Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Serpentine Galleries, London (Chapter 6/7)

An experimental conversation with Hans-Ulrich Obrist (Chapter 6/7)

Conversation in-progress…

Conversation transcription below

Hans-Ulrich Obrist: How many minutes?
Max Shackleton: It is fourty-seven.
HUO: OMG it is becoming a mini marathon. Hi Tiziana how are you buonasera! What’s next? One more or two more?
MS: Two more.
HUO: OMG!

Tiziana Casapietra: Do you think that the world of academia and research, being scientific or cultural, has to always be connected to a wider audience? I might seem politically incorrect, but I think the high researches always must be niche, and reaching a wider audience shouldn’t be the priority. The priority of research is the acquisition of knowledge, and the growth and development in its field of study.
HUO: I can agree and don’t agree to this point. I think it is interesting, I definitely think that there must be research which doesn’t necessarily initially have a purpose or which doesn’t necessarily has to reach out far. There has to be research into that research, and that has to continue. I think you are absolutely right that this research has to be protected, we need to find ways and possibilities. But also, in the context of the exhibition, that research can continue to happen, so I agree to this point.
However, I don’t completely agree that it always has to be like this. It is interesting that certain aspects of research have to happen without necessarily an immediate purpose, they have to happen without necessarily an immediate application, they have to happen without necessarily an immediate out-reach. Yet, at the same time, I believe that in history there have always been attempts in this idea of being most advanced, yet, you know, reaching out.
It made me think of many conversations with Alain Robbe-Grillet. At a certain moment Cy Twombly felt that it would be really important to connect art and literature more. When I visited him for the first time, he gave me this advice.
I took it very seriously and I started to curate exhibition about art and literature in the Lorca House in Granada and in many other places, such as the Poetry Marathon at the Serpentine. More recently, with Simon Castets, we curated this exhibition about poetry at the LUMA Foundation which will now tour to the Moderna Museet in a completely new form with Daniel Birnbaum in Stockholm. It is about the 89plus generation, a generation of artists and practitioners born in 89 and younger. It is a generation born after the Cold War. 89 is also the year when Tim Berners-Lee invented the Internet, it’s the year when the GPS was invented, is the year of Tiananmen Square… It’s the year of many other things.
Looking at that generation is obviously also a way to see how curating can change through the Internet. We have this database of almost five-thousand artists now which we look at every day. We have submissions which are coming from all over the world, in this sense it is a more open process. We obviously start to see patterns within that, within all of these works we are looking at.
And one of the first pattern we recognize is this extraordinary vibrant energy there is in poetry. It is really fascinating how this first Internet or digitally native generation is so incredible active in poetry. There is a whole new global discussion about poetry. The new poetry book of Andrew Durbin was just lunched. Andrew Durbin is a great example of an outstanding poet of that 89plus generation. But there are many and many poets in that generation working all over the world, and we felt it would be important, together with Kenneth Goldsmith of course, with UbuWeb, Simon and I felt that it would be important to do an exhibition which would sort of render that.
We could also actually see in this new generation of poetry a desire to not only have a dialogue with a few other poets, with the poetry world, but to also connect it to other worlds. So, in a way, I think it’s kind of interesting…
All these endeavors are for exhibitions of connecting art and literature as Cy Twombly had encouraged me, with Lorca, with Simon Castets and the 89plus, the LUMA Foundation project, now the next step is at the Moderna Museet where we are going to have a tower, a poetry tower, and going further in this research. We also had the project “The Poetry Marathon” at the Serpentine, a couple of years ago, in the Sejima Pavilion.
But a lot of these things were inspired also by Alain Robbe-Grillet. Very often, when we went for journeys together… I travelled a lot with him during the last couple of years of his life, he was almost like my literature teacher, I learned so much from him. He would always say, if you look at the beginnings of nouveau roman and parallel to this at the beginnings of the nouvelle vague in cinema… We talked about his collaboration with Alain Resnais in Marienbad… He said there was a moment in the 50s/60s where there was a real desire to be most advanced, to make research, and yet be somehow acceptable, but also to reach out. So not necessarily just to do research for a few specialists, but to find ways to bridge that gap.
