Hans-Ulrich Obrist Archive Chapter 1: Édouard Glissant
Where all the world’s imaginations can meet and hear one another

Etel Adnan
agnès b.
Julien Creuzet
Manthia Diawara
Édouard Glissant
Julie Mehretu
The Otolith Group
Sylvie Séma-Glissant
Asad Raza


LUMA Arles
Living Archives Programme
Arles, France

With the assistance of
Elif Kulözü, Living Archives intern

Luz Gyalui, Head of production
Barbara Blanc, Head registrar and conservator
Nicolas Pène, Preparator
Zoë Renaudie, Conservator 
Clément Château, Production manager

Produced by LUMA Foundation
Hans-Ulrich Obrist Archive

The archive of Hans-Ulrich Obrist (b. 21 May 1968 in Zurich, Switzerland) documents his curatorial and conversational practice. Since the late 1980s, the Swiss-born curator has been developing a multifaceted practice that is shaped, first and foremost, through interactions. His archive is about listening, since it contains a multitude of encounters with some of the most influential figures of our times.

In 1986, Obrist visited the studio of Peter Fischli & David Weiss in Zurich, on the eve of the production of their film Der Lauf der Dinge [The Way Things Go, 1987], featuring a series of chain reactions involving ordinary objects set in motion where one thing leads to another. From this meeting onwards, he began visiting artists’ studios, travelling by night train, each encounter leading to another, each artist sending him to others. This is how in 1987 he visited the studio of Alighiero Boetti in Rome, a momentous meeting during which the artist gave him certain tasks. The most famous of these was to ask artists about their unrealised projects, which he now does in every interview.
What Obrist calls his Interview Project began in earnest in the early 1990s, when Jonas Mekas encouraged the young curator to film his conversations with artists. His first filmed interviews with artists such as Vito Acconci and Félix González-Torres date from 1991 and were shot in a TV studio as part of the Viennese project museum in progress. Afterwards, the oral historian Studs Terkel advised him to make improvised videos without using fancy equipment that could stop the flow. Etel Adnan told him later on that the 20th century was about manifestos, and that the 21st century should be more about listening. To date, the Interview Archive contains around 4,000 recorded conversations, not only with artists but also with architects, musicians, writers, filmmakers, philosophers, scientists. The wider archive consists of many other layers, such as pub- lications, photographs, handwritten and electronic correspondence, notes, sketches, drawings and projects.

This agglomeration of media and documents, which has been gradually growing since the late 1980s, first piled up in Obrist’s student apartment in St. Gallen, where he had organised in 1991 his first exhibition, Küchenausstellung (The Kitchen Show). The archive then went on the move. In 1997, the artist Joseph Grigely began the Nodes + Networks project with the archive of Obrist’s publication projects, which continues today under the umbrella of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). At the same time, the entire archive from St. Gallen was housed in the attic of the University of Lüneburg (Germany). This gave rise to the Interarchive project, which was the first time the archive was made public. In 2006, Obrist rented an apartment in Berlin to relocate the archive, which remained private until it was hosted by Luma in Arles.
Together with Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Maja Hoffmann proposed a format that reveals different aspects of the archive over time, such as a project or an encounter. At the core of these series of presentations are the documents from the Interview Archive, which, more than an accumulation of interviews, constitute an infinite conversation connecting people, cultures, languages and disciplines. The presentation format is based on a series of viewing stations consisting of monitors and SANAA-designed ‘Rabbit Ear’ chairs, reproducing the scenography conceived by the architect Kazuyo Sejima for the 12th Venice Architecture Biennale that the Luma Foundation supported in 2010. This intimate layout was originally created for Now Interviews by Obrist and featured a series of live public interviews filmed and broadcast in situ upon the invitation of Sejima to realise a portrait of the Biennale. At the heart of each episode of this long-term project is the idea of learning to listen and listening to learn.
Original Drawings

A largely unknown facet of Édouard Glissant's poetic creations is his drawings. Not only does Glissant often punctuate his manuscripts with scribbled forms that are both concrete and abstract, but he also incorporates them into his dedications. These drawings arise from the same poetic intention as his writings and introduce a graphic dimension to his passion for the One-World. They are, in this context, visual manifestations of a world view that is both diffracted and interconnected, diverse and permeated by whirlwinds of encounters. On display are selections from the books that the poet-philosopher signed and dedicated to Hans-Ulrich Obrist throughout their relationship. They offer insights into the recurring motifs present in Glissant’s drawings: the whirlwind, the slave ship, the archipelago, the cusco stones, the Diamond rock, and the fromager tree.

