Hou Hanru begins his talk by shifting the conversation away from the idea of the labyrinth and instead initially refocuses it on the idea of movement. Jean Tinguely once paradoxically described movement as static, because “it is the only immutable thing—the only certainty, the only unchangeable.” To Hanru, this idea of movement as the most stable, static form of existence is highly inspiring. He sees movement as a sign of both modernity and liberty, connected to the idea of the labyrinth through their shared role in exploring the limits of the museum as an institution, and of exploring the institution’s capacity for change.
Hanru outlines how the themes of the labyrinth, movement, and limits are all pertinent to his project Cities on the Move, curated in collaboration with Hans-Ulrich Obrist. Cities on the Move explores Asian models of modernity and development, as expressed through its urbanization. The project traveled to seven cities around the world, changing every iteration with each instance—each new labyrinth, as it were—and representing a different reimagining in condensed form of what an Asian city might be. The project did not merely address urban form, it also grappled with social contexts and new ideas on how to form relationships between individuals, collectives, and different societal arenas.
Hanru proceeds to link this last issue to his work as the artistic director of MAXXI in Rome, where he concerns himself with what he considers the dire need to reinvent public life through the (re-)creation of public forums. Hanru identifies offering such a public forum as one of the most important functions of the contemporary art museum today.
Hou Hanru is a prolific writer and curator based in Rome, Paris, and San Francisco. He is currently the Artistic Director of MAXXI (National Museum of 21st Century Arts and National Museum of Architecture), Rome, Italy. In the 1980s Hou studied art history at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing. After moving to Paris in 1990, Hou became an active curator and has organized and co-organized numerous important exhibitions, such as Cities on the Move (Vienna, Bordeaux, Long Island, Denmark, London, Bangkok, and Helsinki, 1997–2000), the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale (1997), the French Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (1999), Z.O.U. – Zone Of Urgency at the Venice Biennale (2003), the Chinese Pavilion’s Everyday Miracles at the Venice Biennale (2007), the 3rd Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (Australia, 1999), the 3rd Shanghai Biennale (2000), the Gwangju Biennale (South Korea, 2002), the 2nd Guangzhou Triennial (2005), the 10th Istanbul Biennial (2007), and the 10th Lyon Biennale (France, 2009).