TIno Sehgal - You had to be there!

Friday, February 07, 2014

One of the most unique and perhaps mystifying things about Tino Sehgal’s works, including Project 29:This is So Contemporary is his insistence that there be no physical documentation of the work whatsoever.
Even for the interpreters who enact the work, the choreography and other instructions must be memorised, so the work is transmitted through their interpretation of the instructions, and nothing else.
Sehgal has studied both dance and economics, which may have influenced his interest in questioning our cultural obsession with accumulating wealth in the form of material objects.  Instead of producing more art objects, Sehgal’s work asks the question – ‘How can we create something from nothing?’  Through traditional forms like dance and singing, he creates meaning and economic value without producing a physical object.  

These days, you could argue that you don’t really need to venture out into the physical space of a gallery or a museum to experience most contemporary art.  There is usually documentation of some kind, video or photograph, available online within minutes of an exhibition opening.  Sehgal believes that this kind of two-dimensional documentation ends up as a surrogate for the work itself, which is exactly what he aims to avoid.  Although the ‘situation’ itself is impermanent, it is repeatable, and so it persists as something that somehow both temporary and enduring at the same time.  

When you come to see This is So Contemporary at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, you may be surprised to find that instead of the usual room sheet, you’ll encounter one of the specially trained ‘living brochures’ who will be there to answer any questions you have about Tino Sehgal and his work.   

For a change, we have to trust our memory of the situation, or word of mouth description, rather than the written word or our smartphone.  Ultimately, this is definitely a situation where you just had to be there!