they are now, as museums of institutional
running through the center of the city and dont care in the least if things wear out. They of Functionalism, as the word itself shows, representation.
some other minor roadsfirst semi-private have a much more tenuous idea of life. Life was a hope that the intellect would succeed
and then privatethat became increasingly wears out, you grow old and wear out, marble in controlling design all the way through.
convenient for people to use, easier for chil- wears out, roads change and this is a concept Insteadand this was the noveltywe found
dren, for women. We laid out big pedestrian Western culture tries to avoid. We repaint the confirmation of our ideas in India and many
precincts linked by express roads. This is not house, we keep things repairedeverything other places. What I think is that, first of all, we
such an unusual concept after all; it was one of has to look new all the time, everything has read the world sensuously. We also catalogue it
Le Corbusiers ideas. We also thoughtbut I to be under control. That kind of suppleness and intellectualize it, but the source of every-
guess this was an ideological utopiawe could the Indians have, the fact that problems of this thing remains the senses. To a Functionalist,
create a city without ghettos, to avoid having a kind dont exist for them, strikes me as won- the surface of this table is a geometrical square;
working-class zone, a middle-class zone, and a derful. All this is very obvious in Francesco, to me, its a piece of plastic, warm or cold.
zone for the rich. We thought that these differ- who is not just a painter but a thinker. At any
ent zones should overlap. But I repeat: I dont rate he paints amid this permanent uncertainty, HUO: So Global Tools was also a revolt
know whether this can really be achieved. awaiting this destruction. against Functionalism?

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