HUO: I want to begin at the beginning. I wanted to ask you about your epiphany. I know that you started very early and were a wunderkind of sorts. So, I wanted to ask about your first epiphany. You suddenly had a revelation; you became an artist. How did this occur to you?

BD: I think one is born with this idea of being an artist. Although, for me, it became modified as I became older. I grew up in an artist's studio and, naturally, had all these artist's materials at hand and also a constant need to express myself through visual messages. Obviously, it became more rational as time went by and at a certain point I stopped painting in order to do different works, which later proved to be very early conceptual art. One of the first works I did was The Flag of the World, where I replaced the national flag on my boat with a cloth used to clean paintbrushes. You know, every boat is supposed to have a national flag at the bow but for me it seemed absurd to have to change flags when crossing territorial waters. Therefore, I decided to replace the national flag with something that can serve as a universal sign for all territorial waters and different seas - and this was the artist's flag.

HUO: So one can say that this flag, which you made in 1963 and which was your first conceptual work, as you were basically replacing this national flag with a different sort of sign, that this also marked the beginning of your outdoor interventions?

BD: Yes. It all began very early on. This was a very early intervention into something that is, let's say, official vocabulary: this work replaces an official sign with an individual, alternative sign. This was repeated some six or seven years later, with the big photo portraits of Casual Passers-by.

HUO: Yes, there is another epiphany in the works for which you are most well known, the Casual Passers-by, where you had enormous photographic portraits of people who are usually not in the limelight, and you placed them on very prominent locations in different cities. What triggered these everyday or casual monuments? Was there a moment when the idea suddenly came to you?

BD: I think it is important to explain that when I realised that painting is probably not my medium, I also realised that I would do some kind of research. As you know, I studied physics and mathematics for two years and I thought that I would dedicate myself to scientific research. However, I then realised that my methods are really not scientific and so I returned to art. I wanted to create a work of art that would somehow analyse human behaviour. In a wsay, this proposition, the Casual Passer-by photo, was a trap for a certain behavioural reflex whereby spectators would be likely to automatically identify the subjects of these large portraits as important political figures or media celebrities, which they weren't. So in the galleries I exhibited smaller framed pieces with the photographs stating that they were casual passers-by, so that spectators would learn that the subject of the big photograph was not a movie star or somebody from the social or political scene. Spectators would then come to the conclusion that they had made a wrong judgement about these large photo portraits.

HUO: I'm calling you from London tonight and it is 7 May 2009. So it is exactly 37 years since you did the famous London Passer-by. Could you say something about that piece?

BD: When I arrived in London to study at St. Martins School of Art, I realised that the semiotics of the urban environment differs from country to country, or from one social system to another. Also, I realised that probably the best way to insert the Passer-by in London was to build a monument, because at that time London had many more monuments than large photographs. Later, as technology developed, with inkjet printing, the billboards of all large Western cities were invaded by large images. This was not the case when I was a student. Therefore, the first Passer-by in London was a monument dedicated to a passer-by named David Harper which was installed on Berkeley Square, in Mayfair, at the heart of London. Actually, the works that preceded the monument were the memorial plaques. Walking around Soho, which was just behind St. Martins, I would notice plaques stating that some writer or musician had lived in a certain building. I realised that the explicit message was that, for example Berlioz had lived in that building, i.e. that genius had lived in that building. So the implicit message of all the buildings without memorial plaques was that genius had never lived there. And we know how often history is wrong. I'll take as an example the field that I know best - art history. I was thinking how, for example, certain artists like El Greco had been misjudged by history or, if we take an example from literature, how Kafka had never published during his lifetime and was later acclaimed as the greatest writer of his time. So I wanted to correct this situation. Therefore, I started putting up these plaques dedicated to passers-by on different buildings, stating that they had lived or worked there.

HUO: Very early, in the mid-sixties, you did your first conceptual pieces and you continued to develop conceptual pieces and videos throughout the late sixties and early seventies. I was wondering if you could talk about the context.

BD: After a group show in Munich in 1970 I started having my first contacts with Western artists. That's when I met Jan Dibbets. For instance Sol LeWitt was on holiday in Croatia and came to see me in Zagreb in 1970.

I was already exhibiting in London when Belgrade artists started being active.

When I moved to London I met some people from the Foksal Gallery. But, really, in the late 60s I had no knowledge of conceptual art in other Eastern European countries.