It is an interesting moment to see how now, through the Internet, a new generation of artists and writers kind of connect to that moment, obviously in a very different way.
But to come back to your question and relate it to curating, I think it is absolutely necessary that we liberate time into that research which is not necessarily immediately applicable. And I’ve always thought one possibility to do so is to develop research projects over ten, twenty years.
I mean the “Utopia Station” with Molly Nesbitt and Rirkrit Tiravanija has been ongoing now for ten years, “Do it” for twenty years, we conceived “89plus” as a research project which will last at least twenty years. I think one possibility to kind of do that and sort of picking up on Alain Robbe-Grillet’s idea… He was always telling me that one possibility was always to not make a research immediately public, but to just show chapters. He would always say he would sort of almost develop a novel, and little by little release it in different chapters, publish them in different contexts. And all of the sudden he has got the novel.
I try to apply this logic of Robbe-Grillet to the exhibition and develop research process over ten, twenty years where we would permanently open windows, do public events, share also the stage of the research, where we are, with the world and through that it would always allow to continue and research more. I am not saying that this is the solution, because I am far from this idea of making general recommendation. I just think it was the solution, is the solution, for my own practice as a curator. It is the solution to continue to make research in an environment where it may become more difficult to find someone who would allow just to research for twenty years without any result, without any purpose, and to find a way how actually this can be a gradual process.
I think there are many more possibilities to do so. Particularly, whilst I agree with the premise of your question that we need to protect research, I can’t completely agree with this idea that it must always be only in this more closed context. Sometimes, it is interesting that we test results of such into that research and getting out in the world and learn from the feed-backs and this is obviously something which becomes much easier also with the Internet.
One of the thing which is also important in relation to your question is grants. I think we need more grants in the world, we need more stipends and grants.
When I was 22-23 I never really had the possibility to do research for a long time because I had no money and I could only travel by night-trains all over Europe and it was very fragmented. In ’91 the Cartier Foundation gave me, for the first time, a more stable grant so I could, for three months, go to Paris and just do research. I did not have a day job, I could just do research, and these three months were completely transformative for me and allowed me to continue to work in a very different way. I arrived in Jouy-en-Josas, and it was interesting because it was before the Cartier Foundation moved to Paris. It was in a suburb outside Paris, there were three artists in residence and one curator. There I met the artist Absalon who was my neighbor on the right, an artist from Israel who developed these amazing architecture cells and died, very sadly, very young. It was a real vision of an artist doing architecture. At the same time there was another visionary artist Huang Yong Ping and Shen Yuan, both amazing artists who had just arrived from China after Tiananmen Square in the early 90s.
We would live there with Absalon, Huang Yong Ping, and Shen Yuan for three months and I would always go and make studio visits and research and in the evening we would always exchange. It’s been a life changing experience for me this residence; for the first time I could also understand— in ’91 I’ve just done my “Kitchen Show” — I could understand this whole polyphony of centers in the world because I was educated in Western… My research was mostly in Western art and suddenly I was there with some of the key protagonists of the Chinese Avant-Garde of the 80s, with Huang Yong Ping who opens up this whole world. There I also met Hou Hanru, I met Fei Dawei who has done very important early Avant-Garde shows with Chinese art, Chen Zhen, and all Chinese art diaspora in Paris with Huang Yong Ping. This grant was very transformative. So I do believe in this idea that it is extremely important to provide grants for artists, not only for artists… There are many grants for artists maybe, but there are very few grants for young emerging curators and art writers. It is a very important thing for research that, in the world, we find more grants and more research possibilities, for artists of course, but also for curators and art writers.

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Chapter 1 

Chapter 2 

Chapter 3

Chapter 4 

Chapter 5 

Chapter 6

Chapter 7