* This conversation took place on March 2013 at the Intern VIP Lounge within the framework of Art Dubai 2013. The event was exclusive to interns. It was first published in Tips and Tricks, ed. C. Erdem, published by Kunstlerhaus Stuttgart, Mousse Publishing, Umur Printing, 2014
Intern VIP Lounge
AHMET OGUT: Thank you very much for joining us.
HANS ULRICH OBRIST: It’s very much a privilege to be part of this exclusive event.
AO: (addressing the audience) This will be an informal conversation. If questions come up at any point during the talk, please feel free to ask us directly. Actually, asking questions may be a good way to start. All of you are currently working for Art Dubai, right?
AO: Is this your first internship, or have you done other internships before?
INTERN: I didn't do an official internship, but I have worked as a kind of volunteer. I worked with the artists Fatma Lootah, Ibrahim Saleem and Hassan Sharif.
AO: (addressing Hans Ulrich Obrist) Perhaps you could tell the interns here how you started out as a curator, and about your very first exhibition, in a kitchen.
HUO: Basically, I’ve always believed in a do-it-yourself approach. It was sort of a learning process, and in that time you would just work with artists very closely and that’s how you started to do exhibitions. For me as a teenager, it was clear that I wanted to work with artists, so very early on I would self-organize these programs. When I was 23, I did my own first show in the kitchen. There was no money; there doesn’t need to be any money to do an exhibition.
INTERN: Where did the exhibition take place?
HUO: It happened in my student flat, in the kitchen. It involved international artists.
HANS ULRICH OBRIST: St. Gallen University, in the east of Switzerland. That’s where it happened. It had 29 visitors over three months, but it became a rumor. As Richard Wentworth always says, if you have a rumor around an exhibition, that’s much more powerful than anything else. A lot of people told other people. In the end, the 29 people told it to thousands of other people.
AO: A similar kind of rumor is being spread right this moment as we speak. There are very few people present in this room, but at the same time, outside the lounge, there is a huge rumor about this conversation, mainly carried through the people who cannot be here, because they don't have access.
HUO: Yes, that’s very connected to what’s happening here. I would definitely agree with that. In a rumor situation, there aren’t many first-hand accounts, and these accounts are carried to a lot of people. But obviously it wasn’t a VIP situation in the sense that we had a doorman at the kitchen, it’s just that people didn’t come. No one had the idea to come and see the show. There were a couple of people from abroad, so the rumor spread abroad. Then Jean de Loisy came to see the show and he now runs the Palais de Tokyo, so you might know him. But at that time he ran the Cartier Foundation program with Marie-Claude [Beaud]. He was the only foreigner, one of 3 or 4 foreigners. There was also an Austrian gallerist, Georg Kargl, and he had the instinct to film it, because he thought it was a rare moment. So he came with a camera, and at that time people didn’t have cameras on their iPhone. So very rarely would an exhibition be filmed. We are very lucky to have this film documentation. Jean de Loisy invited me to apply for a grant at the Cartier Foundation, so everything started with that.
INTERN: I have a question: do you help other people do what they want to do? Do you give them advice? For example, by telling them how you started off, as a model?
HUO: Yes, I suppose that always happens. It’s a way of transmitting knowledge. I always encourage people. It’s difficult to give advice because everybody is supposed to find his or her own way. I think you can’t really replicate models that other people have done. You have to find your own way to be yourself, and I think that’s the key. Everything I have done has always had a lot to do with finding my own way, and that wasn’t by copying other people. I think you can learn from mentorship and from how other people have done things, to invent a future based on the fragments of the past. So yes, one can actually transmit certain attitudes. Obviously, there are historic curators who work with dead material. It’s material from the past and previous centuries, and that’s a whole other profession, which is not the profession I do. I’ve done it occasionally; it’s not my main activity, but it could be a whole other chapter and that’s very important. But if you work with contemporary art, with a living artist, all the curators I know do exhibitions which in one way or another capture a moment that has grown out of an extremely close relationship to the artist. Proximity to the artist is the main advice I can give. To spend time with the artist, to have dialogues with the artist rather than just letting ideas be imposed by the artist; not to illustrate your own ideas by exploiting art, but really be close to the artist. Then out of that proximity, ideas are born. I would say it’s about methodology, which in this form I can transmit. Then, obviously, it depends on what generation these artists are from. They may be from your own generation, which is one way of making artists visible, because you grow up together and you can play a very important role in helping artists of your own generation gain visibility. Another way, obviously, is to work with a much older artist, to keep them from falling into oblivion, or just to learn about this artist by working with them; but I suppose the most important thing is collaboration and mentorship, as opposed to the things that can actually be absorbed by learning on the job. I suppose that the way I transmit knowledge is by working with young curators, research assistants, and teams. I don’t teach at school; I don’t have time for that at the moment because I’m permanently in action. Either I’m doing exhibitions or I’m doing books. My way of transmitting things is to have young collaborators. When I was young I started working with people like Kasper Konig and Suzanne Page, and I saw them at work and that’s how I learned how to do a book, how to do an exhibition - j ust by learning on the job. I think curator schools are very important, but I think it’s very important in addition to those curator schools to have work experience, because curating is not an academic experience.
