Researching an art history paper is about to get a whole lot easier. A joint effort to catalogue and publish online an archive of curator and Serpentine Gallery co-director Hans Ulrich Obrist’s interviews is kicking off this weekend in Los Angeles. Once complete, the searchable Web site will feature 2,500 hours of recorded interviews and talks between the legendary curator and hundreds of luminaries in the fields of art, architecture, literature, and science.
The project, grandly called the Institute of the 21st Century, makes its official public debut the weekend of July 29 and will be in development for two to three years. Over that weekend, Obrist will conduct public interviews with artist John Baldessari and computer engineer Danny Hillis. Both interviews — the former held at LACMA’s Art Catalogues store on July 29 and the latter held at the arts organization ForYourArt on July 30 — will center around the concept of time. (This theme will be particularly interesting for Hillis, who may be most famous for his “Clock of Long Now” — a monumental clock intended to function for more than 10 millenia.) Ultimately, the idea is that these two interviews, along with hundreds of others Obrist has recorded since 1985, will be made accessible to the public online and free of charge.
“People say that Hans Ulrich is always in a rush and moving from place to place, but when he’s interviewing someone, he’s completely present,” ForYourArt founder Bettina Korek told ARTINFO. “He talks about how interviews liberate time in a way. It’s his passion.” Along with colleague Karen Marta, Korek is leading the Institute of the 21st Century’s archive initiative.
The first phase of the project involves cataloguing the thousands of hours of tapes currently stored in Berlin and London. The Institute of the 21st Century team expects to load the interviews onto the Web site in stages, and then make them searchable. “This is really a new idea of what an archive can be,” Korek enthused. The first segment, expected to go live on the Web site within a month, is a collection of interviews Obrist conducted with over 40 architects in a six-day interview marathon at the 2010 Architecture Biennale in Venice, Italy.
Previous interviews Obrist has conducted over the course of his career include an extensive series of talks with enigmatic architect Cedric Price (turned into a book published in 2010); exchanges between architect Rem Koolhaas and the Metabolist group, a small team of Japanese architects active in the 1950s; and interviews with the late artists Mike Kelley and Jason Rhoades.
“There are a lot of great thinkers who aren’t already on YouTube,” said Korek. “There are a lot of people who are no longer with us in the archive, and Hans Ulrich considered them a chain reaction. When an artist mentioned an influence from the past, he would track that person down and interview them, too.”
The result, its creators hope, will be a kind of cerebral, slowed-down audio Wikipedia exposing the hearts and minds of cultural titans of the 20th and 21st centuries. “This process is exciting because of the new points of access it creates for audiences," said Korek, "who may come to it through their interest in a writer, an engineer, or composer and find their way to an artist.”