The man who wants to create a library of ideas

Hans Ulrich Obrist sits amid a pile of papers, all neatly stacked and brightly tagged. They are dossiers on the 25 artists and writers he is going to interview in Delhi.
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Updated on Jan 22, 2011 01:06 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByAmitava Sanyal, New Delhi

Hans Ulrich Obrist sits amid a pile of papers, all neatly stacked and brightly tagged. They are dossiers on the 25 artists and writers he is going to interview in Delhi.

It will not be just any other series of conversations. The interviews will be almost continuous, with barely two minutes between the 20-minute chats with each.

It’s for the Marathon Interview series that Obrist, director of international projects at London’s Serpentine Gallery, started in 2006. They are, in turn, part of the decade-long Interview Project that has seen Obrist talk to more than 2,000 speakers over 3,000 hours. “My work is about junction making,” says the Swiss-born curator. “And exhibitions are my medium. But the interviews feed my curating work and vice-versa.”

Why does he choose the marathon format? “I’ve done 24-hour sessions too... Over the last century or so, the format of exhibitions has changed. But symposiums haven’t been reinvented so much. If I bring together speakers who bring their own crowds, there is chance of new networks and new communities emerging. It’s like mapping of cities as (author) Italo Calvino saw it.”

Such grand ambition isn’t new for the 42-year-old. He has put together art shows in his own kitchen, in philosopher Nietzsche’s mountain house, in the library of a 15th-century monastery, and even aboard Austrian Airlines flights.

‘Indian Highway’ is a travelling show Obrist started in 2008. “It’s a growing show. In London, I invited the Raqs Media Collective to curate a section on exhibition design. In Oslo, Bose Krishnamachari worked on sculptures. In Denmark, Shilpa Gupta did videos. In Lyon, Bijoy Jain will curate a part on architecture.” By the time the show reaches Moscow via São Paulo, it might just become the largest show of Indian art abroad.

Obrist often asks artists about their “unrealised dream projects”. What’s his unrealised dream? “A palace — like the Crystal Palace of 1851 — for all the unrealised projects of all the artists.” Now that’s going to be one giant palace indeed.

Obrist will conduct the Interview Marathon today at Lodhi Garden Restaurant from 1.45 pm. Entry is free

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