Hans Ulrich and Simon Castets on their favourite people

The co-curators of 89plus on the archipelago of #YoungerThanRihannas they admire so much

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Attentive readers will have spotted that we've been going wild for a project called 89plus recently. Around about four years ago, two of today's most influential curators, Simon Castets and Hans Ulrich Obrist, sat down and spoke about the extraordinary confluence of moments that took place in 1989. One of history's pivots, the year saw the Berlin Wall fell, and, most quietly at the time, Tim Berners Lee switched on the internet. Those born on, or after, the year have no recollection of either an alternative to global capitalism, nor a world computers hadn't solved that whole "information not being everywhere all at once" thing. 

From this, they launched a long-form art project to plot what those born that year and later were making – from art to activism, music to architecture, programming to poetry. Labelled #YoungerThanRihanna by our very own Harry Burke, the 89plus project is getting its biggest ever showcase at Hans's gallery, the Serpentine, this weekend. Ahead of that, we interviewed Hans and Simon the day before yesterday, and you can read it below.

Dazed Digital: The under 25s are often written about as a “lost generation”, yet 89plus is an unashamed celebration. 

Simon Castets: It is true that in Europe there’s a dishonest tone about youth and that is something that we are very much against in the project. From the creative side, the innovation, technology and the entrepreneurs: we feel the Internet actually enables that generation to have a voice – probably much more than previous ones. There are also really great new forms of poetry being born in the age of social media and charting and looking at these new forms of poetry has become a very important part of the project. We’re very, very optimistic that this is an amazing generation. This immense optimism drives the positive energy to produce reality. 

Hans Ulrich Obrist: Its presence is mainly online as well and that’s the way for it to take into account the new geography that appears all the time. We get daily submissions from countries such as Uruguay or Nigeria or Malaysia. It’s very interesting to see this emergence and for us to be able to engage these different protagonists. 

DD: Though we’re on the eve of a London event, the participants are from all around the globe. Was this multi-polar world something you were conscious of representing? 

Simon Castets: Yeah! Absolutely. It has to be international, because it has to acknowledge the different reality in which we live – today almost half of the world’s population is born in 89 and after. But, in Europe and the US the average proportion of that generation in the country is about 30%. In some African countries it goes up to about 68, 69%. 

DD: I’m sure that all of us must have had, as citizens of the “old world”, a feeling that Europe really is really bloody old. 

Simon Castets: Yeah, there is this massive number from the 89Plus generation who are not present in Europe or the US, not present in the western world. This is the reason that “digital natives” is such a tricky term: it actually doesn’t count for most of them. In Africa and South America, Asia actually the use of internet is much less prevalent than in the western world. 

Hans Ulrich Obrist: But also I don’t think there is a dichotomy between the old world and the new world. I think it’s more this idea that we really do have this total “archipelago culture” and it’s interesting to say that London with its incredible trans-nationality is definitely a center of 89Plus, as is New York. But there are many, many more centers. It’s no longer this idea of the avant-garde of Paris moving to New York after World War II [then to London]. It’s a polyphony. 

DD: One thing that strikes me about the participants’ work, out of this wonderful polyphony, was both an optimism and a dissolving of barriers and identities, but also a particular sense that systems might be breaking around them. How conscious are you that this generation has had things, materially, very hard in the last few years? 

Simon Castets: That’s a very important aspect. In some kind of way we believe it’s not so easy to begin as a creative today. I think for that very reason we started the project to enable, be a platform and, in a sense, be a support. I think also, what you mentioned, the idea of being a very fragile situation, we think it’s too early to decide. We don’t want to say “it is this generation” because it’s more for the generation to define itself. Having said that, Douglas Coupland talks about the diamond generation, of it being sharp and hard at the same time: yet we obviously have this incredible openness in terms of the many different possibilities and identities. It can also be seen in this idea of an artist no longer having to decide whether they’re a visual artist or an architect or a designer. 

Hans Ulrich Obrist: David Deutsch, the great quantum physicist, also talks about parallel realities. “Parallel realities” is a super strong concept in 89Plus. 

DD: Final question: how envious are you both of this generation? 

Simon Castets: I wouldn’t put it in those terms. I think it’s more admiring. I am in admiration of the great talent and energy we’re coming across wherever we go. 

Hans Ulrich Obrist: I agree fully with Simon’s answer. It’s only a positive feeling in the sense that I think the curating is always to enable, to make visible, to make possible, to produce, to help produce reality and so we see a great new generation, a great new art.

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