In 1991, a twenty-something Swiss man named Hans Ulrich Obrist hosted his first show in the kitchen of his student apartment. Over the course of three months, thirty people visited. In a New Yorker profile of the now mega-curator, D.T. Max writes, “the idea of the show was to suggest that the most ordinary spaces of human life, cleverly curated, could be made special.”
Later, Obrist went on to curate and install art shows in other unusual locations, including a country house where Nietzsche wrote part of “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” a hotel restaurant in the Swiss Mountains, a hotel room in Paris, where nine artists created clothes for the closet, and finally, in and around the Zurich sewers, featuring art about lavatories and digestion.
Though this particular segment of Obrist’s biography was unknown to me when I conceived New Geometries, the idea of his first show—to make ordinary spaces of human life special—was certainly one of mine as well. And many of Obrist’s convictions and passions resonate with me: his view of curatorial work as “junction-making between objects, between people, between people and objects;” his interest in unfinished and incomplete work; his fondness for interactivity, participation, and ephemeral aesthetics. Max writes: “The art [Obrist] is most passionate about doesn’t hang on walls and often doesn’t have a permanent emanation. It can take the form of a dance or a game or a science experiment, and often leaves nothing behind but memories and an exhibition catalogue.”
The three-hour stretch of the New Geometries show that I hosted and curated on Saturday night was a frenzy: in total, over 150 people passed through. At one point, there were over 70 people in my apartment, and we had a line going out the door. Friends, friends of friends, and complete strangers mingled in one room. The work of twenty artists, of all different mediums and forms, was on display, including: a multi-colored quilt, a yarn drawing on canvas, photographs of Devil’s Gulch in Montara, a three-dimensional painted sculpture in glowing neon green and yellow. A performance artist danced in a corner near the upstairs bathroom, scattering dirt, fire, and water on the hardwood floor. Food installations entranced and delighted show-goers: kimchi waffles, post-modern lunchables, sugar cookie rounds amidst hundreds of tea light candles, and do-it-yourself geodesic grape structures. A live terrarium in a half-dome provided an immersive escape into a wild environment of mosses, leaves, and bark.
At 9 PM that night, after all the candles were extinguished and the grape structures dissembled, after what was left of the food was swept into the garbage and guests had trickled out, after I had used up every last bit of energy in conversation—I wanted only silence and experienced only exhaustion. That night, despite gnawing hunger pangs, I was too tired to chew any food, and drank Nyquil to fall asleep. Real talk.
Now a week later, I’ve had a chance to reflect on the experience. Weeks of preparation, work, installation, and collaboration—What did I hope would come of it all?
First, I hoped for CONNECTION—connections between artists, connections that would lead to creative opportunities, connections between people who otherwise would not find themselves in the same room. This happened! Even in a small city like San Francisco, there are so many disparate worlds. and often the gaps between those worlds are far and wide. They remain unbridged without effort, and so they go on, in their separate ways, ignorant of each other. I want to change this. Above all, I believe physical proximity fosters meaningful relationships that can create positive, social change for a fragmented community. I am passionate about an economy that supports and sustains creative work while bridging socio-economic differences. I hope that connections with artists and their art would be a first step for people to make both emotional and financial investments in creative work.
Second, INSPIRATION. One of the most gratifying emails I received after the show said this: “I get down on SF more often than I care to admit, but last night reminded me of why this city has so much to offer—both artistically and spiritually.” The in-person experience of art is strikingly different from disembodied encounters with it online or on Instagram, but in the constant stream of productivity we’re tethered to (especially here in San Francisco), seeking out art can be difficult. By providing a novel artistic experience that was at once intimate and accessible, I hoped that people would see that art can be awakening, challenging, and worth thinking about. In his book No Man Is An Island, Thomas Merton writes that in response to art, “one finds in himself totally new capacities for thought and vision and moral action . . . his very response makes him better and different. He is conscious of a new life and new powers, and it is not strange that he should proceed to develop them." This is significant!
Third, CONTINUATION. My hope is that New Geometries is only the beginning. In the introduction to Obrist’s book do it, a compendium of artistic instructions from over 100 artists, he writes: “Do It rejects the notion of the original in favor of an open-ended conception of the creation of the work . . . Unlike the theater, Do It has neither beginning nor end. No two versions of Do It instructions are ever identical when carried out. Via the list of instructions, the specific profane daily environment flows into the exhibition space rendering porous the limits dividing interior and exterior space . . . Each exhibition is yet another truth.”
The intention of Do It is, in part to inspire a never-ending chain reaction in which artists continue to create work based on the artistic instructions given to them. I too hope that New Geometries would spark a chain reaction—that in seeing the possibilities of creative, communal gatherings, in knowing that, even on a small scale, art in its many forms can be dynamic, fluid, responsive, non-institutional, and transcendent, others would feel compelled to host art shows in their own homes or embark on spontaneous, artistic endeavors.
My point is this: anyone can put on a show like New Geometries. You just have to DO IT.