The whirlwind, an emblematic figure of Glissant’s philosophy and the logo of the Institut du Tout-Monde, materializes as a spiral signifying a non-linear, non-systematic, and infinite movement that perpetually leads to unpredictable transformations. The slave ship, evoking the forced voyage of his African ancestors to the Caribbean, is portrayed by Glissant as a ‘womb abyss’ (gouffre-matrice) from which creole identities emerge. Stripped of their history, land, and identity, and unable to assert ancestral ties, the enslaved discovered in their encounter with the other a means to forge identities that are multifaceted and continuously evolving. The imagery of the slave ship is especially potent in an abstract drawing where the ocean – that boundary space where the fate of entire populations was forever altered – fractures, while the sails of the ship morph into a mountain range. This evokes the interrupted yet interconnected terrains and identities of the Americas. Similarly, the archipelago, a recurring theme in Glissant’s works, embodies a geography of exchange and creolization, a landscape marked by ceaseless cultural and linguistic osmosis that is only further enriched by amalgamations.

For Glissant, contemplating the One-World is more than reflecting on human history; it is about considering the planet and the entanglement of all living beings. He often depicts cusco stones sprouting plants that blossom into faces, where the vegetal and the mineral converge. He also frequently sketches the Diamond rock, a tiny volcanic island situated off the southern coast of Martinique. Glissant used to gaze upon this basaltic monolith, known to shift in appearance as the light varies, from his home in Martinique. He is now interred in the commune of Diamant, named after this solidified lava with gem-like reflections. Lastly, the fromager tree, an intrinsic part of the Antillean landscape, holds significant meaning in Glissant's lexicon as a symbol of relational poetics. In L’Intention Poétique, describing his ‘tentative’ effort to sketch a tree, he writes: ‘I will conclude with a swath of vegetation, where only the blank expanse of the page will halt the boundless growth. The singular becomes subsumed in this Whole.’
Original Documents

The display case showcases a curated assortment of archival documents and publications that illuminate the profound relationship between Édouard Glissant and Hans-Ulrich Obrist. Presented in chronological order, these diverse materials offer a journey starting with the first published interview of the curator with Édouard Glissant from 2002. The exhibit also includes their interview from 2006 in Domus, the product of two private conversations from 2004, displayed in their full context in the presentation.

Special emphasis is placed on items associated with two pivotal projects that signaled a deepening of their interactions and joint ventures: point d’ironie n°29 and Utopia Station. In 2002, the pair convened at Café de Flore at the prompting of their mutual friend, agnès b., to outline the point d’ironie created in collaboration with the poet-philosopher. Concluding this productive session, which was documented by the curator and is available for viewing, Obrist, along with Molly Nesbit, invited Glissant to join the Utopia Station project they were co-curating with Rirkrit Tiravanija. Glissant subsequently attended several Utopia Station gatherings in diverse locales like Poughkeepsie, Venice, Munich, and Porto Alegre. He also worked with his wife, Sylvie Séma-Glissant, on a painting that was displayed at Utopia Station in Venice but mysteriously vanished during the event. Following its disappearance, a photo of the painting, captured by Molly Nesbit, was repurposed as a postcard for Utopia Station Munich. The concluding segment of the exhibit features a collection of publications wherein Obrist honors Glissant's memory following his demise in 2011.
point d’ironie

The periodical point d’ironie was born out of a conversation between agnès b., Christian Boltanski, and Hans-Ulrich Obrist in 1997. Since then, six to eight issues have been published each year, each conceived by an artist who appropriates this medium and brings it to the status of a unique and public work of art. Because of its free access, size, and distribution, point d’ironie is an atypical format distributed sporadically – one hundred thousand copies are spread worldwide in museums, galleries, bookstores, schools, cinemas, and stores, among others. Invented by French writer Alcanter de Brahm in the late 19th century, the point d’ironie [irony mark] is a punctuation mark used at the end of a sentence (like an exclamation point or a question mark) to signal irony. 
Manthia Diawara, One World in Relation, 2009

