Curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist
do it began in 1993 with a discussion among Christian Boltanski, Bertrand Lavier, and myself in the Café Select, Paris. Both artists have been interested in various forms of instructional procedures since the early 1970s, and that evening they spoke of the instructions contained within their own work. Since the 1970s, Lavier has made many works that contain written instructions in order to observe the effects of translation on an artwork as it moves in and out of various permutations of language. Boltanski, like Lavier, is also interested in the notion of interpretation as an artistic principle. He thinks of his instructions for installations as analogous to musical scores which, like an opera or symphony, go through countless realizations as they are carried out and interpreted by others. From this encounter arose he idea of an exhibition of do-it-yourself descriptions or procedural instructions which, until a venue is found, exist in a static condition. Like a musical score, everything is there but the sound.
do it stems from an open exhibition model, an exhibition in progress. Individual instructions can open empty spaces for occupation and invoke possibilities for the interpretation and rephrasing of artworks in a totally free manner. do it effects interpretations based on location, and calls for a dovetailing of local structures with the artworks themselves. The diverse cities in which do it takes place actively construct the artwork context and endow it with their individual marks or distinctions.
For example, some of the artists’ instructions specify the participation of community members. Most instructions are relational in that they construct bridges between various communities and performance sites. The everyday, profane context of the exhibition site flows into the exhibition space according to the individual artists’ instructions. The boundaries between interior and exterior become porous.
It is important to bear in mind that do it is less concerned with copies, images, or reproductions of artwork, than which human interpretation. No artworks are shipped to the venues, instead everyday actions and materials serve as the starting point for the artworks to be recreated at each “performance site” according to the artists’ written instructions. Each realization of do it occurs as an activity in time and space. The essential nature of this activity is imprecise and can be located somewhere between permutation and negotiation within a field of tension described by repetition and difference. Meaning is multiplied as the various interpretations of the texts accumulate in venue after venue. No two interpretations of the same instructions are ever identical.
Shouldn’t scores be simply published in the newspaper, or available as printed cards or sheets of paper to be sent to anyone?
George Brecht, Notebooks I, II, III (1958-1959)
- Excerpt from Hans Ulrich Obrist’s introduction in the ICI do it catalogue (1997)
In 2013, ICI relaunched do it and published do it: the compendium. For more information, please see the expanded do it website here.