Born in 1968, in Zurich Switzerland, Hans Ulrich Obrist is one among of the most influential curators of the twenty-first century his idea to preserve or safeguard the heritage of art and to not forget art works by selecting new work and connecting them to the old.
Through his courage to realize ideas that overstep traditional bounds, Obrist not only follows art but also profoundly shapes today’s art world. He mentioned in one of his seminars, that the task of a curator is to filter, enable, synthesise, frame, alter and remember past art works or projects.1 After doing a grand tour of the world he did his own first exhibition in his kitchen in 1991 at the age of 23 in Switzerland. From the kitchen he started to invent museums in spaces where we would expect them the least.2 Among many he curated the project museum in progress, where the State Opera in Vienna have their curtain transformed into a work of art, so instead of the public staring at the traditional curtain they would be looking at a painting or design. This is an on going rollover 12 months exhibition and after that another artist will be showing their work for that same period of time.3 City On The Move is another example of artwork in a place where one will least expect it. This is the first exhibition where Obrist started to take architecture into context by exhibiting big billboards in Indian subway stations in 2006. This all had to do with space and the production of space.
During an interview with Ingo Nirmann, Hans Ulrich Obrist said:
… The whole curatorial thing has to do not only with exhibitions, it has a lot to do with bringing people together. That is a large part of my work …4
During the Venice Biennale 2003 together With Hans Ulrich Obrist and Molly Nesbit, he co-curated Utopia Station. Inviting many different contemporary artists and architects from various backgrounds created this project and together they produced a body of work.5 Similar to Utopia Station Obrist has curated many Biennales, exhibitions and gallery shows. He believes that in the art world there has been this notion that curating always follows art and not the other way around.
In his book “Everything You Wanted To Know About Curating But Were Afraid To Ask”. Obrist describe his interview project as “a sort of parallel activity” 6 and sees that interviews are an opportunity where one can immerse himself/herself in various fields. During the making of the book/interviews the table was turned and Obrist who always acts as the interviewer became the interviewee where sixteen practitioners interviewed him about art and curating. The book explores the beginning of his career as a young curator in his Zurich kitchen to his most recent time as co-director of Serpentine London. Early in his career he started to travel to various locations to see as many artworks as possible, meet art figures and collected diverse interviews from people from the western art world, who have been involved in creating the post-war contemporary art. These people are well-known curators such as Walter Hopps, Potus Hultén, Anne d’Harnoncourt and Harald Szeeman, who work behind the curtain as curators to make it possible for artists to bring their work before the general public. This would be the beginning of the interview project, that he would later publish some in his book A Brief History Of Curating (2001).
The life, work and writings of Obrist have changed the traditional ways of exhibition and curating. He revolutionized the art word by offering a variety of fascinating curating aspects that opened a whole different way of undertaking the roles of artist and curator. The very basic role of the curator is to take care of art works. Taking care, however requires something or someone that needs to be cared for. Hans Ulrich Obrist defines the curator as “the caretaker of objects in a museum”.7 In his books the exchange of roles between artists and curators often analyzed, as it is a matter of fact that many artists have already worked and continue to work in the field of curating quiet regularly.
The curators follow the artist and not the other way round. It is obvious that artist can make art without needing a second person to take care of his or her work; in other hands the curator needs something or someone to take care of. Without the object the curator will have no purpose, as there would be nothing to take care of, thus the curator would not exist without the person who created them, the artist. Thus the existence of curators is clearly dependent on the artists and their artwork.8 Seeing this as a fundamental idea of curating, Obrist explains that In the 1960s, Joseph Beuys developed the idea of the Erweiteter Kunstbegriff – expanded notion of art, which in Obrist’s opinion has lead to an expanded notion of curating as well. 9 Conceptual art moved from object-centered to idea-centered, which seriously changed the relationship of author, artwork and audience. The exchange of role between artists and curators means that their duties are no longer as clearly defined as they used to be. Though conceptual art, artists have begun to work in what has traditionally been the field of curators and curators have begun to approach their work in a way that tends to be seen as artistic.
