Alessandro Cassin: Thoughts on 'Whispers: Ulay on Ulay'

Maria Rus Bojan and Alessandro Cassini
Maria Rus Bojan and Alessandro Cassini

Alessandro Cassin, co-author with Maria Rus Bojan, of the AICA Netherlands' award winning publication 'Whispers: Ulay on Ulay', held this speech at the award ceremony in Amsterdam on September 18th.






Good Evening
I am deeply honored that your association has chosen to award this prize to our book. I would like to thank Maria Rus Bojan for getting me on board, Ulay for his trust and open heart, and the publisher, Valiz.

Over the last few decades, information on contemporary art has grown exponentially but despite the proliferation of books and media attention of all sorts, it is rare to hear an artist speak with the openness and wealth of details, you will find in this book.

I believe Whispers is a book for both the present and the future.
For the present it provides an enthralling immersion into Ulay's world filled with self-revelatory narration and images.
For the future it offers a treasure trove of first hand information, for anyone intending to further study his work, or to write his biography.

My involvement in this project has been a rich, multi-layered experience.

Culminating 15 years of cultural reporting for magazines, it presented me with a very different route: the length and scope of the interviews conducted with Ulay over three years, allowed for a vertical descent into the depth of a body of work and the life of a person, in contrast to the horizontal skimming of the surface to which a magazine interview is limited.

Ulay is a compelling racconteur, with a formidable memory and uninhibited willingness to reveal the meandering paths of his life and work.
In editing and organizing the countless hours of taped interviews, my goal was to re-create the experience of being in conversation with him: to capture his 'voice', his radical vision, his outlandish humor.

As a German living in the Netherlands, Ulay has used English fluently for many years, developing often poignant grammatical and syntactical idiosyncrasies that I have tried to preserve, as an integral part of his voice.

This book documents-in Ulay's own words-his coming to Amsterdam in search of himself in the tumultuous seventies, and his long, uncompromising career thereafter, across time and place.
In looking at life with the candor of a child, yet the determination of an innovator, he has adhered to his principles with rare coherency and rigor, no matter the cost to himself.

The criteria for constructing the chapters was not chronological but rather, an attempt to identify larger recurring themes.

David Sylvester's groundbreaking interviews with Francis Bacon, published in 1975, proved that book-length interviews with an artist could be both gripping and revelatory. I believe this book takes that concept, one steps further.

I would like to leave you with a short poem by the great Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali, which relates to the simplicity and beauty I have found in Ulay's vision.

And so
It has taken me
All of sixty years
To understand
That water is the finest drink,
And bread the most delicious food,
And that art is worthless
Unless it plants
A measure of splendor in people's hearts.

(Taha Muhammad Ali, from So What, collected poems 1971-2005)

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