Hans Ulrich Obrist, a scheduled speaker at DLD14 and co-director of exhibitions and programs and director of international projects at London’s Serpentine Galleries, is a noted critc, curator and historican of art. He has launched a handwriting project on Instagram and a project called 89plus which brings artists togehter from all over the world. He recently spoke to Informilo’s Eric Sylvers about the nexus of art and tech.
Q: With the introduction of 3D printing and the maker revolution there seems to be more of a mash-up these days between art and technology — do you agree?
A: The nexus of art and technology is very key for our time. Each year I curate an arts panel at DLD. We did a panel in 2010 which focused on clouds, which have played such an important role in art and also in poetry. And obviously now there is the digital cloud. Many of the challenges of our time need a multidisciplinary approach, for example engineering and design meet art. Two years ago at DLD we looked into post-Internet art and how it was basically bringing together a whole generation of artists. Internet is no longer a fascination and post-Internet artists just use it as part of the current condition. I’m always thinking about how can we go into the future, to curate the future in relation to technology.
Q: Is it fair to say that the intersection of art and tech is one of the focuses at the Serpentine Galleries in London? Will it become a bigger one in future?
A: Yes, absolutely. We have done the 89plus Marathon, bringing together 40 speakers. When we think about the future of the gallery we think about how it is an important moment to expand the digital aspect of the galleries and the art displayed. We hired a digital curator so it is clearly a very important focus for us.
Q: You have been involved with the DLD conference for a long time. What attracts you to come to DLD and what do you think has been the winning formula of DLD founder Steffi Czerny?
A: I think Steffi is one of the great junction makers of our time. No one does it better than her connecting people from different fields. DLD is a laboratory for me to test different things and I learn so much every time. So many new ideas come to me there. I would never miss it. DLD is a magical moment. Wherever Steffi is she brings people together. In this sense DLD never stops, it’s 365 days a year.
Q: You have helped bring many interesting people to DLD. Can you give me a few names and talk about how you think their participation has helped further the conversation at DLD?
A: For the panel we did about how a 21st-century art and architecture school would link to technology we brought together [Dutch architect] Rem Koolhaas with artists like Thomas Demand and Piero Golia and with patron and collector Maja Hoffmann. This panel triggered the beginning of the Strelka School in Moscow so these panels are also about production of reality. For the Parallel Universes we started the dialog between artists Olafur Eliasson and Ai Weiwei. For Solar we brought together [Whole Earth Catalog editor] Stewart Brand in collaboration with Edge.org and John Brockman. Also present were Eliasson and artist Tino Sehgal as well as several inventors of solar technology.
Q: 89plus is about helping young artists get exposure. Why is this necessary when the digital revolution is leveling the playing field by making it easier for everybody to get exposure?
A: Simon Castets and I founded 89plus in order to be useful to artists and we hope that all the projects do have utility and I think they do. Very often these young artists haven’t meet their peers from around the world and we give them an opportunity to do that. We believe it’s important to bring all these geographies together and trigger meetings. Many of these artists have very experimental work and we want to facilitate their work and help them realize their art. We are now installing residencies such as the 89plus residency with Google. They invite the artists to create a new work.
Q: You have mentioned how the idea for your Instagram handwriting project came from something the Italian writer Umberto Eco had written. Can you give us the details?
A: In a Guardian article, which had been translated from an Italian newspaper, Umberto Eco lamented the disappearance of handwriting among kids. When I read that over breakfast I thought that is totally true, everything happens on a computer now. I thought rather than send kids back to take a course in calligraphy, which is what Eco was calling for, it would be interesting to introduce handwriting to the digital age.
A few days later I was in the studio of the artist Ryan Trecartin in Los Angeles with the writer Kevin McGarry when Ryan said you should join Instagram. All of a sudden he took my iPhone and downloaded the app onto the phone. He took a photo of me with his phone and put it on his Instagram account and suddenly I’m thrown in the water. I didn’t know what to do with my account. I came back to Europe, it was December, and went on Christmas vacation with Etel Adnan and Simone Fattal at the seaside in Italy. We recorded long conversations. We started speaking about handwriting and I thought I could post sentences. I meet great artists, writers, scientists and architects and I saw I could post their writings. A sort of visual tweet put on Instagram and then also on Twitter. It became a ritual. I believe in rituals. Now every day I post one thing on Instagram. That is the genesis. It’s an infinite conversation. For me it is kind of a movement of some sort. I want to celebrate the beauty of handwriting.
Q: How does the Instagram handwriting project fit with your foray into digital art?
A: The Instagram project has very much grown out of the Do It project. In 1993 one of my first projects was Do It, which addressed the digitalization of art. We invited artists to write a recipe that other people could do and posted the results online [www.e-flux.com]. We thought of how to do it on the Internet. It grew from there. In my work that was the first time I thought about digitalization and now with Instagram there is no end in sight. I’m endlessly excited every day to do it and will continue this year and maybe for several years or the rest of my life. Do It has gone on for 20 years.