AO: It is important for the interns here to know that you didn’t actually study in any curatorial studies program.
HUO: You know I didn’t, but that wasn’t a decision. Today I might have, but at that time there just weren’t any around.
INTERN: So you are not trained in the arts at all, and you did not study art anywhere?
AO: But you created your own alternative form of schooling by traveling and visiting artists in different countries.
HUO: Yes, my own journey!
INTERN: So you are not trained in the arts at all, and you did not study art anywhere?
HUO: No, I never studied art at all. I went to university to study economics and ecology. It was inspired by Goethe! While I was studying business, I spent most of my time with artists. It was actually interesting to go to business school, because I learned a lot about business; that’s useful now, because obviously fundraising is a key activity. I think something has categorically changed; in the Nineties when I started out, we got public money, we did projects, and curators didn’t really get involved in any fundraising activity. I realized in the late Nineties that if I didn’t learn how to fundraise, I was not going to do the shows I wanted to do. I wasn’t going to be efficient or achieve my dreams. That became an important part of curatorial activity in the 2000s, being able to fundraise. My early studies in business helped with that. The other thing was that I was very interested in different fields. Even when I was twelve or thirteen, I basically did nothing but go to museums and look at art. I didn’t want to study art at university; I wanted to multiply my languages. I was very interested in economics and ecology, and that whole idea of sustainability. I studied with Professor Binswanger, who was a key influence on the Occupy Wall Street movement; he is really important, a kind of guru, and is in his eighties now. He was my university professor and I was not only interested in business. I was interested in systems. I am interested in finding out how the world works. I think as a curator you don’t necessarily have to study art history, though you can - and again, if I say these things it’s not negative. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t study curating or you shouldn’t study art history. These are possibilities if you go to the right school, but you can also study law. As Christian Boltanski said, a great curator is like a great lawyer. He or she knows the law of art, the law of exhibitions and finds loopholes where you can do innovations that no one else has ever done. My book A Brief History of Curating contains my interviews with curatorial pioneers, my forerunners - curators who are 40, 50 years older than me. Franz Meyer, the great Swiss museum director, is one of them, and he was a lawyer. Kasper Konig, who was my mentor, was an anthropologist who never finished his university studies, and he became the most important curator of his generation. Szeemann studied art history, but he also studied theater. That became an important part of his kind of mise-en-scene. A lot of curators come from unexpected backgrounds.
AO: My case is basically the opposite. I studied painting for eight years in high school and university. I took some classes in art history; I looked into some other things as well. However, more or less I studied nothing but painting, and as it turns out, that is the only thing I am not doing now. I did become an artist, but ironically, the only thing I am not doing is painting. Yet I spent eight years doing exactly and almost exclusively that.
HUO: You might at some point, when you are very old, paint again, who knows.
AO: If I have a reason which is good enough, yes. I actually did one painting after seven years, but that was the first and only painting I have done as a professional artist, and I haven't done another one since. For me Punch This Painting is a conceptual work, I did it when I had a good enough reason to paint and in fact most people do n't believe I made it myself. I actually like painting as a medium, but right now I don’t have a good reason. So in many senses, I am in the opposite situation from what we were discussing earlier.
Now I often think that I should have studied law, business or something related, because it turns out that those are the topics and issues I am most confronted with and forced to deal with on a daily basis. As soon as you start working on projects that are socially engaged and socially involved, you need the knowledge and the experience of other people and experts in other disciplines. You have to collaborate and cooperate, and while working with them you learn what you need – all in all, it is a continuous learning process.
INTERN: (asking Hans-Ulrich Obrist) I know that you’re obsessed with books, so I am wondering how you define and perceive them.
