Co-director of exhibitions and programmes at the Serpentine Gallery, a conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist has infinite possibilities. Rem Koolhaas once said that the omnipresent Swiss-born curator and irrepressible interrogator left his native country because he talked too fast for the Swiss. Obrist has interviewed an ever-expanding spectrum of the great and good, from architects to linguists, philosophers, scientists, filmmakers and musicians, compiling a kind of ongoing Smithsonian Institute for the state of aesthetic thought in the 21st century, while his curatorial eye has transformed the possibilities of the white-walled gallery. On the day Frieze Art Fair opens, Jefferson Hack spoke to Obrist about enthusiasm, taking risks and parallel realities.
What are you thinking of right now?
Maps for the 21st century.
What makes you laugh?
Mechanised behaviour where you expect organic life – dixit Bergson.
What makes you cry?
Death is a dull fact.
What do you consider to be the greatest invention?
Do you have a mentor or inspirational figure that has guided or influenced you?
Alighiero Boetti, Gerhard Richter, Peter Fischli & David Weiss, Christian Boltanski, Pierre Klossowski, Katharina Fritsch, Rosemarie Trockel whom I all met when I was 18, and many other I met since then.
Where do you feel most at home?
London and in between, as Camille Bryen said n'être qu'entre.
Where are you right now?
Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens, London.
What is your proudest achievement in work?
Dontstopdontstopdontstop dixit Douglas Gordon.
What is your proudest achievement in life?
Too early to answer, it has only just begun.
What do you most dislike about contemporary culture?
I am positive, as Emerson said: “nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”
What do you most like about the age we live in?
A fabric of reality which allows us to live in parallel realities.
At what points do life and work intersect?
To be with art is all we ask (Gilbert & George).
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
To go beyond the fear of pooling knowledge.
What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
Recommend a book or poem that has changed your perspective on life?
All books by Edouard Glissant.
What is your earliest childhood memory?
Seeing the thin long sculpture of Alberto Giacometti as a child in Switzerland.
What’s the most important relationship in your life?
I’ve lived with artist Koo Jeong-A since 1994.
What’s the most romantic action you’ve taken?
The Poetry Marathon in the Serpentine pavillion in 2009 is perhaps the most romantic project I’ve ever curated.
What’s the most spiritual action you’ve taken?
Visiting Buddhist Monk Daehaeng Kun Sunim.
If you could wish for one change in the world what would it be?