Hans Ulrich Obrist was juror for literature at the Akademie Schloss Solitude between 2002 and 2004. He wrote this very beautiful preface to the book "Did someone say participate", edited by Shumon Basar and Markus Miessen and published by MIT Press.
I think it is very close to the working methodology that was used for the "Searching for an ideal urbanity" show. So instead of rewriting what was so clearly stated, I simply put his text here.
Participation Lasts Forever
Hans Ulrich Obrist
(Everything started with Alexander Dorner) As a high school student, I came across a second hand bookstore in St Gallen that had a copy of Alexander Dorner’s Ways Beyond Art. Dorner ran the
Harald Szeemann – considered by many as the first true independent curator – defined this long list of the “curator as generalist” which has been growing ever since:
The curator is administrator, sensitive art-lover, writer of prefaces, librarian, manager, accountant, animator, conservator, financier, and diplomat.
To which Barbara Vanderlinden and I added: fundraiser, researcher, teacher, editor, blogger, web-master, documentarian, and most important of all: someone who has conversations. Conversations with artists and other practitioners. Curators are agents of trans-disciplinarity. Last but not least there is the notion of the translator. The curator must negotiate between the different realities and fields implicated in exhibition-making. Indeed, there have been periods when I wondered whether I could spend my whole life in the art world or whether it was too narrow. As a result, I constantly ventured into other geographies and other disciplines. For example, my science research occurred through exhibitions like Bridge the Gap, Laboratorium, and
Art and Brain. In addition, ever since the exhibitions Mutations and Cities on the Move, I have retained a strong tie to architecture and urbanism – which continues through my involvement with Domus. But, I never left the art-world. The art-world permits this enormous degree of freedom. It allows you to make these external connections.
One main difference to Szeemann is important. I think there is less a question of authorship – as in the “auteur” – but curating as teamwork. Curatorial teams started in the 1990s due to the complexity of more and more global research. Collaborative curatorial models replaced the single curator in phenomena like Manifesta and new Biennales. Questioning the need for curatorial master-plans also stems from my experience with urbanism. In the 1950s, many urbanists questioned Le Corbusier's master-planned structures, into which everything had to fit in a modernist way. They began redefining dialogues with the local and the global. I have been greatly influenced by theories of urbanism, namely by architects like Cedric Price's “Non-plan”, Yona Friedman's amazing capacity of self-organization, and Oskar Hanson's “open form”. This influence is on-going. The exhibition is not just one exhibition; it's more like an archipelago. And then obviously it’s the task of the curator to link all these archipelagos, to make it legible for an audience to experience: the convention is to have isolated distinct objects or distinct monographic presentations of artists, which is one possibility but there are many other possibilities. In the strictly segregated situation of group shows, very often artists don’t know what their neighbour is doing – and this seems strange to me.
The role of the curator is to create free space, not occupy existing space. It’s reminiscent of an idea that Felix Feneon developed in the early 20th century: of the curator being a pedestrian bridge. In my practice, the curator has to bridge gaps and build bridges between artists, publics, institutions, and other types of communities. The crux of this work is building temporary communities, by connecting different people and practices, and creating the conditions for triggering sparks between them. To put it simply, curating is being involved in the creation, production, realization and promotion of ephemeral situations. While exhibitions may seem futile in this sense, they are an extremely interesting activity because they allow both artists and architects to test reality. Take the example of architecture – within the architectural
exhibition architects have induced the most interesting display features: from Mies van der Rohe to Peter and Alison Smithson, Zaha Hadid to Shigeru Ban, generations of architects have often begun to develop their language through exhibition designs.
First I was inviting artists and architects to art museums. Then I was increasingly asked to curate in the architecture or science world and things started to go back and forth. In the writer Edouard Glissant's words, “The idea of a non-linear time [... or the] coexistence of several time zones would of course allow for a great variety of different contact zones...” This is to say that perhaps the exhibition could become a reciprocal contact zone between the museum and the city.
Another interesting thing is this whole idea of “local” and the “global”. At the moment we are experiencing a mushroom-like explosion of biennales all over the world. There are hundreds of new ones coming up. There are positive and negative aspects of this. The positive aspect is obviously that it allows laboratories of new ideas to have more opportunities, which I think is development. It also shows that the world is multi-centred: we no longer have one or two centres, we have a prolificness of many centres. We can only understand the global if we are at the same time looking very carefully and in a focussed way at local conditions.