HUO: Yes, I suppose it’s an interesting contrast to curation. You do exhibitions, and exhibitions come and go; they have a limited lifespan. Afterwards, the objects go back to the artist or go back to the collector who lent them, or go back to museums. For a short time, maybe a month or most three months, you have these works together, and then they are dispersed all over. What remains are memories, which can obviously and hopefully vary, but provide an extraordinary experience for a lot of people who visit the exhibition. Although just a few people spreading a rumor also create a big impact. What really remains is the catalogue, at the end of the day. Now this is obviously changing, with social networks, with little films and with the I nternet. I see exhibitions online everyday. New ways of documenting exhibitions pop up, but before this whole new digital revolution, you mostly had the catalogue.
Daniel Hillis, one of the great inventors of the digital age - he invented the super computer that made Google possible - predicts that there may very well be a digital dark age that a lot of data might disappear. The book is a very old-fashioned thing, but it’s extremely stable. It can survive for centuries. Think about Rimbaud; Rimbaud self-published his poems, forgot all the copies and never paid the bills, and they stayed in storage in Brussels. He gave only six or seven copies away to friends - and then 30, 40, 50 years later, his copies were found in a warehouse in Belgium. Once a book is out, even if it’s very few copies, it’s very unlikely that it’s not going to survive over time. Unless there is a complete apocalypse: if for whatever reasons an entire civilization disappears, which is what Jared Diamond describes in his book Collapse, then that is a hypothesis where books also disappear. But that doesn’t happen; books somehow always survive. If you think about my early shows, the kitchen show or my hotel show, which are very intimate shows that were only visited by friends, we always did a book. The book helped them to exist. Also, a lot of artists are interested in the book as a medium, so they design books, they design artist books. They are involved in the layout. When artists are involved in the book, you can say the book is an extension of the exhibition. For example, in my kitchen catalogue, the artists designed the leaflets and folders. Now it’s on eBay, it’s extremely rare, like sort of a mini-Duchampian book, because in every cardboard box there’s an original by Fischli & Weiss, photographs by Richard Wentworth and Hans Peter Feldmann’s artist book. It was an edition of 500, the artists all designed it, so this is like a multiple.
INTERN: You did something that no one really did at the time. Everyone believed in the recipe that if you want to be an artist, go to school, do x, y, z, then graduate, then do this, do that. But you, on the other hand, ignored that and went ahead with whatever you liked. That is a very contrasting approach.
HUO: It’s not much to do with contrast, it just has to do with the fact that I always believed there was an urgent need to do what I wanted to do and I didn’t want to wait.
INTERN: When did you do this? Was it 30 years ago or even more? That is really impressive. Just now, people are starting to do exactly that. But you did it a long time ago.
HUO: But I suppose that kind of leads back to a piece of advice one could give. Because there are many ways of getting to a target. Very often one just starts to think that there might always be a way to get there. It’s very interesting in connection to Douglas Coupland and Michael Stipe. They have a very non-linear trajectory; they went to art school, and then Michael Stipe started R.E.M., became an important figure in music, and Douglas Coupland after art school became a great novelist of his time, defining Generation X and Y, a very influential author. There is a very non-linear way that their biographies operate. It’s about discovery, and one can follow one’s own urges, desires and necessities to actually produce reality. It was so difficult for me in the beginning to find out what I really wanted - which was to work with the great artists of our time. If you look at history, that’s my other lesson, which is a bit naïve but still holds up in some way. I was always thinking as a teenager that if you look back over history, we don’t remember anybody from Goya’s time but Goya. We even remember Goya more than the king at that time. We don’t remember most of the ministers and prime ministers and presidents of our time. There will be very few presidents whom we will remember; very few are really historic figures, most of them we have just forgotten. But the great artist of our time, Gerhard Richter, will be remembered in five hundred years. As a teenager I thought that artists are the most important people in society, and that’s what’s going to be remembered centuries later. I wanted to work with artists; so I thought maybe I could curate. Maybe it was about expanding the notion of curating, not just following principles and models. Since the Sixties, art had expanded a lot. Conceptual art had happened, de-materialization had happened. Joseph Beuys talked about an expanded notion of art, so maybe there was an opportunity to start from art to work on an expanded notion of curation and curating shows in unexpected places. Then I went from the kitchen to airplanes to mountain peaks. We did a show with Alighiero Boetti on airplanes. We had a show on a three-thousand-foot mountain top. We carried the exhibition to the top of the mountain into the snow. There was a certain point when I started to be more interested in time and I started to work in a sort of a time-based way with exhibitions as festivals. I got more involved in festival aspects with Philippe Parreno, which was more like a time-based exhibition, and so on. It’s always kind of like playing. In dialogues with artists, it’s about finding ways to play while working. It’s a daily practice, like breathing; I do exhibitions every day. I do them in the museum; I worked first at the Musee d’art modern de la ville de Paris, and now I am the co-director at the Serpentine Galleries. That was my job, but I