Caretaking / Curating: Hans Ulrich Obrist

Hans Ulrich Obrist: When I started, in the late 1980s, I had a very strong passion for art and I wanted to be useful to art. I think this is the core of curating. Today, the word curating is used everywhere and what curating entails is still the idea of “curare,” of taking care, of the curator being a caretaker. The Latin root of the word is still relevant. Furthermore, the “cur” in curating can obviously be freely associated to curiosity. I believe curiosity is why I am a curator. It is a desire to want to know and to connect what we know. Not only making connections but junctions as well. These lead us to one of my favorite definition of curating, which comes from the English writer J. G. Ballard, who told me in our last conversation, just a few months before he died, “A curator is a junction-maker.” He explained that on the few occasions he as a novelist curated exhibitions, he made junctions. The question is obviously, what are these junctions? 

Historically, from the 19th century to the 1960s, art history is very much a history of objects. In this case, a curator is a junction-maker of objects. I take objects, I install them in a space and I make a junction. Then, in the 1960s, as Lucy Lippard describes so strikingly in her book The Dematerialization of Art, art went beyond objects. A curator is not only a curator of objects but also a curator of non-objects, of immaterial works. Obviously this didn’t mean that we no longer curate objects. Even after the 1960s, art history still has amazing objects. Then, there is a third layer of junctions with quasi-objects. Michel Serres has this very interesting notion of the quasi-object; a kind of a performative object that gains meaning if we interact with it. The fourth category is the idea of hyper objects, which is a notion from Timothy Morton, another philosopher. Hyper objects go beyond our idea of time and space. Climate change, for example, is a hyper object.

So, to expand the Ballardian notion of curating, a curator is a junction-maker of objects, quasi-objects, non-objects, and hyper objects. I would add another element; make junctions between people, because this can have major impact. I grew up as a single child in Switzerland. Not in a big city, it was quite narrow, and you feel quite lonely. So, very early on I developed an extreme desire to bring people together. With my projects, I aim at bringing people together. I bring artists together with architects, curators and scientists, and with all kinds of practitioners. That leads us to what I would call an expanded notion of curating because, in a way, Joseph Beuys in the 1960s talked about an expanded notion of art. When art expands, curating has to expand, because curating follows art, it follows artists. I believe that it is never the other way around.

What are alternate modes of practice?

What are alternate modes of practice?

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