Moment of Friday: Hans Ulrich Obrist talks Instagram and poetry


Earlier this year, curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, of London’s Serpentine Gallery, helped put together “Poetry will be made by all!” — an exhibition for the LUMA/Westbau art space in Zurich, Switzerland, that brought together poets and their peers from the worlds of art and design.

“I grew up in Zurich,” says Obrist. “It’s the city of Dada and Hans Arp. In those historic movements, art and poetry were very close together.”

It was in organizing the show that he became enthralled with the work of a young New York poet named Andrew Durbin. (Warning: The video accompanying this post of his reading contains some expletives).


“Once you starting reading his work, you can’t put it down,” says Obrist. “It’s quite addictive. And it’s just as addictive to listen to. It’s like he takes us on a trip, through high and low, through the experimental. He’s current, but he’s very aware of history.”

In the video embedded here, Durbin reads a poem that picks apart the significance of the simple track suit: its meanings, its uses, its social signifiers, the ways in which it reveals and also covers up. This may sound banal, but it isn’t. Durbin deconstructs the garment in ways that are perceptive and funny.

What makes his work interesting, says Obrist, is that Durbin draws from so many sources — “from the world of art, from poetics, from the language of the Internet.” It is this latter point that perfectly reflects another of Obrist’s ongoing obsessions: Instagram.

On Saturday, the globe-trotting curator will be in Los Angeles to host an Instagram “mini-marathon” at the Million Dollar Theatre in downtown, under the auspices of ForYourArt. Obrist has been a fan of the social media platform ever since video artist Ryan Trecartin helped him download it to his phone.

“Whenever I post anything, there are feedback loops, responses from all over the world,” he says. “It’s a group show for me.”

Obrist, in fact, has been using his feed (find him at @hansulrichobrist) to post images of handwritten notes that friends and artists send to him. “It’s about bringing back handwriting in the age of the Internet,” he says of his feed. “Out of this practice, I’ve really been thinking about how Instagram relates to art. There are artists who use it in different ways than it was intended.”

For Saturday’s event, Obrist will be discussing these issues with a variety of art world figures, including Internet artist Ryder Ripps (@ryder_ripps) and writer and artist Frances Stark (@therealstarkiller), whose work often plays with language and its meaning.

All of it feeds into the curator’s interest in examining the ways in which the Web has changed how people encounter art. “You can see old work on UbuWeb, you can have art on Instagram.” he explains. “YouTube becomes a way of disseminating poetry.”

Many of these ideas were examined during the “Poetry will be made for all!” exhibit, which was part of the 89plus project Obrist co-founded with Simon Castets, director of New York’s Swiss Institute. Now in residency through the end of July at Paris’ Google Cultural Institute, 89plus brings attention to the generation of artists born in and after 1989. The LUMA/Westbau show, the first of a series from 89plus planned for the Zurich space, consisted of readings, performances and discussions about poetry’s place, set amid various architectural and artistic installations. In a digital world, argues the show’s description, “the written word, far from being diminished, finds a renewed importance.”

The Instagram Mini-Marathon takes place Saturday at 6:30 p.m., 307 S. Broadway, downtown Los Angeles, Tickets available in advance through Eventbrite.