do them wherever I am, so I never stop doing it and I suppose it’s kind of obsessive. I just follow this obsession. Then the books; the books are a kind of curatorial space. To give you an example: right now we are doing this project with Simon Castets which might be interesting for you because it’s about your generation. It’s also interesting to talk a little bit about it because it shows the methodology; it’s about being open. Also being open to chance. I was with a very young curator, Simon Castets, at an event at the Serpentine Gallery in London. It was an evening in the Herzog & de Meuron pavilion last summer. We were standing around having cocktails, on a summer evening, and this guy came up to us and said “I’m working on an African art show, I really want to have your advice,” so we started telling him a lot about African experts we know who could help him, and he said, “No, no, they are too old. I really want to have people who were born in the Nineties.” And I said “Wow, that’s really young, and I don’t really know anybody born in the Nineties with exception of some relatives, some close friends, but I don’t really know professional people born in the Nineties because the youngest artists I knew about were born in ’86 or ‘87. Then I spoke to Ryan Trecartin with Simon. Ryan said that generation of artists born in the Nineties would be incredible because they grew up with the I nternet, as the first native I nternet generation. So out of a chance encounter of someone at the party coming to us with this question, we then picked up that ball and started to run. I started to think it might be interesting; as always, I had some platforms where I test ideas before I put them in an exhibition context, and one of the key platforms is the conference DLD - Digital, Life, Design, in Munich, which you should check out because it’s a really interesting result of Steffi Czerny’s generosity to link people. I would do the art section, so every year we would experiment with something. So for example we did a cloud panel four years ago, where we did cloud computing, connected with clouds in art history, connected with clouds in poetry, connected with clouds in Greek philosophy: clouds as a kind of trope in human history. And then the year after that we did something on going solo. Technology and solo airplanes with Tino Sehgal, Olafur Eliasson and artists addressing the ecological crisis, trying to invent things together with engineers. Then I thought, the 89PLUS idea is really interesting for DLD because it’s about digital-native artists growing up with the I nternet, and Simon and I developed this big panel which you can now see on YouTube and Vimeo. The 89PLUS conference involved eight artists. They included artists from all regions. Abdullah Al-Mutairi, from Kuwait, Niko the Icon from LA; you can see them on the website. It’s a way of making this generation visible.
The 89PLUS website is a device to which artists from all over the world can upload images, so that we can look at them and consider them for future exhibitions. We’ve got invitations from twenty places all over the world to do shows about this generation. Obviously, everybody wants to know what this generation is doing. It’s like a strange ripple effect that comes of an encounter between two curators from different generations - in a similar way to 20 years ago, when I started working with Kasper Konig as a kid in my early twenties. I now work with much younger curators, and out of that grows this completely new project. In the beginning, it really isn’t a show, it is a conference, and then hopefully it will become an exhibition. We will do books, we will do a TV series. It will be something that will keep us busy for at least ten years now. For all of these artists, it will probably be their first international show. Because when you’re 22 or 23, you haven’t yet been in international exhibitions, maybe in local exhibitions. It’s also interesting because artists also meet each other through this project.
So it’s much more than an exhibition, it becomes a platform. Through this I have obviously started to meet more and more artists in their early twenties, and no one understood why I wouldn’t use social networks. One day we were with Ryan Trecartin and he said, “Y ou need to join Instagram because it’s perfect for you.” He took my phone and opened an Instagram account, so I really didn’t have a choice. Then I started thinking, oh my God, I’m on Instagram now! What can I do? Because it really isn’t my kind of thing to photograph my meal or my friends or having a drink. It’s not the kind of thing I would do; it needs to become a project. The whole methodology is about a chain reaction. It never stops; it’s super-exciting and one thing leads to the next, and chance plays a huge role. I read this article about Umberto Eco and he says, it’s really a worry that handwriting is disappearing. Then I spoke to several friends of mine who have children aged fifteen or sixteen. They seemed very concerned, because these teenagers write like five-year-olds. Their handwriting doesn’t really develop, because everything happens online. Then I thought this is really important: handwriting is disappearing, Umberto Eco writes an essay. That could be my Instagram project. Because every day I meet great artists, intellectuals, architects, scientists. I will just ask them every day when I meet them to hand-write a sentence, and put it on Instagram. You can follow it on my Instagram page, we have more than a hundred of these handwritten sentences. Then my friend said that’s nothing but Twitter. The sentences are about 100-150 characters long, very short sentences. So they said you should also urgently add them to Twitter. Because when you tweet them, they will be really weird on Twitter. They are not really typed messages; they’re handwritten messages. It messes around with Twitter logic, and it becomes an image on Twitter. Now I also tweet them. Long story short, I could produce my next book. At the end of the year, I am going to have 365 lovely pages with handwritten sentences on A4 pages. I’ll write a short preface, maybe an interview with Umberto Eco, something about the disappearance of handwriting.
