Hans Ulrich Obrist: I’m so excited to have this conversation with you here in Manchester forthe world premiere of Il Tempo del Postino. As you know, Philippe Parreno and I came up withthe idea of a group show in which artists are given time rather than space. What were yourthoughts when you first heard of the work, and what is the genesis of your contribution to it?

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: My first thought was to incorporate existing works to theproject—together with music, light, performances, and objects. The idea was to bring them allon stage and build a kind of scenography. But, for me, the most interesting part was tryingto think of an ending. You see, more than ten years ago I gave a lecture on “The Endings of Films.” I’ve always been very interested in endings. In French I often say, “Tout finit mal”—everything ends badly. This is true in operas; they rarely have a happy ending. The death ofa main character always makes things more dramatic. At any rate, Philippe thought I should goback to this film idea, and so I went through a variety of film endings to see if they couldbe adapted somehow for the stage. For me, one of the crucial moments in cinema was the 1973 science fiction movie Soylent Green directed by Richard Fleischer. It’s set in 2022 and showsan overpopulated world where euthanasia has been made available to the public, and people canchoose how they want to die. So my piece also addresses the issue of euthanasia. This wouldbe an interesting theme for an opera, since it’s still very…

Hans Ulrich Obrist: …taboo?

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Exactly. And the challenge here was to translate the momentin Soylent Green where the actor Edward G. Robinson, playing the character Sol, choosesthe light and music that are going to accompany his own death, which he refers to as “going home.” It’s a theater-like situation, and a very extreme moment, in the movie. WhenI first saw the film, I was only thirteen and I cried for almost three days. My first decisionwas to avoid using an image from the film, because that would have been too easy. So thequestion remained: how could we use the stage, the area around it, the pit, and the orchestrato perform this death at the end of the whole show? My solution was to have the orchestradie away with the music—that is, to instruct the musicians to leave the pit one by one andlet the music slowly dissolve into nothingness. The music was from Beethoven’s Sixth, the Pastoral Symphony, which was used in Soylent Green to create a strong contrast between thehigh-spirited music and the moment of death.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: During the rehearsals it was unbelievably moving to see the musicians leave the pit one by one. As they left, carrying their instruments, you could see how some ofthem were also carrying a book or a bag. So you realize that they’re really going home.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Our first inclination was to provide detailed instructions,having a violin leave first, and then a bass, etc. but we eventually realized it would bebetter to let them do it on their own and not tell them how they should behave or dress. This makes their departure much stronger. The musicians take great pleasure in performing thewhole thing.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: I’m curious about your approach to the element of time in the show. Manyartists of our generation have resisted the homogenization of time, especially that broughtabout by processes of globalization. I sometimes wonder whether this is related to the desirefor unmediated experience. Does this apply to you and the way you treat time in your work?

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Time is very connected to narrative, of course. There’s thisgreat book by Paul Ricoeur called Temps et Récit. That was an an important source when I waspondering on how to bring time into space for exhibitions. But it’s such an… [laughs] endlesssubject. I hardly know where to start. Working as a museum guard many years ago, I was alwaysfrustrated to see how visitors would stop in front of a work of art for only a few seconds.This made me think that an artwork should somehow capture the visitor in a bubble of time andspace. I had only one model to elaborate this, which was literature. You see, as soon as youhave a potential narrative, the beginning of a text, then time appears. Back then, I usedclues instead of text, creating a kind of trap that would keep the visitor contemplating theart a bit longer.
By exploring the dimension of time, I think we’ve succeeded in bringing a mutation into theexhibition. Think of Philippe’s exhibition at the Arc, where works come to life, one afterthe other, on their own [Alien seasons, Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris/AnimationRecherche Confrontation, 2002]

Hans Ulrich Obrist: Pop, pop, pop…

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Yes, this for me was already a strong signal for Il Tempo del Postino. But as an exhibition viewer and a lover of this moment when you circulate in a space with all of your mind and body, and have the possibility to go in and out, laughing and talking, I always feel trapped in a theater. I have problems with this situation. Some weeks ago I went to see a play where the viewers were slowly walking out, one after the other, and I think this mirrors the idea with the orchestra. The opera house is a fantastic laboratory, but I never forget that I want the viewer to be free. I’m not ready to enter the you-must-stay-here condition.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: My last question is about collectivity. You’ve done so many things together with other artists, and with people from other fields, like Nicolas Ghesquière or Philippe Rahm. How do you feel about this being a group show, or about collectivity as a subject?

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: For me, the powerful moment in art is one of heterogeneity. It’s not characterized by one style, one signature, or one idea. A group show or work that involves many sources is the most exciting thing that can happen. I’m always ready for an experience that involves this kind of multiplicity. There’s simply a level of art that cannot be reached if you work alone. I also feel that art is something social. In recent years, there was perhaps less excitement about working on a museum show together because this is something we’ve already done so often. But when we heard of the proposal to work in this entirely different context, this laboratory, most of us were enchanted. It’s like meeting in a new house and being given the chance to see things in an entirely different light. It’s something that Rirkrit Tiravanija’s work is trying to show, and for me the orchestra is a way to represent this idea.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: Thank you so much.