In one of his speeches at a TEDx event gathering, Obrist describes the present day definition of curating:
Today it is much much more that filling a space with objects. It has to do with filtering, it has to do with enabling, it has to do with synthesizing with framing, also with remembering; and it definitely become clear, seeing the exponential growth of the use of the note curator on the internet, that the proliferation of ideas, of information, of images needs somehow, obviously, a guiding and it seems also that within this whole information explosion curating is used more and more…10
Conceptual art is used to convey ideas in so many forms and shapes: video, text, performance and installation, to name a few. This enabled art to become non-object focused. The objects the curator should take care of, broadened from painting and sculptures to include many different form of art, from ideas, realized or unrealized, to happenings and performances. Relational aesthetics a term first defined by Nicolas Borriaud In 1996 as:
A set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent or private space. 11
The artist Rirkrit Tiravanija is a pioneer of the Relational Aesthetics movement, He takes apart the concept of art into its relational aspects, giving great importance to the interactions between people and space, while tackling a cultural or political issue. In 1989, Rirkrit Tiravanija started using cooking as a means to create an art, by cooking and serving meals to visitors. In Untitled, 1992 at 303 Gallery, New York, Tiravanija converted the gallery exhibition space into a cooking studio, the gallery staffs would work among the cooking smells and diners. When the cooking was not happening the debri left around, paper plates, plastic knives and forks, gas burners, kitchen utensils, folding tables and some folding stools, in the store room became the exhibits.12 Here the engagement of the viewer is what makes the artwork: food is used as a medium to allow some sort of relationship between audience and artist to develop. Tiravanija’s practice blurs distinction between institutional and social space, but between artist and the viewer. Another example of his work in regards to relational aesthetics is called Tomorrow Is Another Day, took place in 1996 at the Kölnischer Kunstverein in Germany. Trivanija constructed an exact copy of his New York apartment in wood, and then he made it open to public twenty-four hours a day. The general public could use the space for domestic purposes or just a place to hangout. The catalogue that the gallery circulated for this project only cites a section of newspaper articles and reviews, emphasizing the curator’s assertion that “this unique combination of art and life offered and impressive experience of togetherness to everybody”.13 Although the growing diversity of materials in Tiravanija’s work still stresses on the use over contemplation. As Janet Kraynak has written,
although Tiravanija’s dematerialized projects revive strategies of critique from 1960s and 70s, it is arguable that in the context of today’s dominant economic model of globalization, Tiravanija’s itinerant ubiquity does not self-reflexively question this logic, but merely reproduces it. He is one of the most established, influential, and omnipresent figures on the international art circuit, and his work has been crucial to both the emergence of relational aesthetics as a theory, and to the curatorial desire for “open-ended,” “laboratory” exhibition.14
As another concept of relational aesthetics, the “marathon” DO IT materialised in the early 1990s through a conversation between curator Hans Ulrich Obrist and artists Christian Boltanski and Bertrand Lavier. The idea is propelled by a simple proposition, to “create an instruction that someone else can use to make an artwork”.15 Obrist explains that:
DO IT rejects the notion of the original in favour of an open-ended conception of the creation of the work. … No two versions of do it instructions are ever identical when carried out. … The exhibition takes place in the inter-spaces between interpretation and negotiation. … It is important to bear in mind that do it is less concerned with copies, images, or reproductions of artworks, than with human interpretations.16
In participatory art the artistic process happens by activating the viewer and encouraging their involvement in the creation of the artwork, Do It opens that process to be realised at any time or any place outside of the artist’s presence. Part of the appeal of the project is the variation of the results; as different individuals follow the instructions and interpret the directions; their individual choices will create distinct artworks. This offers more than one single viewpoint and understanding, it operates in relation of time and environment between participants and the instruction. The participant is allowed to translate the instructions in ways that are sometimes unanticipated by the author.17 In the Do It project Tiravanija’s instruction for Untitled (1994) takes the form of a recipe, a specific instruction that allows for little interpretation. First, he lists the ingredients and equipment required and the actions necessary to complete the recipe. The name of the dish is not given, however by reading the recipe, it is evident the steps create a spicy paste.