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When we speak about institution we often speak about limits. Tino Sehgal is an artist whose artistic work questions the framework, not only institutional, but also market, curating, the role of the artist and the public. Empty spaces, “constructed situations” and a spectator that must definitely act differently from the usual way, are the only constants in his work. And despite the voluntary difficulty to fit his work into the institutional framework, it is present in a large number of institutions and events like Documenta, the Venice Biennale and currently at the Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin. In the article we get back today, published in 2012, Angel Calvo Ulloa writes about his intervention in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern in London.
Tino Sehgal is one of those figures whose work never goes unnoticed. The latest reviews from the recently ended Documenta emphasised the strength of his intervention and flagged it as having been one of the essential points of the event. In some cases, Sehgal’s piece was raised as the keystone in an event that, under the poster of no-concept, has provoked diverse opinions. However, the figure of the Anglo-German, who is currently dominating the large spaces and events of the world art, evolves sacrosanct. Rising relentlessly.
To talk about Tino Sehgal is not a task that is resolved with an agile reading of the material that his intense career has generated. The pages are scarce and they centre on a purely emotional analysis of what the scene provokes in the participants. For the public, the experience is rarely passive, taking us from the place of spectator to that of accomplice in these situations. This isn’t a distinct, or revealing analysis. To cross the door that separates the street from the entrance hall of the TATE modern, supposes crossing a line between the real and the realized. The connotations of an old energy generator persist in the turbine hall obliging the artists that intervene there to bear in mind this inherent proviso of the space itself. Anish Kapoor, Olafur Eliasson, Rachel Whiteread or more recently Ai Weiwei opted to come out with heavy artillery in order to avoid any risks. Sehgal has filled it with emptiness and movement, though not a monotonous and mechanical movement. There are no circumscribed choreographies; they are based on moments of daily activity in the grand hall, spurred on by slogans and stories that repeat throughout the day. These stories are broadcast by the different characters who hide within the crowd, without any distinctions to differentiate them from the rest.
True to the unforeseeable evolution of his actions, the floor begins to vibrate under the feet of an uncontrolled demonstration. The crowd bursts and the explosion displaces the people who, beside us, passed unnoticed amidst the crowd, as impassive spectators. This, along with the constant blackouts and flickering of the hall’s lighting, provoke consternation among those who, incredulous, attend a new demonstration of “the world has gone mad” or “these artists want to take us for fools”. The energy, is no longer the result of a generator, it is the organized individuals who provoke it. It is for this reason that the spectator is no longer a spectator, but an actor, albeit unwittingly. In accord with the historic moment that we are living, the work of Sehgal doesn’t bear a priori a marked political character. However, it is difficult not to contemplate this option bearing in mind how revolutionary his proposals are. A disorganized crowd that spontaneously decides to break free of its automaton conduct. Probably reminds us of something…
It is unusual to confront a work for which no trace is manifested in the form of a catalogue, a video recording or in any other way. Institutions acquire his works through a verbal contract in which it is the artist, and only the artist, who establishes the conditions. We could therefore qualify him as an impostor or value the importance of these types of decisions to sustain work that otherwise runs the risk of becoming meat for wild beasts, for anxious collectors. Much to the bewilderment of lovers of the provocative, Tino Sehgal doesn’t even raise his voice, he doesn´t sell the image of enfant terrible nor does he act as the standard bearer for any tendentious cause. Sehgal doesn’t hide his references and behind his work are: Bruce Nauman, Dan Graham, John Cage and the whole of Fluxus, to cite only a few. However, the museum has been a cemetery for a large number of them, with the remains of the set converted into relics that fatten up the stock, with their images ageing in less than five decades. Learning from the errors of the past is what has led him to reject any souvenir extracted from his work. There are no scripts, photographs nor projections that certify what happened. All recorded material is useless because nothing gives us a real dimension of what occurred.
To experience the work of Sehgal demands being there, entering into the space without any prior or only vague information. It doesn´t matter if they tell us the end of the film, because it’s not about that, so much as an experience that in some cases perturbs our senses, creating a confusion that, with the excessive influence of technological advances, it seemed we had immunised ourselves to. Sehgal makes it clear, in a resounding manner, that what surrounds us will never stop surprising us. It is not necessary to infest the world with mysterious creatures and objects, or to play with pre-recorded effects to provoke panic or happiness. It is in the situations that appear uncontrollable that we feel confused. When we don’t know what is going to happen around us a minimal gesture can shatter our equilibrium, and it is just here that Tino Sehgal has decided to scratch. So having had a previous experience of one of his constructed situations doesn´t count for much to get an idea of what happens in the turbine hall, because the only thing that counts is being there and the lack of precision of any theoretical reflection will do nothing but drown us in the synopsis of an experience that needs to be lived.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)