When we think of cultural artifacts, we often think of objects – a painting, a book, or a Clock. But perhaps not all artifacts take tangible form: can the ideas that inspired such objects be considered cultural artifacts, too? And if so, how can we save these for future generations?
Hans Ulrich Obrist answers that first question with a resounding ‘yes’ – and offers an answer to that second one, as well. The swiss-born curator and art historian has been working on a project of cultural preservation – but rather than collect objects, he is capturing ideas as they materialize in conversation. Part art project, part oral history, and part exercise in the workings of memory, the Interview Project is an effort “to preserve the voices of the world’s artists and innovative thinkers of the last 50 years in a digital archive.”
Through a series of “sustained conversations” with influential figures from the worlds of art, science, and culture, Obrist seeks to do more than just document the important ideas that drive today’s culture: he hopes to capture their dynamic and transformative nature. Focusing on how ideas are born and recreated through dialogue, the Interview Project explores the role of time, evolution, and global connections in shaping human culture and innovation.
As part of this project, Obrist recently interviewed Danny Hillis, co-chair of the Long Now Foundation’s board of directors. In a public event organized in conjunction with the Institute for the 21st Century, a Los Angeles-based initiative that works to archive Obrist’s interviews, he and Hillis spoke about the ideas that inspired Long Now’s 10,000-year clock, and the cultural evolution it hopes to encourage.
Discussing the convergence of science, technology, and art, their conversation (which you can listen to here) illustrates that no cultural artifact emerges in a vacuum. New ideas are born from those that came before, and go on to inspire others in return. Culture is carried by, and created through, the dynamic exchange of conversation. “Knowing something is so 20th century,” says Hillis in the interview, speaking about the pre-internet age, in which a person’s knowledge was the sum of what his memory could hold. Today more than ever, in a world where billions of bits of digital information can be accessed at the tap of a finger, human knowledge and culture reside in our global network of exchange. And just as Hillis’ Connection Machine proved that linking processors together can transform the capability of computers, so can the connection of ideas produce unprecedented opportunities for new cultural creation. The Clock of the Long Now grew from the convergence of ideas that inspired its creators, and will hopefully contribute to the development of many new ideas and directions in the future.