Ma Yansong: “It’s about the spirit behind it”
Mr. Yansong, do you believe in utopia?
Yes, I do. Actually, I did a proposal called Beijing 2050 where I tried to illustrate the future of the city. I proposed to make Tiananmen Square into a forest. This forest would obviously be artificial and actually I don’t think it would be so difficult to accomplish. I even found proof that before we built Tiananmen Square, before this country, this new nation even existed, we had a lot of green there. So I think in the future, if this space could transform to a very natural and human space, I think that would not only change this area but also all of China: how we build a city, how we think about urban spaces… I think that’s maybe my real utopia.
What was the reaction like to your proposal?
Well, nobody was saying, “This is a bad idea.” (Laughs) But it’s very strange, if you’re a philosopher or musician or an artist, people automatically believe you can see the future. Even if they don’t like you, they accept your vision as an individual. But for architects and urban planners, people don’t trust you! When we’re talking about pollution, traffic, for example, democracy works. But designers and urban planners are very idealistic, so I do think that we should be involved in giving the public a view of the future or triggering that discussion. If we’re talking about the urban landscape as an advanced, forward-thinking art form, there must be some intellectual thinking involved.
Nick Offerman: “I have a pugilist in me”
Mr. Offerman, what’s the furthest you’ve gone to make someone laugh?
One time in Chicago in the 90s, my theater company, The Defiant, put together a circus freak show during the legendary Abby Hoffman Died For Our Sins Festival. Among other feats of wonder, I consumed a crystal goblet of my own urine for the audience's edification. I think that was the peak — or the nadir, depending on your point of view — of me letting my audience know that I was no longer member of the Catholic church altar boys. (Laughs)
How did that go down?
Of course the audience was horrified! It was an absolute travesty and I immediately went out and got drunk to erase my embarrassment. But that's how you learn. That's historically how I had to learn what not to do on stage. (Laughs) It was important for my personal growth to go through that experimental phase, but I can see in hindsight that at the time it wasn’t that appealing to commercial producers. But I come from a really conservative, humble and hardworking family that always was very well behaved — and that made me say, “I don't want to behave, I want to act like a jackass, because people laugh at it, and I feel like we need that release.”