In 2008, just three years before his passing, Édouard Glissant entrusted Manthia Diawara with the task of creating a documentary that would encapsulate both his life and his philosophical musings. They set forth on a transatlantic expedition from Southampton to New York, a journey intentionally reminiscent of the African slaves who faced the horrors of the Middle Passage. With the omnipresent sea as a backdrop and interspersed with jazz melodies, the ensuing film unfolds organically, showcasing Glissant’s perspectives. As the Malian filmmaker conducts interviews aboard the Queen Mary II and at the Anse Cafard Slave Memorial in Martinique, which faces the Diamond Rock, Glissant's voice and vision come to life.
Etel Adnan, Hommage to Édouard Glissant, 2014

This tribute is manifested as a visual poem, a book-accordion that can be perpetually folded and unfolded, presenting endless possibilities for interpretation. Through intricate design, it enables every fold to juxtapose and converse with the next. Every page, adorned with a hint of watercolor, stands distinct yet is seamlessly linked to the rest, mirroring islands in an archipelago. Evocative of a palimpsest, Etel Adnan's leporello unveils a tale that embraces continuous metamorphosis, eschewing the constraints of a linear narrative and transcending the notions of beginnings or endings.
The Otolith Group, @GlissantBot, 2017-present

Commencing on the evening of 15 April 2017, @GlissantBot has persistently auto-tweeted a randomly chosen Glissant quote every fifteen minutes. By organically compiling fragments from Édouard Glissant's post-1981 writings into a never-ending Twitter stream, @GlissantBot algorithmically fuses the poet-philosopher’s contemplations through the lens of digital technology. This dynamic piece fosters a discourse between Glissant’s ideologies and the modern digital realm, while simultaneously instigating an unforeseen interplay within Glissant’s body of work.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Kitsuné Tremblement, 2021

The display of the Agnès Varda’s interviews revisits Now Interviews, initially conceived by Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima, on the occasion of the 12th Architecture Biennale in 2010. For the presentation at LUMA Arles, Sejima suggested that a tree could be planted in front of a window. This space was thus named the Cherry Tree Gallery.

As an echo or resonance to Yoko Ono’s Wish Tree, on the occasion of the overall opening of LUMA Arles on June 26, 2021, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster tied ribbons in the colours of Post-it notes to the branches of the tree chosen by Sejima and visible through the window.

Hans-Ulrich Obrist would like to express his sincere gratitude to Maja Hoffmann for her unfailing support throughout this project; to Vassilis Oikonomopoulos and Mustapha Bouhayati for making this project a reality; and, above all, to address a special thanks to Sylvie Séma-Glissant, and the family of Édouard Glissant, their son Mathieu Glissant; to the artists who are participating in the first chapter of the archive, Etel Adnan, agnès b., Julien Creuzet, Manthia Diawara, Julie Mehretu and her studio, especially Sarah Rentz, Philippe Parreno, Asad Raza and his studio, particularly Christopher Wierling, The Otolith Group - Anjalika Sagar, Kodwo Eshun; to all the Luma teams without whom this presentation would not have been possible, Arthur Fouray for the coordination of the project and Elif Kulözü; Luz Gyalui and the production team, in particular Clément Château, Barbara Blanc; the communication team, especially Christine Denamur; and last but not least, Matthieu Humery, Anna von Brühl and Friedrich von Brühl for their continuous involvement; and also to all those who participated in the preparation of this project; Manuela Lucadazio and the Venice Biennale team; the Serpentine Galleries team, especially Max Shackleton; the Fonds de dotation agnès b. team, in particular William Massey; Samuel Thomas for the editing of the archive videos; the Sintagma team, especially Renato Barcelos, and Rosário Valadas Vieira for the subtitling of the archive videos; Jean-Baptiste Marcant, for the sound mastering of the archive videos; the IDzia team for the audio-visual devices; Gilles Pennegaggi and all the exhibition installation teams; and finally, to all the people who participated in the elaboration of the presentation, especially Melvin Edwards, Koo Jeong A, Molly Nesbit, Carrie Pilto, Gianluigi Ricuperati and Lorraine Two Testro.



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