La Cohée du Lamentin, by Edouard Glissant, was published in 2005, and considers the nature pf producing reality today. It links very much with an interest I have in unrealised public projects. While public art entails a negotiation with reality that produces innovative, exciting work, it also implicates multiple parties, running the constant risk of censure. Bertrand Lavier once said, his only unrealised projects went unrealised because everyone agreed upon them! Unrealised endeavours in the visual arts (public commissions that were postponed or censored; competition
runner-ups; partially-realised plans; missed opportunities; or
”desk-drawer” projects) generally remain unnoticed. Since 1990, I have been gathering these projects into a “reservoir of ideas”. Throughout my 500 or more interviews with artists, architects, scientists and others, my only persistent question has been about unrealised projects. The penultimate step of this project is the foundation of an Agency for Unrealised Projects, architectural and artistic, at the Serpentine Gallery,
SOMEONE SAID PARTICIPATE?
PARTICIPATION has been used a lot lately. What does this word mean today
after it has been turned into a cliché so often? How can people participate? Also how can the architect or curator participate? Who has the initiative?
At the beginning, participation was very “authentic” (according to Yona Friedman, and Giancarlo de Carlo). Then it became politically instrumentalized and often degraded. When Rem Koolhaas and I asked de Carlo about this issue he said: “I agree with you. If you consider the era of the 60s, there were at the same time two things which were very important. One was the rebellion of the students, and the other one was a new consciousness in the trade-unions. During that time, I had made two projects: one was for a housing complex in
something very formalistic and stupid. The problem to me had changed: the question was how to make an architecture which can intrinsically be participated, and this becomes a question of language. How can the language be such that it favours and
pushes participation? I think that this question still has to be explored, in many different fields: So I believe that the crucial issue is to use language that people can understand, penetrate and eventually use. So the process in my opinion takes a lot longer. Participation is something that you should start – and this is
something that you should not forget– it lasts forever.”
THE FUTURE WILL BE A HURRICANE
TIME/ SPACE SPACE/ TIME.
There is only a now and there is only a here. If we lost memory there is no time, there is only now. If we cannot move there is no space: it becomes virtual. As Yona Friedman once told me: “The only real thing is the here and now. The future is an intellectual construction.”
I recently asked artists and architects for their definition of the future. The incomplete list follows here:
the future will be chrome
the future will be curved
the future will be "in the name of the future"
the future will be so subjective
the future will be bouclette
the future will be curious
the future will be obsolete
the future will be asymmetric
the future will be a slap in the face.
the future will be delayed
the future does not exist but in snapshots
the future will be tropical
future? ...you must be mistaken
the future will be overgrown and decayed
the future will be tense
Zukunft ist lecker
Zukunft ist wichtiger als Freizeit
Helmut Kohl (proposed by Carsten Höller)
a future fuelled by human waste
the future is going nowhere without us
the future is now – the future is it
the future is one night, just look up
the future will be a remake...
Didier Fiuza Faustino
the future is what we construct from what we remember of the past – the
present is the time of instantaneous revelation
the future is this place at a different time.
the future will be widely reproduced and distributed
the future will be whatever we make it
the future will involve splendour and poverty
the future is uncertain because it will be what we make it
the future is waiting – the future will be self-organized
Raqs Media Collective
Dum Spero/While I breathe, I hope
this is not the future
the future is a dog/l'avenir c'est la femme
Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron
on its way; it was here yesterday
the future will be an armchair strategist, the future will be like no snow
on the broken bridge
the future always flies in under the radar
suture that future
'To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow' (Shakespeare)
the future is overrated
Cerith Wyn Evans
futuro = $B!g(B
the future is a large pharmacy with a memory deficit
the future will be bamboo
Tay Kheng Soon
the future will be ousss
the future will be...grains, particles & bits.
the future will be...ripples, waves & flow.
the future will be...mix, swarms, multitudes.
the future will be...the future we deserve but with some surprises, if
only some of us take notice.
In the future...the earth as a weapon...
the future is our excuse
Joseph Grigely and Amy Vogel
the future will be repeated
ok, ok i'll tell you about the future; but i am very busy right now;
give me a couple of days more to finish some things and i'll get back to
future is instant
Yung Ho Chang
”The future is not”
the future is private
the future will be layered and inconsistent
the future is a piano wire in a pussy powering something important
in the future perhaps there will be no past
the future is menace
the future is a forget-me-not
the future is an knowing exchange of glances
The future: Scratching on things I could disavow
the future is our own wishful thinking.
le futur est un étoilement
the future is now
the future has a silver lining
the future is now and here