Hans + Marina: Installment I / by John McGurk

McG recently attended the book launch of curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist's new book at McNally Jackson bookstore in Soho. It was an informal conversation with performance artist Marina Abramovic on the occasion of Obrist's new book Ways of Curating

McG is happy to provide the first installment of a few short excerpts of their conversation together, which was filled with interesting personal anecdotes and larger ideas about curatorial practice. Below is the first excerpt transcribed by McG:

 Hans Obrist and Marina Abramovic speaking at McNally Jackson. 

Hans Obrist and Marina Abramovic speaking at McNally Jackson. 

Hans-Ulrich Obrist (talking about a studio visit at home of artist): Basically, every single thing, in a way, was choreographed. It was a total installation. There were thousands of text pieces, she wrote every day, it was all about time. At the same time she also, of course, had all these objects and the objects, for example: she asked if we wanted coffee and we said yes, she said "turn left", and behind this couch there was this coffee set. Everything, in a way, was very organized. I see here there is a "gardening" section of this bookstore, there was also a garden and at one point she almost started crying, and she says: "Mickey died" and she wanted to show us the grave and so we were really, really worried that one of her relatives was buried in the house or in the garden, it was very scary. But then we found out it was her doll that "passed away" and the garden was the graveyard for the dolls. 

Marina Abramovic: I started talking to Hans and then he was totally obsessed with this sleeping because he was reading the biography of Leonardo Da Vinci. Leonardo Da VInci was saying that actually if you slept fifteen minutes, is it fifteen minutes? Yes, fifteen minutes at a time and then wake up and do things, and then fifteen minutes, never more than fifteen minutes, then you can really, you know, create a completely new life for yourself. So Hans at this time had been doing this for an entire year, so he was really on the edge of madness. (Laughter) Because, its crazy, fifteen minutes: he was sleeping standing up, he was sleeping talking to you and then he would wake up. He then got this huge clock that he got from the army, that you can wake up entire, you know, thousand soldiers, in his own apartment. Because he would say "I get in such a deep sleep that I can't wake up anymore with a normal clock". So he used this watch, but it didn't work so he put it in the pots, so it would ring in the metal, in the buckets. I think he then went somewhere to travel and he forgot to switch his clock off and when he gets back the people have to get him out of the house, you know, he was waking up the whole city!

Obrist: It is kind of tied up with the book we are launching today because I was having this huge worry in the end of the 80's, early 90's to do my first book. I just couldn't write it and it was so slow. And then, I came across Balzac and obviously the Parisians love Balzac and I was always extremely admiring Balzac's output because he had written dozens and dozens and dozens of these novels and then I read a biography that he drank up to fifty cups of coffee a day. So he was full of coffee and produced. So I tried the Balzac rhythm (Laughter) for a couple of months, you know, I would drink fifty cups of coffee. I would do it in a cafe and I would order all these espressos and the waiter would bring all these chairs and I had to explain that it was just me. (Laughter) In any case, it was really not sustainable and I also found out that Balzac had actually died of his coffee intake. (Laughter) So then I needed another rhythm, I mean, after the first book was written, you know with the Balzac rhythm. And then I came across this Da Vinci rhythm, and the Da Vinci rhythm worked really, really, well. 

Abramovic: It was successful for you?

Obrist: Very successful! Because you sleep seven or eight times a day for fifteen minutes and then your three hours awake and then asleep for fifteen minutes. And you are never tired. I mean its very recommendable, it's extremely, extremely recommendable, the only problem is that it only works... it worked when I was doing my Kitchen shows and I was days at home and all that, but once I had a job it started to be a problem because after three hours no matter where you are you have to sleep for fifteen minutes. Yea, we had this architect's office where we produced the exhibition and I would kind of go to sleep at four in the morning and lay down in the middle of the floor and the cleaners arrived and thought that someone had died, so that made it impossible. 

As you can tell it was a fun and lively conversation between two old friends. Stay tuned for future excerpts from the conversation where Obrist talks more about his curatorial visions and ideas and what is important to him about his practice. 

Check out the book, you can find it most places.