DAMN°: So how do you keep up this crazy pace?
DAMN°: Why this constant racing around? Are you trying to challenge mortality or time?
DAMN°: What is Glissant’s biggest legacy, according to you?
DAMN°: You must love making an exhibition at Villa Empain, as you’re known for curating shows in unusual venues, including the hotel restaurant where Robert Walser used to come.
HUO: Well, I work at the Serpentine, which was a former teahouse. My first exhibition took place in my kitchen. I have worked in all kinds of spaces. But I like doing exhibitions in houses because they have a human scale. There is something more intimate about them. I have done shows in the houses of Lina Bo Bardi, Federico García Lorca, et al. In big museums, people don’t dare to speak. I like the idea of Villa Empain as a conversation piece, where you can come and read – there will be plenty of books by Glissant in the living room. And there is a bedroom, an installation by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, where you could have a nap.
DAMN°: In the 1990s, everybody wanted to be a DJ; in the 2000s, a curator. Curating is getting more and more attention, while the word was barely known when you first started. You have now achieved the title of star curator. What difference do you see with the curators you admire from the previous generation, like Harald Szeemann and Jan Hoet?
HUO: The initial notion of a curator refers to curare, taking care of. When I told my parents I wanted to become a curator, they were reassured because they thought I was going to work in the medical field. Today, the word has lost a lot of its meaning – it is used for flower shops, and politicians curate countries, ... We need a new word for this because it has become meaningless. Before they used to call it exhibition maker. Maybe that is a better term. Unlike the previous generation of curators, I never made a distinction between the humanities and the sciences. I work with scientists, philosophers, architects, ... I feel close to Diaghilev, who was a bit constrained about art and did the Ballets Russes, inviting artists, composers, choreographers, ... That is what we also tried to do with the Manchester International Festival, the Serpentine Marathon, and the Serpentine Pavilion that is designed by another architect each time. Another big difference with the previous generations is that they didn’t work in this climate of extreme globalisation. They were less pushed to address the notion of mondalité. It was before the Internet, which has profoundly changed the way we work.
DAMN°: But isn’t the focus on the curator getting a bit out of hand? Sometimes you see three curators’ names in a solo show.
HUO: I’ve always thought of the curator as being the trigger, the catalyst or facilitator who should not stand in the way. Central in what I do is the conversation with the artists. Everything grows out of that. It is not good to have a premise and then squeeze the artist into that vessel. I abhor the idea of the curator instrumentalising the artist. It should be the other way round. That is why we always have artists involved at all levels in the show. For my exhibition on Lassnig, we decided not to write ‘curated by’ but ‘based on a proposal by’. I have made a lot of solo shows, also at the Serpentine, as I think it is interesting to go in-depth with artists. It’s a very complex endeavour and it is normal that several curators can work on such a project. You also have many people involved in making a film. For exhibitions, we need a system of credits similar to that of films. Many people work on an exhibition; it’s not just the curator.
The Shanghai Project – Chapter 2 exhibition Seeds of Time, curated by Yongwoo Lee & Hans Ulrich Obrist, is at multiple venues in Shanghai, until 30 July 2017.
Mondialité is at Villa Empain in Brussels, until 27 August 2017.