The indefatigable curator Hans Ulrich Obrist arrived in Los Angeles last month to launch the Institute of the 21st Century, aiming to digitize the entirety of his 20-year spanning interview project, which includes interviews with artists and figures as wide-ranging as Merce Cunningham and Matthew Barney.


Obrist conducted public conversations with John Baldessari and computer scientist Danny Hillis. Emblematic of the epistemological bridge-building that characterizes Obrist's career, both Baldessari and Hillis touched on themes beyond their respective fields-questions of social value, memory, and the passing of time.

Sunday afternoon at LACMA, celebrating the publication of the artist's Catalogue Raisonné: Volume 1 (1956-1974), Obrist proposed a "rule of the game," asking the artist to discuss his "Top 10 Epiphanies." Obrist told A.i.A. that, for him, the epiphany represents the sense of chance or rupture often associated with scientific discovery. Referencing the works of John Cage and Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Obrist sees it as a model for capturing truth that transcends linear understandings of artistic practice.

Baldessari shared with the audience how he came to associate art-making and his social conscience, working with juvenile delinquents at the California Youth Authority early in his career. Near the end of the conversation, the artist elaborated on an Aha! moment that came to him as a question, "Why can't all art histories be in one book?" For Obrist, a better question might be, "how can all of history be in one book?"

The next night, Obrist spoke to Hillis in front of a packed crowd. Topics included a 10,000-year clock, Hillis's giant structure under construction inside of a mountain in West Texas. The clock will be powered by sunlight and by the presence of visitors. The clock will cease to tick when visitors leave, and resume when others arrive, resetting to the correct time.

A brief foray into Hillis's epiphanies, including his realization "that the future is shrinking" in terms of sustainability, was followed by a theoretical discussion of how his machine dream cuts through different notions of time (human and mechanical) and how, according to Obrist, it may represent "the opposite of haste" for the future.

i21c is a project of the Pasadena Arts Council’s EMERGE Fiscal Sponsorship Program.

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