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Book review: Ways of curating

by Eva Amsen

If you’ve heard me talk about science unconferences, you may have noticed me refer to this quote before:

“At a conference the most important things happen in the coffee break” – Hans-Ulrich Obrist

It comes from a 2008 Edge interview with Hans-Ulrich Obrist, and refers to an event he organised in the nineties, where he brought together artists and scientists for a conference – but eliminated the entire conference programme. The idea was to have a conference that only consisted of the valuable meetings between like-minded people in coffee breaks and social events surrounding the conference. Obrist calls it a “nonconference”, but it’s similar to “unconferences” made popular by the tech community.

Recently, I saw Obrist latest book, Ways of Curating, in a bookstore, and after confirming that this “nonconference” was in there, I picked it up. The book is amazing! Obrist is an entertaining writer, and in a series of short chapters he discusses all kinds of exhibits he has curated, and artists he has met and worked with. He describes how he once created an exhibit in the kitchen of his house, where Fischli and Weiss, of The Way Things Go (Der Lauf Der Dinge) fame, created an installation of giant food items in the cupboard above the sink.

I learned that besides the nonconference Art and Brain, Obrist worked with scientists a few other times. In 1999, he curated  Laboratorium, a project featuring artists and scientists, which took place in various locations in Antwerp. Participants here also included Fischli and Weiss, as well as another of my favourite artists, Bruce Mau. (“Don’t clean your desk”, from Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth, is another of my favourite quotes. Fun fact: Both this quote and the Obrist quote above have been on my Facebook profile for years. )

Ways of Curating is a fun read, in which I learned some basic ideas of art curating, and got inspired to think about curating and organising other things.



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Jonathan Lin July 2, 2014 - 1:56 AM

I’ll start by saying that Bruce Mau Incomplete Manifesto is a wonderful read.

I’m about to head out on a trip next week that will take me to continental Europe, on a bike, with no luggage, to a friend’s wedding. I’ve never been to the continent and I’ve only started thinking about more than just travel arrangements.

Mau’s thoughts bring perspective. I’m on a field trip – away from computers and cell phones, taking the time to travel slowly (it will take me 5 days to bike from Lyon to Milan). I hope I learn and grow!

Eva Amsen July 2, 2014 - 9:56 AM

That sounds like an amazing trip!

jlin July 5, 2014 - 5:07 AM

Thanks! I leave for Heathrow on Tuesday! so looking forward to the chunnel 🙂

jlin August 4, 2014 - 4:47 PM

Well, I’m back from France and Italy and thought to comment back on this comment.

The trip was simultaneously both more and less than what I expected. I only biked for one day, and was overcome with tiredness and a constant panic of falling behind and diverting from my route plan. In reality, it wasn’t that bad – just that I needed more time. Traveling by bike is best done without a schedule: being able to enjoy the scenery and shops I pass by and literally getting lost is more important than making a certain number of km or following a map.

I stopped at two French pastry shops along the way that were phenomenal. They were boulangerie that served small, teeny tiny towns of no more than 100 people, nestled inside twisty mountain roads and decaying brick buildings. But they served some of the best coffee I’ve ever had.

In Italy, I ran on Italian time. The train is half an hour late? No matter! Just sit and have some gelato and espresso! Bus broken down? Just haggle for a refund, walk, and enjoy the bustling street markets.

I’m still thinking and feeling about the ways the continent has changed me. In the end, I’m still good old me, but Europe has injected a bit of culture into my veins, and now I speak Italian in my dreams.

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