Filipa Ramos: How do you imagine the figure of the curator will evolve? How will the curator be in the future?
Hans Ulrich Obrist: Curating always follows art. To tell what the future of the curator may be, you would need to know the future of art. What we can say, looking at art in the extreme present, is that at the moment there is a necessity and a desire for new experiments in art and technology. Think for instance about Pierre Huyghe, who is currently showing at the Serpentine Gallery. For the show, Pierre worked with a telepathic machine in a laboratory in Kyoto, and in his new pieces you can essentially observe artificial intelligence at work, tracking brain activity. At the same time, curating means always structure-making, so it needs to bring together art and literature and music, but increasingly also art and science: that’s going to be a topic for the future. Another thing the curator of the future will need to focus on is long-duration projects. And also new slowness, sustainability. Globalization has accelerated the loss of diversity of species, of languages. I believe it’s key that the curating of the future be part of resistance to extinction.
FR: And what do you think about the art fair of the future, in particular Artissima? How do you think the art fair of the future will be?
HUO: Art fairs have always been an important tool of research for me, for example for the discovery of new artists and also, very important, the rediscovery of pioneer artists. For instance, eighteen years ago, at Art Basel in Miami, I rediscovered the kinetic artworks of Jesús Rafael Soto. Then I went to see him, I interviewed him, and I did projects with him. And last year, Jacqueline de Jong, who was part of the Situationist generation, all of a sudden has a solo booth at Artissima and she’s in Torino! I interviewed her and we started to collaborate. And again Artissima was the first time I saw Rachel Rose’s work, after having met her when she was a student.
I think I may have missed Artissima just once in the past ten years, because a series of really remarkable directors have made it very curatorial, in a way. But thinking about the future, one of the questions must be whether an art fair can also be more of a place for artworks that are not necessarily objects. From the nineteenth century to the 1960s, art has mainly been a history of objects, but in the 1960s we start dealing with non-objects, anti-objects, and spaces. At the moment, there is of course a great return of public art—2018 has very much been the time of public art. Think for example of Tauba Auerbach’s Dazzle Boat in New York, or our Christo project, The London Mastaba, on the Serpentine Lake. So how can an art fair reflect this desire to see public art and also to see live art?
FR: You have a night assistant and very low sleep needs. How will sleep in the future be for you?
HUO: I always thought that not sleeping was best because there’s so much to do in life. The turning point in my attitude toward sleeping came when I met Till Roenneberg, a German scientist and writer, in Munich, when I was at the DLD Conference to give a talk. He told me that every human being has got some sort of internal sleep rhythm, and it varies hugely, and it is actually very destructive to try to go against it. So usually I go to bed at midnight and wake up super early, at five or six o’clock in the morning. A more sustainable rhythm for me, in order to be productive. I work with a night producer: he wouldn’t be able to work during the day, so his job is adapted to his own sleep rhythm.
FR: Tell me about compulsive reading. Do you think that compulsive reading is a thinking practice? Are there books and texts that you return to regularly?
HUO: The question, when it comes to reading, is how you can free up time. To liberate time is what I think we need to achieve also for reading. I love to read the entire oeuvre of a writer, starting from my childhood, when I read the complete works of Robert Walser, which led me to invent and establish my first museum, the Robert Walser museum, in the Swiss Prealps. And then, later on, I became friends with Édouard Glissant, and that has become something of a ritual. I read his work every morning for a few minutes. He invites us to see the world as an archipelago, as a collection of islands connected to each other, a connection of parts that only works as a whole, where the connections between the parts might be the most important thing. Glissant’s “archipelagic thinking” informed the exhibition Mondialité that I curated with Asad Raza at Villa Empain in Brussels. And now, at the Americas Society in New York, we have done an exhibition with Gabriela Rangel titled Trembling Thinking, for which we invited artists to respond to the legacy of Glissant, and of Lydia Cabrera, who was an amazing Cuban artist, writer, and anthropologist. I also read the entire oeuvre of Etel Adnan, and that compulsive reading and my friendship with her has led to many things, including the idea for my Instagram feed, for which I ask artists to produce written content. And here we come back to the idea of reading as a toolbox. But the more recent and deepest compulsive reading has been Friederike Mayröcker, the extraordinary Austrian poet and writer, who is now in her nineties. Mayröcker famously invented all these neologisms, and I think she is the greatest writer in the German language of our times.
FR: And how do you read? Do you have a method? Do you disconnect?
HUO: Reading means also delinking, because we’re connected all day long, and it slows things down, in a way. As we navigate a lot across all these sharing platforms, in a kind of constant responsive mode, reading requires delinking, and it catapults yourself into your own thinking.
When I say “Torino,” what is the first thing that crosses your mind?
HUO: Torino is a city of artists! It’s incredible how this city has got so many extraordinary artists. When I was a teenager, I traveled a lot by night train. I couldn’t afford the plane, and it’s also a more sustainable way of traveling to which we should all come back. I arrived in Torino on a night train from Paris, and one of the first visits I made was with Mario and Marisa Merz. I’ll never forget how Mario drove me around and showed me the incredible Mole Antonelliana, and when we went to the studio, he made a drawing of the tower with the Fibonacci numbers. And now there’s a huge Fibonacci work on the Mole. So, because of Mario, Turin is for me also this tower. And finally, the Castello di Rivoli was very important for me; I would always made a small pilgrimage to Rivoli. And this idea of pilgrimage, of making an effort, in some way amplifies the reaction you have in front of art, and maybe this is not wrong also for Torino as a city.