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A conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist has infinite and frenetic possibilities. Rem Koolhaas once said that the omnipresent Swissborn curator and irrepressible interrogator left his native country because he talked too fast for the Swiss. Here, is a man who has turned conversation into an artform, who has a ravenous appetite for his subjects, and an uncanny knack for teasing out those sparkling and unexpected details. Obrist has cornered and interviewed an ever expanding spectrum of the great and the good, from architects to linguists, philosophers, scientists, filmmakers and musicians, compiling a kind of ongoing Smithsonian Institute for the state of aesthetic thought in the 21st century. Entering the art world from a background of economics and politics, his curatorial eye has transformed the possibilities of the white-walled gallery. A penchant for radical choices of venue – his own kitchen, airplane cabins, a monastery library, a sewage treatment plant, a vitrine in the Swiss Alps as well as an online exhibition helping viewers to perform artists’ works on their own – has showcased a playful ability to relinquish control in pursuit of an altogether non-linear experience. He is currently bringing his considerable experience to bear as co-director of exhibitions and programmes, and director of international projects at the Serpentine Gallery, where over ten years ago he once curated a jumble sale of a show where visitors were invited to take home the exhibits.

Another Man: I’ll put the recorder closer so we can be conscious of it. Hans Ulrich Obrist: Okay. AM: Let’s talk about the conversations. They are not set up to be formal interviews are they? HUO: I think that’s why sustained conversations like these are so interesting. For me, the inspiration was David Sylvester. I began to be interested in conversations with artists because of an incredible book he did with Francis Bacon. Whenever he met Francis Bacon, he recorded the conversation. And little by little, they became this incredible book, which, as a kid, I read again and again. That’s what pulled me into art. AM: In what way do the conversations differ from an interview? HUO: I think it has a lot to do with the changing of locations. I’ve just done this thing, Around The World With Jeff Koons... Each time I called him he was in a different place. But then there is also the travelling together. I’ve done many really long interviews with artists on aeroplanes. We recorded the whole flight with Pierre Huyghe from New York non-stop to Paris. Also travelling with Anri Sala through Europe. AM: Were they happy to cooperate with you or did they just want to get some sleep? HUO: (Laughing) Oh no, they were happy. AM: Just checking... HUO: There was an interesting experience in 93, when I was just starting out and still doing shows in my kitchen. I became interested in artists’ writings... writings by the great artists of the 20th century, from Matisse to Richard Hamilton. I realised these books weren’t out there, so I would have to edit them and get them out there myself. AM: You did a book with Louise Bourgeois? HUO: With Louise Bourgeois, Gerhard Richter, Gilbert and George, Leon Golub, and now a book on the writings of John Baldessari. It is so interesting going through the artists’ archives. I’ve gone through all the interviews they’ve given over the years, and there are very often similar issues being covered. And I think that’s what’s so interesting about sustained interviews because one gets away from the risk of repetition and clichéé. Christian Boltanski pointed out to me that the danger of interviews is that we always say the same thing. Often new rules of the game trigger new conversation and new content. AM: Is this your fight against cultural amnesia? Is that the difference then; it’s not just about recording history, it’s also about making history? HUO: Yes. For me, the most urgent part of the whole conversation project is the idea of the production of reality. That leads on to my fascination with ‘unrealised projects’ – it’s basically the only recurring question in all my interviews. Architects always talk about their

unrealised projects, that’s how they produce reality. They publish these projects in magazines, they publish them in books, they publish them all over the world. And after a long time, what is at first considered to be un-buildable, finally gets built. There are fantastic examples like Zaha Hadid. She has really changed history because her projects were always considered too utopic, but now, they are built all over the world. What’s interesting is that the art world never really looks into unrealised projects; the architects do, but not the art world. Or the music world. I mean most of the musicians and composers I’ve talked to have been surprised by my question: ‘What is your utopia? What is your unrealised record?’ They’re not asked that very often. AM: Okay let’s flip the question, an unrealised dream for you? HUO: Oh yeah, okay... AM: Not so much an unrealised project but an unrealised dream? HUO: There are many. My biggest unrealised dream is an art institution for the 21st century, which would combine all these experiences I’ve been working on so far. A big art institution... AM: Where would it be based? HUO: It could be anywhere. It has a lot to do with my discussions with Cedric Price about the unrealised Fun Palace. I’ve always been fascinated by this whole idea, it’s somewhere between the Fun Palace and the unrealised Set Careme of Rem Koolhaas in Katowice. AM: The Fun Palace? HUO: It was an idea Cedric Price and the theatre director John Littlewood came up with in London in the 60s. An incredible transdisciplinary institution. One of the big dreams was to talk to Godard... but that has never really worked out! AM: Why is that? HUO: It’s difficult to set up. It might happen one day. AM: I read in your book Don’t Stop, Don’t Stop that you think art institutions are obsessed with big names. Now you’re saying the art world is too obsessed with the now. You are looking at people who have been marginalised or passed over, who are unfashionable in a way. HUO: The new relates to memory and I think memory is a profoundly dynamic process. I think it’s necessary as a curator to look at emerging new artists and to also look at all these geographies and new cities. The world has changed so much since the 90s – now, we no longer have five cities, but 100 cities. Reykjavik and Oslo are suddenly very dynamic, Berlin is being revived because so many artists are moving there. There are also places like Bratislava. My first lecture, when I was still curating from my kitchen, was in Glasgow. AM: Is that where you met Douglas Gordon? HUO: Yes. And in China, it’s not only about Shanghai or Beijing, but there’s also this amazing thing happening in Guangxi, which is so dynamic. And in America, it’s not just New York, but it’s Portland, and we’re seeing the emergence of amazing people like Miranda July. AM: Do you feel that you are too fast for the world you live in? Like the world is naturally too slow for you? Do you feel comfortable with the speed things are changing, or do you feel alienated or confused by it? HUO: I think the question is how we can differentiate. It’s very important to inject experiences of slowness, so I think curating exhibitions is also about having slow lanes not only fast lanes. In museums now and exhibitions, the enemies are those audio guides. I went to see an exhibition where I wasn’t able to return to a painting because there were thousands and thousands of people there with those audio guides, they’re already the nightmare, advancing, advancing, from painting to painting. And the beauty of an exhibition is that it’s a nonlinear experience so you can return to a painting. I love TJ Clarke’s new book, The Sight of Death. In it he describes a sort of residency, he would always return to the same paintings, not really knowing where he would end up. And that’s the whole idea – we don’t know where we’re going. We have sort of a fast lane and no slow lane. AM: Those notes you’re writing, are they to do with the conversation or are they notes for later? HUO: It’s to do with the conversation. I always draw these diagrams. It’s a non-linear rendering of the conversation.

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