In 1971 Nena and I did a show entitled At the Moment in an alternative space in Zagreb. After a gallery show in 1969 I chose an ordinary entrance hall of an apartment building in the centre of Zagreb and sporadically made exhibitions there which would last a few hours. In this space Nena and I put on at At the Moment, a group show with artists like Giovanni Anselmo, Joseph Beuys, Robert Barry, Douglas Huebler, Sol LeWitt, Barry Flanagan, Laurence Weiner, Jannis Kounellis, Ian Wilson, etc. There were about 25 artists in all and the show later travelled to Belgrade. After Studio International in London reviewed the show it triggered some reactions and letters from artists in Czechoslovakia and Poland.

I think that the Moscow conceptual scene developed in the 80s, at least, I had no contacts with any of the Moscow artists at the time. For instance, I met Kabakov, a pioneer of the Moscow scene, during the Magiciens de la Terre exhibition, in 1989 and we immediately became friends.

BD: Who were your heroes when, in 1963, you started to create your first conceptual works?

HUO: Did you have any heroes in art? Were there people from the avant-gardes of the early twentieth century who inspired you?

BD: From my early childhood I remember the names of Duchamp and Picabia. While I was very young, and I think I was under ten, I just recall these artists as doing something interesting but that I did not understand fully. I remembered Duchamp using objects and I remember three dot paintings by Picabia as curiosities, but it is symptomatic that I remembered just that. Later, when I was fifteen or eighteen, I went back to reading a book on Dada that I used to leaf through as a child, and I realised what their work was about. In fact, the first avant-garde work I saw was in the domain of theatre. I saw a performance by the Living Theatre in Sarajevo in 1965. In this Neo-Baroque gilded theatre the actors were pushing each other and spitting at the audience.

There is also an episode I recall, a totally casual meeting with Lettrists and Situationists when I was visiting Paris. In late 1967, somebody in a café in St. Germain told me to go and see a screening by the Lettrists and Situationists in Rue Vivienne. The screening included scratched films by Isidor Isou and Maurice Lemaître.

HUO: So that was your contact with Lettrism?

BD: Lettrism, yes. Also some of the Situationists were there because they were all mixing together. In 1967, I was still a teenager and that, I must admit, was the most interesting thing I saw in Paris. The closest to contemporary art that I saw in museums in those days was Kandinsky. At that time I think they hadn't even heard of some of the Russian constructivists like Malevich, or other big names. There were no signs on the horizon of minimalism and even less of conceptual art.

HUO: I want to stay with this idea of epiphany. We have the epiphany of the early conceptual work but we clearly have another epiphany, which is your invention of Post History. We discussed this at our very first meeting, when I met you in Paris in the late 80s. And in another interview, you say that actually the whole idea for the Tractatus Post Historicus had started already in the 60s, in 1969, when you said, "There are no mistakes in history, the whole of history is a mistake." So, could you tell me a little bit about this epiphany or revelation of the Tractatus Post Historicus?

BD: Again, there is a link to some of my childhood experiences. Thanks to my parents I knew Ivo Andrić, a friend of my father's who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961. I also met Jean-Paul Sartre as well as some legendary figures from the Resistance. However, my parents had a very open attitude, they would talk to me about many different things, and I realised that people who were not famous or public personalities could be just as interesting. So I started reflecting on this mechanism which promotes certain ideas or certain people and makes them famous while others remain anonymous. I knew, for instance, that El Greco was not in the picture until the late nineteenth century, and Malevich was not mentioned in the book on Abstract Art published by Skira in the mid-50s. All this led me to the conclusion that history gives a very mutilated and simplified image of the past.

HUO: And how did you then develop this into the book Tractatus Post Historicus, which is a kind of a manifesto?

BD: It is a manifesto.

I started reflecting further on history and formulated Post History as a platform for multi-angled viewing, where a multitude of truths coexist and where a plurality of subjective truths exist without denying other subjectivities.

Post History as the time of coexistence of different values, the parallel existence of different models and different concepts.

Historical method is based on the elimination of the facts that do not fit into a linear narrative. I think that the past is a lot more complex than recorded history and demands a more complex approach. Therefore, I had the idea of introducing this pluralistic and multi-angled perspective on the past. I have this saying that the whole of history is not as rich as one second of post-historic time.

HUO: This manifesto also led to the production of reality. You started to do installations related to the Tractatus Post Historicus. So one can say that the Tractatus was not only a manifesto of a verbal nature but also a trigger for a new type of work?

BD: Right. You maybe noticed that my work in the first instance is based on strong concepts. However, after that, it is very important to me that things happen in real life - even for just a few seconds, so as to establish a new model for a possible reality.

