In Conversation with Julian Assange, Part I
When I first met Julian Assange—thanks to lawyer and Chair of the Contemporary Art Society Mark Stephens and curator/lawyer Daniel McClean, both of the law firm Finers Stephens Innocent—we discussed ideas for various interview formats. Anton Vidokle and I had discussed the idea to conduct an interview with Assange in which questions would be posed not only by me, but also by a number of artists. This seemed only natural considering the extent to which so many artists have been interested in WikiLeaks, and we then invited seven artists and collectives to ask questions over video for the second part of the interview.
My archive now contains over 2000 hours of interviews recorded in many different places, and I am constantly attempting to discover new rules of the game, new approaches to how an interview can work. For an interview with Hans-Peter Feldmann published initially in AnOther Magazine and then in book form, I emailed him one question per day, and each of Feldmann’s responses would take the form of an image. For my interview with Louise Bourgeois, I would send a question and she would email back a drawing. When Julian came to my office with Mark and Daniel for our first meeting, we discussed the idea of a different format with questions from artists, and Julian liked this a lot, suggesting that the artists send the questions as short videos so that he could see them. We set the interview for two weeks later at 10 or 11 p.m., as we discovered that we both work late at night. Traveling more than three hours from London on Sunday, February 27, I arrived at Ellingham Hall, the Georgian mansion near the Eastern coast of England that Vaughan Smith offered Julian to use as his address for bail during his UK extradition hearings. In the living room of the picturesque home he described to me as a “golden cage” we drank many cups of coffee and spoke until 3 a.m. about his life, his nomadism, his early beginnings and the invention of WikiLeaks, his time in Egypt, Kenya, Iceland, and other places, his scientific background, and the theoretical underpinnings of WikiLeaks.
The interview is divided into two parts—in the first, I was interested in tracing his work back to its beginnings. I was not interested in his court case or private life, but in his public work as the voice of WikiLeaks, and the experiences and philosophical background that informs such a monumentally polemical project. In the second part, which will be published in the following issue of e-flux journal, Assange responds to questions posed to him by artists Goldin+Senneby, Paul Chan, Metahaven (Daniel van der Velden and Vinca Kruk), Martha Rosler, Luis Camnitzer, Superflex, Philippe Parreno, and Ai Weiwei.
Many people have contributed to making this interview possible, and I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Julian Assange, to all the artists for their questions, to Joseph Farrell, Laura Barlow, Orit Gat, Joseph Redwood-Martinez, Mariana Silva, Anton Vidokle, Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Daniel McClean, Julia Peyton-Jones, Mark Stephens, Lorraine Two, and all the artists. This first part of the interview is accompanied by graphics from a pro-active series of works designed by Metahaven, an Amsterdam-based studio for design and research, who have been studying an alternative visual identity for WikiLeaks since June 2010.
—Hans Ulrich Obrist