I’m due to interview Hans-Ulrich Obrist on a late October evening, in a building overlooking the river. It’s a mild night in London, with clear skies, but the sitting room where we meet is strange, dark and ominous. I’m not allowed to say much more about this place: within these walls editors are at work on the post-production of one of the most ambitious films ever made. I’ve had to swear to complete secrecy, to merely come in the proximity of this monstrous, utopian masterpiece. Strange as it may seem as a choice of setting for interviews, it isn’t quite so surprising, when we consider the figure of Hans Ulrich Obrist. This is exactly the kind of thing he’s known to get up to in his time off, when he isn’t involved in the art system in his official capacity.
Hans’ internal compass has always pointed him in the direction of all things extraordinary and unusual. Wherever anything exciting happens, you’ll find him there: spinning the cogs, bringing together distant skills and landscapes. He likes ideas that build new bridges, across water or land, or magically suspended in thin air. Ideas that, combined with one another, give birth to wholly new philosophies, soaring upwards through the layers of knowledge, like a system of pulleys. In an enormously intricate world of minute, inscrutable connections, Hans-Ulrich Obrist shines a guiding light, helps us to discern the new from the derivative.
The annual ‘interview marathon’ at the Serpentine has just come to an end. It was one of the most interesting ones to date – on the subject of transformation. Many other institutions have followed suit, organizing long sessions of talks inspired by your marathons. Do you think the format is starting to grow stale?
I don’t think so. It is certainly important to take a chance at finding new formats, but I believe the marathon idea is still relevant. Deleuze famously said that it’s important to find difference in repetition. Today, we organise marathons all over the world. Each one has its own characteristics and its own specific identity, determined by the context and the location it takes place in, and thanks to research carried out locally. It’s a non-static format, like the interview itself: it is a complex system. Right now, it’s still exciting. When it’ll no longer be exciting, we’ll stop organising the marathons.