I could easily have done photomontages of passers-by portraits on facades but instead I struggled and waited sometimes up to two years for the real photograph to be hung in public space.

Just before I wrote Tractatus, the Tractatus Post Historicus works were gestating in my mind. I was doing a show in the Stadtisches Museum Monchengladbach with Dr. Johannes Cladders, who as you know was the co-curator with Szeemann of Individual Mythologies at the 1972 Documenta.

I was preparing a solo show in 1975 with him and for the first time I borrowed a museum item in order to make my work. And so this idea was already there. For example, with Cladders I made a contract that from now on this same work would be exhibited as a bust of Max Roeder for six moths and then for the next six months would be a work of mine under the title This Could Be a Masterpiece. He even purchased this work for the museum. So suddenly this work, which had been in the museum collection for fifty years, started having a double life. And for me this proved the possibility of parallel existences and multiple truths.

In 1976 I made my first triptychs with Kandinsky, Mondrian and Manet at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. I chose the paintings from different periods in order to break up any linear narrative, to question the dogmatism of style and Darwinian linearity in the presentation of art.

Later I did Triptychos Post Historicus installations with masterworks from many museums around the world including Malevich, Turner and Cézanne at the Tate Gallery, Léger and Picasso at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Chagall and Picabia at the Guggenheim Museum, Leonardo da Vinci and Piero della Francesca at the Louvre, Van Gogh at the Musée d'Orsay. If Johannes Cladders hadn't supported that very first appropriation of an original artwork in 1975, I certainly wouldn't have given up, but it might have taken a lot longer.

HUO: In 1998, your installations with living animals suddenly became global news when you did this show in a Paris zoo with lions and tigers and crocodiles and many other animals. I think it was seen by one million visitors and was even featured on CNN. So, in terms of this idea of making things public, to quote something Vito Acconci once said, "Things are not just naturally given as public, you make things public." It seems that this was another kind of breakthrough moment.

BD: Yes. Actually do you know this story that I wrote when I was twenty. The story about two artists? One becomes Leonardo da Vinci because the king finds his dog in his garden and the other disappears from human memory.

Well this story is significant in this context because it illustrates how chance plays a role in the recognition of some ideas. Just as in those early works where I asked people to sign the milk splash on the pavement.

I have always insisted on this idea of interaction in bringing the artwork into existence. For a work to exist it is not enough to make it; it exists only if somebody sees it. The minimum number of people for enabling art to exist is two: the one who makes it and one who perceives it. The artist who does not struggle for his vision is not an artist.

I remember when in 1981 in London I proposed to Leslie Waddington to have living peacocks wandering around his gallery in Cork Street, London, where paintings by Picasso, Léger, Monet and Cézanne were exhibited. He agreed. So his sensibility and responsive attitude helped this idea to become a reality. Later I made other pieces with living animals and finally the show in the zoo on very large scale. For my 35th birthday I played piano to some elephants and entitled that piece Last Witnesses of Another Logic. After that I did the first piece with lions, then a show in the Turin zoo and finally this mega-show in Paris in 1998.

HUO: So what we have is a chain reaction: one thing leads to another and obviously chance plays a role in that process. But we aren't only dealing with chance, there's also velocity. I have here a postcard on the wall which Alighiero Boetti once sent to me. When I met him for the first time as a student in 1985 or 1986, he wrote me a postcard and he said, "Dear Hans velocita guida zero!" He felt I was so slow. And from the day that I received that postcard from him I could only accelerate and become faster every day. So I was very interested in this notion of speed and the speed of light. In interviews you mention speed in relation to the speed of sound, the speed of writing, the speed of spectacle. You even did a show in a Vienna museum with Lóránd Hegyi, with the title Slow as Light, Fast as Thought. That ties in, obviously, with your past as a ski champion and your comparison of creating a work of art with a 100 kilometre-per-hour descent. Could you say something about velocity?

BD: I think chance is hidden determinism. Things are connected.

You mentioned Boetti. I'll tell you an anecdote known to very few people. When he was buying an apartment for his daughter Agatha she was hesitating between Rue de Charonne and another street in the neighbourhood. When they stepped out of this building in Rue de Charonne she was saying, "Daddy, I can't decide." And he was looking at the façade and spotted a memorial plaque on the building and said, "If this place was good enough for Roger and Suzanne Clauzade to live here in this building, it should be good enough for you." And they decided to buy the apartment.

