Project Japan: Metabolism Talks

Andrea Leung + Jeongyeap Shin

Precedent Study (2010)

About, Contact,



"Hans Ulrich Obrist is a COMPULSIVE NOTE TAKER. For the duration of our interview, one hand twitches a pen across a scrap of paper before him on the table, while the other frenetically twists it clockwise and anticlockwise against the horizontal. The extent of twitching and twisting increases in direct equivalence to Obrist's mounting exhilaration at the development of a scheme of thought, becoming most frenzied when patterns emerge, when one idea reveals its correspondence with another. On those not infrequent occasions that Obrist's hands are called up to add gestural emphasis to his speech, I am allowed a glimpse of the leave of paper, which over the course of our time together becomes clogged with intersecting lines, marks, scrabbles and symbols, like an elementary geometry lesson rendered."

-CY Twombly for The White Review

THE PINK SECTIONS in this book seem to reflect Obrist's compulsive note taking as well as the exhiliration he experiences when "one idea reveals its correspondence with another." Each paragraph is its own separate entity, floating in its own discrete bubble of blank space. Some paragraphs begin with a bolded phrase, followed by a stream-of-consciousness writing style that expands upon Obrist's associations in response to each bolded phrase. Others are just heading-less thoughts or singular phrases. The paragraphs interlock like tetris blocks on a page, much like his handwritten notes, and flow into the margins, almost to the edge of the page.

PROTECT AGAINST FORGETTING, he commands, as he stamps the words next to his signature at the Project Japan book signing at the New York Public Library.
How appropriate this layout seems for a compulsive note taker who enjoys collecting a minimum of one book a day, who claims that the archive will achieve the status of the museum in the 21st century.


Obrist is an art curator, critic, and historian of art. He is Co-director of Exhibitions and Programmes and Director of International Projects at the Serpentine Gallery, London. He is the author of The Interview Project, an extensive ongoing project of interviews, and he was named art's most powerful figure in 2009, by Art Review.

Prior to working at the Serpentine Gallery, he has served as the curator of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris as well as the curator of Museums in Progress, Vienna. Since 1991 Obrist has curated over 150 exhibitions internationally. Along with his curatorial work, Obrist is “the artworld’s Studs Terkel – its default oral historian – with his interviews taking forms ranging from a video exhibition at the Venice Architecture Biennale to Volume Two of his mammoth Hans Ulrich Obrist: Interviews book series”, and a man who has “turned curation into an art”.