AO: Here I can contribute a little anecdote. In high school, when I was studying painting, a friend and I decided to open a little business to make some money on the side. At that time, vinyl lettering wasn’t that established and hadn’t yet arrived in my hometown. Instead, every advertisement and all the typography on the window fronts of the local shops were handwritten. There was a wide array of tools you could use to make the calligraphy perfect. For instance, there was a kind of stick you held onto with one hand, balancing the other hand in order to keep it from shaking. My friend and I learned a few techniques, we were quite good, and we started our own business in hand lettering, which was much nicer than computer type.
HUO: Handwriting is very ornamental, it’s beautiful.
AO: We were working all around town until the arrival of a company that had a new computer and offered vinyl print letters in a wide array of different fonts. We were taken by surprise and didn’t know what to do. People preferred to order the computer prints, mainly because it was a new thing. Our job had been taken over by someone else, by a machine, which could do it much faster, more precisely… We were forced to rethink, and we came up with a deal: whenever we ordered vinyl letters for our customers from them, they would pay us a small commission. Eventually we started to digitalize everything, sometimes even the handwriting. At the time, people thought the digital was more unique and therefore held more value.
HUO: Here I have your handwritten message that is going to go on Instagram tomorrow. Maybe it would be good for you to tell us a little bit about your message. It’s your next project. Because after the Intern VIP Lounge you are going to do something called Unpaid VIP Lounge and Underpaid VIP Lounge. Which is obviously going to enlarge the circle.
AO: Yes, currently we are a very exclusive group of people in this room. I had a lot of professional friends approaching me over the last few days, artists, curators and writers, who came for the art fair and wanted to visit the Intern VIP lounge, but were denied entrance. Even though they really wanted to come in, I didn’t let them enter. Interestingly enough, one of the first things they said, without knowing that other people had previously said exactly the same thing, was, “‘Oh, I am underpaid, can I come in?” I think it is very interesting and important to take a closer look at this statement. What does “underpaid” actually mean? Even someone who is paid 10,000 euros a month could feel the right to say “I am underpaid”. It really depends on where and in what context that person is working. It is a highly speculative thing to say “I am underpaid”. So I decided to expand the circle a little more next time, and hopefully that will be one of my projects in the near future.
INTERN: How do you interpret this lounge, in the context of the art fair as well as in the broader context of Dubai and the Arab Emirates? Also, I would be curious to know how you contextualize Hans Ulrich Obrist being here and participating in this conversation.
HUO: I can respond to that. To answer your first question you need to answer your second question. I think what I found interesting about this idea of yours is that it has something to do with parallel realities. There are different talks going on here. On the one hand, there is Shumon Basar’s program, with a lot of talks. Amazing people from all around the world, part of Antonia Carver’s mission for the fair. That’s something very exciting because it grows every year and it becomes more intense. At the same time, there are all these talks, which are also fascinating, and happen as part of this VIP Lounge. Obviously, this is an artist-run space. That’s how I saw it when you approached me: a classic artist-run space. It’s an artist’s invention; the artist defines the rules. England is very specialized in that. In the Nineties in England, we did a big show about artist-run spaces. Spaces like Bank or City Racing really made the English art scene as much as the artists. These spaces continue to play a role in Istanbul and in most cities. In Scotland, with Transmission, it’s something very interesting for that region. If an artist in Dubai decides today that his/her kitchen or his/her garage or his/her living room is a gallery, it’s an artist-run space. It is meaningful production; if what happens there is interesting, it can become a very interesting parallel reality. It spreads a rumor; people who come to the art fair or whoever can go there and see it. I see it as very much in the tradition of the history of art. It’s a curated space, because when you look at the history of curating, I’ve realized the most important exhibitions are curated by artists. That’s why quite often I co-curate with artists. I learn everything from artists, and some of my more interesting experiences as a curator have all been with artists. For example, “Utopia Station”. My house museum shows, with Pedro Reyes in Mexico or the Marathons at the Serpentine Gallery, which Julia Peyton-Jones and I started with Rem Koolhaas, an architect. Then we co-curated with Olafur Eliasson, who is an artist. So that’s number one; I see it as an artist-run space, curated by an artist. The second thing, which I think is important, is that many of the things I have mentioned have to do with building new communities. For example, anything to do with social networks has to do with communities. But also, exhibitions build communities. I think that’s the great thing about your idea; it’s not just about me being here or some other speakers that you also invited who are giving talks, but also what’s happening among you. That creates a community. That’s a particularly interesting thing. For example, what we see in our research assistants is that they actually form a real community. There are gatherings; they keep in touch with each other; we keep in touch with them. It’s an ongoing dialogue. Some become artists; some become curators; some start to work in commercial galleries, museums or art schools. It