Do It: The Compendium by Hans Ulrich Obrist

Do It: The Compendium by Hans Ulrich Obrist

By Laura Feinstein
With his newest book, internationally renowned curator Hans Ulrich Obrist brings together 20 years of his do it project: an expansive series of artist-produced instructions, able to be replicated anytime, anywhere.

One of the boldest names in contemporary art, Swiss born curator and polyglot intellectual Hans Ulrich Obrist is something of a living legend. Launching his career with a DIY kitchen show at 23, Obrist has since gone on to work with some of the largest galleries and exhibit spaces in the world. Through all the twists and turns his career has taken, one constant has been his position at the vanguard of the cutting edge. Through decades of prolific essay writing, public lectures, finely assembled shows, and an expertly honed ability to see fine art and pop culture from a highly refined and holistic perspective, Obrist has won over legions of fans. This has been due in no small part to his innovative take on visual presentation, and the role of performance in curation. One of his most famous (and popular) projects has been do it, an ambitious set of imagined guides modeled on the call and response techniques of the FLUXUS art movement: created by artists and collaborators to be replicated regardless of scale, funding, or even the presence of the artist.

Born 1968 in Zurich, Switzerland, Obrist currently lives and works in London, where he is co-director of exhibitions and programs as well as director of international projects at the Serpentine Gallery. Obrist’s prolific career has included such accomplishments as curator of the Museum in Progress, Vienna (1993-2000), curator at the Musée d’Art Moderne (2000-today), and curator and co-curator for more than 200 solo and group exhibitions and biennials internationally since 1991. Obrist’s other accomplishments also include the New York Prize Senior Fellowship for 2007-08 from the Van Alen Institute, and roles as a contributing editor for Abitare, Artforum, and Paradis Magazine.

Deconstructing the hierarchy and traditional barriers that have existed between artist/ audience, curator/ gallerist and performance space and performer, in its 20 years this exciting project has captured the imagination of hundreds of creatives, thinkers, and design lovers internationally. Now for the first time in this illuminating compendium, Obrist attempts to catalogue the vast array of submissions he’s received over the years: from Ai Wei Wei’s instructions on how to block a surveillance camera, to feminist artist Nancy Spero seeking to educate women "who wish to invigorate the feminine demi-urge in the home and expel male presences." In addition to a must have for any art history library, do it also just might make an excellent post-break-up guide.

According to ICI:

"Featured in at least 50 different locations worldwide, including Australia, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Mexico, Costa Rica, Slovenia and Uruguay… The driving force behind the exhibition is aptly summarized in the words of Marcel Duchamp, who states that ‘art is a game between all people of all periods.’ He is only one of several predecessors to have shaped the modus operandi of [do it], which also draws from…art of the 1960s and 1970s as well as Fluxus practices." Called a "middle finger to Art" by some, this project deliberately tries to hone the anything goes attitude which has fueled revelatory movements ranging from Conceptual and Minimalism to punk rock.

With a genesis story that could have come right out of a Truffaut or Goddard film, do it was conceptualized over a 1993 round of drinks, shared in a Parisian café between artists Christian Boltanski and Betrand Lavier. According to DAP (Distributed Art Press):" the discussion led to the question of whether a show could take "scores: or written instructions by artists as a point of departure, which could be interpreted anew each time they were enacted." The idea caught on like wildfire, and within two years of the project being conceptualized exhibits popped-up all over the world in homage.

Oscillating from the light-hearted to the profound, some of the most intriguing instructions are also the simplest. Jérôme Bel Shirtology, 2012 © Tate, 2012; Photo: Tate Photography, Gabrielle Fonseca Johnson

Originally inviting 13 core participants to contribute, in the intervening years hundreds of artists from Sweden to Uruguay have heading the call to do it, donating their instructions (ranging from poems to diagrams) to Obrist. At the point that Obrist began compiling do it: the compendium, over 300 individuals had contributed, with the project morphing into sub-events like "Do it (Museum)," "Do It (Home)," "Do It (TV)," "Do It (Seminar), a "Philosophy Do It," and even an "Anti-Do It."

Though not included in the book, Claire Fontaine’s piece is poignantly minimalist, and majorly straight to the point.

Claire Fontaine, Instructions for do it, 2012, Courtesy of artist.

An eclectic mix of works meant to be replicated everywhere from the gallery to the supermarket check out line, instructions range from the informative to the absurd, with frequent stops at the casually brilliant. In short, do it is the perfect guide for the life lived in art.

No stranger to taking on multiple projects across disciplines, a playful David Lynch demonstrated how to make a ricky board.

David Lynch, Do It: How To Make A Ricky Board, 2012, Courtesy of artist.

Check out the slideshow for some of our favorite pieces!

For his contribution to do it, Thai artist Rikrit Tiravanija includes a recipe for a spicy paste. The above image and demonstration come from the vast archives maintained by ICI.

Making a splashy entrance at this year’s NADA Art Fair, do it’s booth created a wall-to-wall forest of orange tomes and installations for visitors to peak at.

Though we’ve yet to try it for accuracy, artist Alexandre Singh demonstrates how to turn wine into Pepsi.

Alexandre Singh, Instructions for do it, 2012, Courtesy of artist,

Berkeley, CA based artist Lutz Bacher provides a much needed dose of reality for her do it instructions.

Instructions for do it, 2012, Courtesy of artist.

As part of Sculpture for Strolling (2005), Pistoletto advises participants: "After reading the daily newspaper, immerse it in water then form a small sphere by compressing the wet newspaper with one's hands. Enlarge the sphere by adding new daily newspapers soaked in water. Continue this procedure until the sphere is a meter in diameter. When well dried out, roll the newspaper sphere outside in the streets and the squares as a "sculpture for strolling."

do it: the compendium, Independent Curators International (ICI), New York and D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, Inc., May 2013, 448 pages. ISBN: 978-1-938922-01-5. Foreword and acknowledgements by Kate Fowle and Frances Wu Giarratano. Introduction by Hans Ulrich Obrist. Essays by Bruce Altshuler, Hu Fang, Virginia Perez-Ratton, and Elizabeth Presa. Available to purchase at Curators International.


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