Sunday, December 23

An email to an esteemed person about the Tino Sehgal exhibit at Marian Goodman

I went to see "This Situation", the Tino Sehgal exhibit at Marian Goodman, twice this past week. I intend on spending more time with it when I get back into town. I went over there on my lunch break so I could only stay for about 30 minutes each time. This was long enough to get a sense of the formal structure of the piece but I would like to stay longer. They did turn to me once and ask "and what do you think" so I very briefly got involved in the talk. It's quite a shock when you first see them confront somone in this way. They are not mean but most people do not like being put on the spot. Twice I saw people weakly say "I don't know" (which initiated their "reset"). My heart went out to these gallery visitors. I know how they felt: performance anxiety is the term. Perhaps they needed some intellectual Viagra before entering the gallery? But it also highlights the way serious public discussions tend to be BOTH about the perfomance of speakers AND the ideas conveyed by their speaking (form and content). But I would still be interested in getting more involved in the conversation. This is in part because of the quotes. Sehgal's position on economics and politics totally fascinates me. I find his perspective, though somewhat unclear, refreshing. But, that said, if I am totally honest, one of the other reasons I wish to participate in this conversation (Sehgal's piece) is because I harbor a desire to perform in public. Am I turning into an exhibitionist?

The group, the form of it, makes me think of the chorus in a Greek tragedy. But the way they talk in unison, those Brechtian moments when the artifice of it all is foregrounded, also makes me think of Devo. It also makes me think of Superman's home planet Krypton for some strange reason... I'm not sure I can explain why (since I've never been all that much into that sort of stuff). Sehgal could have easily gussied up the whole thing visually by putting the performers in costumes. But I think he made the right move by not doing this. It would have flattened out the meaning of the piece a great deal. It has far more depth the way that it is, with the performers in their own clothes (which we might also describe as costumes). It obscures the audience when you first enter the gallery. I wonder if audience members ever join this strange chorus and become one of the performers? But it also folds back on what I was saying in the above paragraph: it calls attention to the fact that we are all often performing when we are in public -- and especially when we are involved in a public discussion. Think of a classroom for example... Are we ever not performing? Perhaps when we are either asleep or completely smashed on alcohol or drugs... And if this is the chorus then where is the protagonist of this drama? This chorus sometimes spoke of an absent "speaker"...

Didn't Art & Language (or one of the artists involved with them) do some work that revolved around discussions (in the early 70s)? This work which I do not recall very well may have been also entirely dematerialized. I can't help but think part of why I do not know of it better is because it was not well documented. But as I have heard Sehgal say: art as a discipline is about the relationship between people and objects. The fact that this earlier work is not well remembered may having something to do with this too.

The premise behind Sehgal's entire artistic project (so far), not adding any more things (material objects) to the world, also totally fascinates me. I saw Sehgal speak at the Guggenheim a couple of years back (as a part of his Hugo Boss Prize nomination). It was definitely not a New York art scene event. There was hardly anyone there! And there seemed to be none of the usual VIPs. This surprised me. But anyway, I will tell you one thing about that talk and then end this long email. Sehgal was a very mild mannered fellow. He seemed very learned, a person who does his homework. The only time he began to lose his cool was when he started talking about the standard anti-capitalist position of avant-garde artists in the 20th century. He said they were deeply misguided.


Anonymous said...

No entiendo que tu dices, senor.

Jennifer Sullivan said...

I want to say in response to the idea about are we always performing, I would answer yes, in a certain sense. It is a question I am very interested in. I don't think it needs to have a negative connotation though necessarily. The choice of how to transmit inner information to the outer world is always a preformance of sorts -- timidity is as much of a decision as bravado, though most of the time these "performance" decisions remain subconscious. I think acknowledging the basic performativity of daily life could potentially be freeing though, in that it allows one act however they want to act, rather than feeling a need to adhere to a false (confining) sense of the self.