creates a growing community. That’s also the potential here: to create a community that stays in touch. That’s the second thing: a big shared community. The third interpretation is the context. It’s always about what the context is; if you do this art project at an art fair, it’s a very different thing than if you did it at a museum or a biennale. You could also do it at a biennale; you could have done it in Sharjah and have all the research assistants and interns in Sharjah have a VIP Lounge. It has a very different meaning at the biennale than it has at an art fair. We have a crossover between two different things. On the one hand, art fairs have started to do a lot of conversations. In the Nineties it started with ARCO in Spain. In the history of conversations at art fairs, ARCO came very early. ARCO in Spain invited my whole generation of curators. We got there and I had barely done any talks. I met all the curators of my generation. We then became close friends. Most of them, I met at ARCO in the context of an art fair where we had these conversations. I was invited ten years ago for the first time to Miami Art Basel by Samuel Keller, Isabela Mora and Maria Finders, and ever since I’ve been a founding member of the panel for these Art Basel conversations. Then I got really involved in the art fair, and what it means to do discussions at an art fair. For example, with Art Basel Miami, we got the great French novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet, with Robert Rauschenberg and James Rosenquist. It brought the pop generation together with the nouveau romantisme generation. It really became a platform where we could create these unrealized encounters and do amazing new formats and experiments. Then I did a panel about museums. It preceded the marathons; the marathons invited 60 speakers, which became a polyphony. But at the Art Basel Miami panels, we had ten to twelve people at the table, discussing the future of Latin America, discussing the future of the museum in the Middle East, discussing the future of museums in Asia. It became my obsession: what will the future of museums be like? Not just the Western type of museum, but in the East and the South, where new museums are born that don’t copy things. They don’t necessarily have to copy, it’s more interesting when they don’t copy the Western museum and invent a new type of museum, a museum there has a different meaning than in Paris, London or New York. It’s not about copying museums, but finding out what makes sense locally and specifically. That was what my panel was about, about local specifics. Then more art fairs started to do it. The Dubai Art Fair started to do these conversations. My first time here in the region that we wrongly refer to as the Middle East, since many Middle Eastern artists always tell me that’s a flawed category. We need a neologism for this region. Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian was the first artist I interviewed in Dubai, because I felt she really needed to be more present. This year, a panel brings together Antonia Carver and Shumon Basar, bridging the gap between disciplines.
AO: The context of Dubai is one of the hardest contexts, not only because it is an art fair, but also because it’s in Dubai. For me it doesn’t make any sense to just make an educational project in an art fair context, especially in Dubai when per contra something completely different is happening; one has to evaluate it together with the economy. Now we are in an Intern VIP Lounge. That is connected to the economy of this structure. I prefer not to divide things; I never divide academia, art space, or the museum. I also never divide the economy it produces and its speculative value, either. Knowledge production is another kind of value. It’s all connected, and I always evaluate it as a whole. It had to make sense for me to do something here, now it is maybe an alternative kind of school, with these talks and the community being created, as you said. But at the same time, it isn’t only an educational project. It has a conceptual framework and it’s referring to what’s happening in another parallel world, somewhere else outside this building, right on the corner. It was fun to see people with the other VIP card trying to enter here, because they see the word VIP. They don’t even read what’s written above it, the word intern. The art fair is an institution, and the museum is an institution as well. And I think it could be managed in very boring, very conservative way as well. It doesn’t matter if it’s an art fair or museum. I don’t justify museums because they are museums. It is always about the individuals who are running and participating in these institutions. I like to work with people, with curators, with other people who don’t necessarily describe themselves just as curators. As with you, it doesn’t matter if they teach in academia. What you do has an educational value. Some institutions are more bureaucratic, much more connected to the economic value produced, and some institutions less so. Mainstream academies is another bureaucratic and administrative place. I was with some students in Stockholm last weekend, who were discussing things, complaining. They have one of the best school structures and so on. They have all the good facilities in their schools, but I said, “Yes, you have more money, you have more facilities, workshops, more possibilities to produce things. But it’s never about that. It is always about your professor and other students around you. If you have a good professor that means you have a good mentor. It doesn’t matter if it’s a terrible school or a good one, it’s always about the dialogue you create. It is not only a teaching process, it is an exchange-- as Paulo Freire defines, problem-posing education instead of banking concept of education. This exchange process is not just knowledge production, we can’t ignore what’s happening outside contextually. Artists are as responsible as the other people who are programming it. Whatever we produce, we are responsible for the after-process.”
