It is a presentation of life. It is a sculpture with a heartbeat. It is music, dance, and performance. It is an experience that you could never reproduce. It has no single owner, no single creator, and no single medium. Sehgal is a modern master. He is redefining art.
Sehgal departs from numerous artistic practices and traditions. Although he is often described as a performance artist Sehgal repudiates this claim. Could one even call his work performance art, can we truly call the pieces ‘his’? Unlike performance artists Tino Sehgal does not participate in his own work, rather employing other artists to carry out his instructions as ‘interpreters’. He choreographs what he calls ‘constructed situations’. These situations are more interactive that performance art in which the audience is a passive observer as in theatrical performance, instead they encourage and depend on active participation from viewers.
In one work, while seated on the floor, one person sings to another until they dance in response. Gradually the dancer becomes the singer and the singer becomes the dancer. When I saw this work at Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin the hall was large, with a ghostly acoustic quality which was essential to the intensity of the piece. Two men, one, like a snake charmer, seems to control the other until he, with closed eyes began to sensitively move. The incipient tension that developed from this created an atmosphere in the room that one could never expect from a painting or sculpture. This was real, it was honest, sexual and pure. It was beautiful. The effluence of the couple was hypnotising. The whole audience was watching with complete respect and unflinching silence. Until one of the audience began to sing as well, and then another. Gradually more and more people joined the piece until the hall was ablaze with a different vocal sounds. People who I had assumed were fellow viewers were in fact the artists, perhaps fifteen people in total stood up to contribute their acapella music. And then they began to move. It was an exhibition of humanity, of the exceptional abilities of our species, of the beauty of the group of organs that give us movement, breath and life. How overwhelming it was to be reminded that I am alive. To be reminded that the people around me are alive. And how prodigious it was to realise that life is exceptional. I was invited, for a moment, to stop and realise how completely unlikely and beautiful it is to be.
This personal quality is what defines performance art. It cannot be reprinted or sold on a post card. It cannot be stored in a vault in Switzerland. It is experienced for a moment and then it is gone. This ephemeral quality is taken even further with Sehgal as he does not allow the recording of his work, nor does he submit a press release to describe what will happen before the exhibition. It comes from nothing, exists for a fleeting moment and then falls away into nothing again.
This is very economically interesting as it is much more difficult to capitalise a situation than a material. It is not an object and so exists apart from the world of physical capital assets and the conventional art market. Tino Sehgal develops these aspects even more because he takes himself out of the work and does not allow its documentation. He is not a messianic idol whom people would queue for days to see, nor does he profit from glossy photographs in the gallery gift shop. His works are performed by other people, therefore in a way they are not even his works. His work is not about material assets but about the ideas and information.
And this references the way in which capital is changing everywhere. We live in a world where information is capital. In which every person with internet access owns three billion pounds worth of encyclopaedias thanks to Wikipedia. Through the internet capital can be reproduced by copy and pasting, therefore economies based on scarcity cannot exist. Tino Sehgal is an icon of this post-capitalist structure of information capital. His work is not about material assets but about the ideas and information. He is an example of the social and economic change that is happening all around us. He is an icon of a new wave of art which is post-capitalist, natural and truly beautiful.
By Thomas Lund
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