Later he realised that the plaque was a piece of mine. Even if he had known me and my work for twenty years and knew about the memorial plaques that I installed in Turin and elsewhere, that work still had enough persuasive power to make them choose that building.

Now, to answer your question about velocity. I think that people who are in the visual arts and who are capable of expressing themselves either by exhibiting art works, as is the case with curators, or by creating art, as is the case with artists, have a great advantage. I recall a comment from the 1990 Venice Biennale when a critic told me that my work is "extremely economical." If a work is economical there is nothing that you can add to it, and there is nothing that you can take away from it. Good works of art are axiomatic.

This economy of language enables the artist to communicate fast. So if you are standing in front of a painting you can perceive it in a second. If the work is good you can stay for half an hour, or in some cases you can come back every now and then and think about the real content of this thing that you saw in one fragment of a second. So, in a way, it is a privilege of the visual arts to communicate in this way.

When I mention skiing downhill at 100 kilometres per hour, I am talking about quick and intuitive decision-making. It is like when a performer has to decide on his next move or when Tadeusz Kantor was directing his pieces. He was also a good friend, someone I admired enormously, and I saw him directing many times. I think he would modify the piece if he saw somebody slightly change the position of his foot, so the whole performance would probably take a completely different direction. In visual arts, we basically come with a proposition and that proposition can, on a certain level, be absorbed immediately. However, I think the reason that I juxtapose everyday objects or the fruits of nature with paintings is to trigger a sense of the multi-layered nature of all works of art and to indicate that there is speed but also depth. That is why I use the metaphor of downhill skiing.

HUO: One question about memory. You have done memorial plaques in many different cities and you already mentioned these interventions in the urban fabric. However, you have also worked with memory in your photographic pieces. From 1972 to 1977, there is This Could Be a Place of Historic Interest, the photographs of landscapes, interiors and urban scenes, with the words "This could be a place of historic interest" printed under each image. Eric Hobsbawm talks about the protest against forgetting, and neuroscience shows that memory is dynamic. Could you talk a little bit about memory, from the photographic work to the memorial plaque - about the role of memory in your work generally?

BD: You mention the word "memory," and I think there is also a kind of genetic memory which pushes us to do certain things that are beyond the rational. We rationalise them later. For instance, these almost random snapshots of internal and external locations devoid of human presence are related to the subjective experience and the subjective reading of every individual that can be triggered when they see any of these images. I think the biggest treasure of all is human memory and then when you sum up individual memories, you come to something which we can call a common past, common knowledge or even common experience. So memory is a factor that makes us do things in different ways. Being an optimist, I think that every creative individual is somehow trying to make the environment better or, in other words, to improve the conditions of memory. The whole idea of Post History has to do with respect for the multitude of memories. The multitude of memories is what constitutes the complexity of civilisation.

HUO: I was wondering about your unrealised projects. Projects which were too big to be realised. Utopias.

BD: For instance, one of my longest-running projects, in terms of asking permission, was to exhibit in the cave at Lascaux. It went on for almost twenty years. I started writing letters in the mid-70s and some museum directors even tried to help me by writing to the administrations of Altamira and Lascaux. Finally, in 1993, I was given permission to create and show by candlelight twelve paintings in the presence of twelve people in the cave of Lascaux, one of the most impenetrable of all historic monuments. It was like a kind of resurrection of Neolithic art.

At the same time this historic monument is a natural history monument because it contains everything from visual arts to natural science. Just the other day I was thinking about these cave paintings in Lascaux. The people who woke up around the fire the morning after the Lascaux artist finished painting these scenes of what we now presume was the domestication of animals - these cave dwellers were in a similar position to the Medicis. They were privileged like the Medicis, being in this very elitist position of seeing these paintings for the first time, these paintings made just for them.

So my utopian dream is that we should reach a phase where all the gifts and all the different talents that every individual has would come to an optimal context of realisation. Because, for instance, at the dawn of civilisation, as at Lascaux, the people who had a gift for hunting hunted, men who had a gift for painting painted, and those who had a gift for lighting the fire would light the fire. So in a way, my dream is to have the situation where all these activities would melt together and where those who have the capacity and talent for making certain things would have the opportunity to do them and make them public. It would mean that we had entered the Post-Historic era.

HUO: Right. Very last question. Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a short book of advice to a young poet. What would be your advice to a young artist in 2009?

BD: Just to listen to himself and to find a good friend who can help him to show his work. Beauty has power, and every picture turns into energy.

HUO: Thank you so much.