An experimental conversation with Hans-Ulrich Obrist (Chapter 3/7)
Conversation transcription below
Tiziana Casapietra: I suppose the intention to handle and understand the multitude of the world has led you to always be interested in different disciplines. You have conducted interviews with scientists, architects, philosophers, etc. Can you tell me more about your interest in different disciplines other than contemporary art?
Hans-Ulrich Obrist: The second part of this question is about the aspect of interdisciplinarity. The word interdisciplinarity is a very problematic word, it means that there are disciplines, whilst you want to go beyond disciplines. I kind of like to talk about different intensities more than disciplines, I like the idea that we can actually bring together different intensities and this obviously happens through exhibits, it happens through working together in an exhibition. I’m foremost an exhibition maker: I make exhibitions, I make junctions between artworks, between artists, between all practitioners.
So as J. G. Ballard says, it’s a form of junction-making, but it’s always the production of reality, it’s a making of an exhibition. In order to get there, I have a lot of conversations before, during and after. Conversation has always been the way how I develop work, but it is not the main aspect of the work. It is a sort of parallel reality. So of course, working on exhibitions, learning for exhibitions, I’ve recorded many conversations with scientists, with architects, with a lot people of literature, people from all kinds of different backgrounds and fields, or to come back to the better definition, from different intensities.
I suppose it has always been my school to do these conversations, learning and share these conversations by publishing them with other people, and hope they can be a tool box, can be a utility. But in a way this on-going conversation project, is also the idea of having an archive of all these conversations which lead to exhibitions.
The exhibition is a medium which has a limited life-span, it is very often a ephemeral, and what do we have is an archive of exhibitions. We obviously have films about the show, we have documentations, we have the books which have been published. But I think it is very important that there are these conversations, these conversations which are… It is a kind of polyphony, I would say, of all these different people I worked with, which I have recorded. So far I have two thousand five hundred hours.
It was inspired by Studs Terkel the great historian whom I visited as a student in Chicago; Studs Terkel recorded at least ten thousands hours of conversations.
He explained that there is a moment where it all reaches a certain complexity and then it is possible to write books. It’s not only about publishing these interviews as interviews, but to actually take them as a point of departure for writing books, and that is happening now. After almost twenty years, I started to write more, not only to publish interviews, but to actually transform these conversations into books, into written books. In this sense, “Ways of Curating” is the first book and that is something which will continue. There is another aspect: it is not only the book, we live in a digital age and all of these conversations are recorded digitally and very often they are also filmed.
So the question is: what will it happen with these materials? The books are one possibility and I am still very attached to books, but I hope and believe that there can be other and different forms of possibilities of publishing these conversations, this great polyphony of voices. I think it is very interesting the tagging, that we can find ways of actually tagging the voices; we have done is to far for Cedric Price as we did together with the students at the University in Lüneburg, with Armin Linke, Markus Miessen, and the architect Wilfried Kuehn. We have been tagging all my interviews with Cedric Price, all my endless conversations with Cedric. During this lifetime, in the 90s early 2000, we were always meeting early, at 7/8 am, in his office in London. I was always recording another aspect of his archive, another project, it could have been the “Pop-up Parliament,” the “Fun Palace,” the “Potteries Thinkbelt,” his idea of the “School on the Move,” or of the abandoned railway system. And his whole idea that curating is connected to urbanism which is something we discussed so often also with Stefano Boeri in Italy and led to many projects like “Mutations” with Rem Koolhaas. With “Cities on the Move” we have reflected together on this idea on how urbanism and curating can be brought together. So the entire archive of Cedric conversations was tagged and that means that we can now call upon any kind of notion: we can, for example, click “umbrella” and then we have the two moments in my conversations where he talks about the umbrella. One is the conversation where he proposes the project called “umbrella city.” It is very inconvenient that we always have to carry an umbrella when we walk in London where, very often, it rains. So we said that it would be wonderful to have public umbrellas which just pop-up when we need them. At the same time he always had an umbrella in his studio. There was another moment in the conversation, where all of the sudden he would have opened the umbrella and you would have seen him under the umbrella. It was like a performance. If you click on the “Fun Palace,” you find that in my conversation, we talked about it twenty-six times. We talked about all kinds of different facets of this big unrealized institution which is indeed the “Fun Palace.” We can always imagine that this tagging and digitalizing of the interviews project continues, beyond Cedric, to involve the many other protagonists I’ve had conversations with. Then we could imagine that, in the next chapter, they will start to talk to each other, and it will then become a real polyphony. That is definitely a project for the future.