HUO: One more thing which is interesting about the Intern VIP Lounge is that already so many people are talking about it. It’s very unusual, no one has ever done that. It invents a new rule for the game. Richard Hamilton says we mainly remember exhibitions and art projects which invent new rules for the game. A couple of years ago, I came to Dubai. It must have been three years ago. Everybody said you can’t miss the Sophia Al-Maria project. She did this Arab science fiction, walking through the fair, kind of like a performance, one might say Arab Futurism. A couple of days ago I was in New York at JFK and there were piles of Sophia Al-Maria’s novel; she is now a world-famous novelist, and a great role model for many young artists all over the region here. She really came to international attention through a performance at the Dubai Art Fair. I had never heard her name before. What is interesting is that no matter what the context is - it can be an art fair, it can be a biennale - there are always a hundred artists in every biennale, and probably a thousand artists in every art fair. But there are very few things which really hit the point. We live in such an incredible flow of information; there is more and more data, more and more information. What do we remember? In part, the attention to economics, but it’s not only the attention to economics, it also has to do with what moves us and what has never been done before. In some ways, these are new rules of the game: like here, for example, a kind of social sculpture, but it might also be an installation when an artist invents a new display feature, or it could just be a painting or a sculpture. We shouldn’t reduce the range of media or possibilities. It can still also happen with a painting; painting isn’t dead as long as there are great paintings being made. It can happen with photography; it can happen with any type of medium, but it doesn’t happen all of a sudden. As Richard Hamilton said, it also has to do with display. Whenever a new display feature is invented, you remember that for a long time, because we’ve never seen it before. We have got artists who develop such things in biennales; it can happen in museum shows, it can happen in gallery shows, but it can also happen at art fairs. Art fairs these days do commission artworks. Any other questions?
INTERN: Remembering the Sharjah Biennial - not this one but the one before - I know that you did a wonderful, really beautiful interview with Julian Assange about censorship. His talk about unfortunate censorship was really beautiful. I’d also like to hear more talks about censorship.
AO: And its relation to this?
INTERN: Its relation is the location, of course, the geography.
HUO: In some way, I suppose, there are always different possibilities. Life is always a negotiation, curating is also a negotiation. As Félix González-Torres said, illusion can be a waste of energy. I come from a generation in the Nineties where we believe in the idea of infiltration. You don’t create a revolution; you infiltrate structures and then change it from within, and that’s rather a change. It’s about giving artists freedom. The way that this can happen is either through confrontation or through gradual change. That is always the strategy I have applied. One thing we should not forget is what Doris Lessing says, that there is not only censorship, but there is also self-censorship in our minds. I think that’s true for all of us, wherever we are. But obviously there are countries where there are more constraints than in others. There are projects we don’t dare to do, because we are worried what might happen if we do them, or subconsciously we just don’t do them, because we self-censor ourselves. I think it’s very interesting to think about what our self-censored projects are. We all have self-censored projects, one way or the other. My interest in unrealized projects springs from there. I have always mapped unrealized projects by artists and architects. In our project for the Serpentine and e-flux, with Anton Vidokle, Julia Peyton-Jones, Julieta Aranda, mapping from my very old book with Guy Tortosa in the Nineties; I am always mapping projects. It’s important to show what is impossible, to document it, to show it. That’s also a way we can contribute to change.
AO: I want to mention one example: there was a movie produced in 2006 in Turkey called Beynelmilel, directed by Muharrem Gulmez and Sirri Sureyya Onder, based on a real story, about a group of local musicians preparing to play in a large military parade in a small town in 1982, right after the military coup. The boyfriend of one of the musicians’ daughters is a left-wing activist. He and his friends hatch a plot to replace the track to be played with the Internationale. Her father hears the song and it sticks in his mind, without knowing the source, so he transforms the sound of the Internationale into the official music of the military parade. When the soldiers arrive, he is playing it without knowing it was based on the Internationale. It becomes a huge scandal. I think we should leave room for such misunderstandings and negotiations. One can harness the potential of misunderstanding during this negotiation to make certain maneuvers possible, and use this time before it is censored or oppressed, use that time gap in between, to make things possible.
