A Close Look at Hans Ulrich Obrist’s Multi-Disciplinary Memory Marathon
New sensory experiences are explored in this exclusive clip from Rainfall, Peter Middleton and James Spinney’s dramatization of an audio diary entry made by John Hull, just four months after going blind. As part of the Memory Marathon at the Serpentine Gallery, London, the short explores Hull’s understanding of the world through means other than sight, touching on the notion of consciousness and how immersive elements such as rain give the world depth, detail and contour. The weekend-long event devoted to remembrance in all its forms brings together over 60 luminaries, from the world of art to those of science, literature, music and even scent. Contributors include artist duo Gilbert and George, former R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe, writer Douglas Coupland and filmmaker David Lynch. Now in its seventh year, this edition of the pioneering program is dedicated to the late historian Eric Hobsbawm, who curated part of the programming. Here Serpentine co-director Hans Ulrich Obrist discusses synaesthesia and the role of memory in the digital age.
What was the initial curatorial inspiration behind the unique “live” format of the Marathon series?
Hans Ulrich Obrist: I was inspired by Sergei Diaghilev, the Russian impresario who delved into “living art” when he founded the Ballets Russes, bringing together the greatest composers, choreographers, dancers and artists of his time. I wouldn’t say it is a Gesamtkunstwerk, a “total work of art”, but it is definitely an exhibition where we curate space and we curate time.
Past themes have included the “Garden” and the “Interview”––why "Memory", and why now?
HUO: We live in an age where there is more and more information, but not necessarily more memory. Memory plays a role in neuroscience, in music, in literature, in architecture and now obviously in the realm of the digital. It is a multi-sensory topic. Take smell, for example: in art we don’t talk or think about smell very often, but the cork construction of the Herzog & de Meuron Serpentine Pavilion this year has such a strong smell. So, I invited Sissel Tolaas, an inventor of scents, to participate. Perhaps a new “Marathon Fragrance” will grow out of it!
How is the digital age impacting memory and sensory experience?
HUO: The Marathon will obviously appear online, but at the end of the day it is all about real-time engagement. Concerts, for instance, are becoming important again in this age of digital listening. The Marathon toys with the idea of the live experience; it began with a simple conversation and soon grew to involve performance, even physical experience. Last year, Rodney Graham threw potatoes at the audience. Things will happen unexpectedly, and that is the joy of memory now.