Forget 40 Winks: 24 Hours of Rem

Architect Rem Koolhaas and art historian Hans Ulrich Obrist interview over sixty artists, architects, and writers for 24 hours…straight.

Known for his energetic and globe-trotting ways, Rem Koolhaas finally admitted to being exhausted on July 29th. He was speaking in the pavilion he designed on the lawn of London’s Serpentine Gallery. In the twentieth hour of a 24-hour interview marathon session which featured internationally-known artists and intellectuals, he said, “Chantal [Mouffe, a political scientist], at this point you have to help us out. We are exhausted. At this point we cannot hope to equal you. We happily surrender as your inferiors.”

He was referring to himself and to Hans Ulrich Obrist, the art historian and author, with whom he had been in conversation since 6:00 p.m. the previous day, at the event which the two of them organized. It was now 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, and the interviewers, organizers, and many of the spectators who had not left the scene since the talks began were showing the signs of overload. But the bright and fantastically articulate Mouffe easily fell into talking about agonistic pluralism in democracy and the generation of democratic spaces.

The event, which was segmented into eight three-hour sections with short breaks between, began with some of the most well-known participants including London-based architects Zaha Hadid and David Adjaye, architectural theorist Charles Jencks, musician Brian Eno, author Hanif Kureishi, filmmaker Ken Loach, and artist Yinka Shonibare.

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From the beginning this was a day of considerable variety, in both the topics discussed and in perspectives. The theme of London as a city drew some fascinating responses. Eno, for instance, claimed that “It’s hard to intervene in the city because it’s so noisy, but you can always encourage quiet in a quiet area.” Similarly, sound artist Thomas Jenkinson commented that “London has an idiosyncratic sonic landscape that I find fascinating, like a sensory overload. It’s not unpleasant, but I couldn’t live here.” Apparently sound experts have given up on the oversaturated bustle of the city.

Conversely, Hadid noted that there are numerous opportunities for architectural and urban intervention in London, saying that the options may be small in scale. “These interventions can be light; usually interventions tend to be so heavy handed,” she said. Artist Cerith Wyn Evans giggled, at playful moment in the evening, “I like Judith Butler on architecture, I like women who talk about things like cities because it is such a cock-rocked subject.”

Throughout the evening the dialogue drifted around themes like the unrealized dreams of the participants and the notions of utopia and dystopia. When artist Jane Wilson asked Koolhaas about designing dystopia with respect to Beijing [OMA’s CCTV tower], the architect responded: “We don’t think of it as dystopia. It is one of the challenges to the project.”

When Koolhaas and Obrist were familiar with the interviewee, the conversation was comfortable and playful. Asked about Gilbert and George’s unrealized dreams, Gilbert nodded his head silently for a moment and responded with a curt “No. We do what we want,” followed with a quick grin.

The highlight of the marathon was the exchange of ideas and the presence of so many prominent figures in different disciplines. Hearing the themes that were revisited throughout the night—particularly the urban theories of London— made the marathon fascinating and worthwhile. A second 24-hour interview marathon will be held from October 13 to 14, with a focus on globalization.

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