HUO: That leads to the question I want to ask you, otherwise this conversation won’t be complete. What are your unrealized projects, artistically? Do you have projects that are censored or self-censored, or projects that were too expensive or projects that were utopian?
AO: I have been lucky enough to have the chance to realize most of my utopian projects but there were always unexpected issues emerging in the process. Quite a few of my artworks have been stolen, censored and even attacked. Just recently I had an artwork which was shot--six bullets were found inside of it.
HUO: What was that?
AO: It was a public art installation I did last year for TRACK in Ghent. The Castle of Vooruit was a helium-filled balloon with a diameter of eight meters, floating above the ground at a height of eleven meters at Waalse Krook, right in the city center of Ghent.
HUO: And why was it shot?
AO: The balloon was attacked three times over the course of the exhibition. I t was shot twice and untied. Up until now no one knows why, and the police investigations haven’t provided any further clues. I think the attacks were politically motivated, since the work was referring to the former socialist cooperation “Vooruit”. However the locals disagree, and see it as a non-political, purely vandalistic act.
Another work of mine, a very basic animation called Light Armoured, was initially censored in Istanbul, but later exhibited in a public space in 2006. It’s a complex thing to display a work in public in Turkey, because public space is seen as a political and controlled space. I knew it was going to be censored, or at least had that potential, although it only made a very general reference to the military. The work was displayed on a big public screen called YAMA on top of a hotel in the main square. Every month a different artist exhibits a piece on the screen, and I was the second artist to showcase there. I remember that my uncle saw it and said, “How can you show this? They will take it down after a week.” I said, “I know.” However it took them 20 days, so it ended up being shown longer than I had expected.
HUO: One last question: what’s this strange machine here behind us? Is it like a chocolate factory?
AO: It is the attraction of the day: a chocolate fountain. Tomorrow, a masseur will be coming here!
HUO: Is the chocolate fountain your idea?
AO: Yes, I was thinking what to do everyday within our budget. So on the first day, the chocolate fountain, because I like it the most. I had it once at an opening in 2010 and I never forgot it. Now I finally have it back. I’ve planned a joyful, relaxing activity for each day at the Intern VIP Lounge, parallel to the guest talks and the screening program.
HUO: If you’re interested in continuing to explore this idea of parallel realities, and artist practices as part of parallel realities, you can watch online many of these panels that we are doing. They’re about the artist as activist, the artist as urban planner…The next will be the artist as farmer, for Art Basel. All of these panels are online. If you want more information on the Marathons, they are all on the Serpentine website, where you can see more on the idea of knowledge production. That’s maybe the last thing I wanted to say, because I think something very fascinating has happened to knowledge production formats in the last couple of years. Artists have defined lectures as a medium; Walid Raad for instance: his lectures are artworks. If you think about Panamarenko, his pseudo-science lectures are artworks. The panel which goes far beyond representation, it’s like knowledge production. It also has to do with what you said: it is kind of a school in this sense, a DIY school. It also has a lot to do with the I nternet, because all of these things are online. Art students from all over the world can actually look into it. That’s obviously a question for you: what is going to happen to these archival materials here? You are in a very intimate setting, even fewer people than the kitchen show, because I doubt there are 29 of us. Yet it’s recorded; it’s being filmed; it’s being audio recorded. It is a big question what you are going to do. Are you going to do a book, the old-fashioned way? Are you going to put it online, or is it going to be transcribed?
AO: If I have chance to do this again in another place, maybe in a slightly different format, the archive will keep growing. The goal is to build some kind of growing, dynamic archive. Whatever we are doing here now internally is already adding to that archive, where you should be able to watch and listen to all previous conversations. The essential aspect is that whatever happens will be shared and carried on, and not only stay here. The knowledge has to take a format that can travel and go other places – for example, as a reader, or an online sound or video recording. I am always thinking of new tools and ways of sharing, because sharing is the most important part. However it is essential that the people you share with understand the value of what they are sharing. Nowadays everything can be easily shared and made accessible online, so it becomes even more important for people to develop a sense that sharing all this information is a privileged and precious process. Entering a website is like entering a space, and you should be curious enough to find what you are looking for.
HUO: Maybe one very last point: we started out with one of you asking about what my advice would be to a young curator. I’ve mentioned several points. To summarize this, one could say a good exercise for a young curator is to think about all the unrealized projects he or she has and to map them, t hen think which among them is the most urgent, and not stop until it’s realized, and to just do it. That could be a piece of advice. That leads to my very last question for you: what would your advice be to a young artist or art student?
AO: First of all, don’t study art. Study something else, but keep doing art.
HUO: There could not be a better conclusion.