Tino Seghal: These Associations, Tate Modern | Visual arts reviews, news & interviews
Tino Seghal: These Associations, Tate Modern
If you want to listen to glassy-eyed strangers cornering you with a monologue, then this work is for you
Tino Seghal’s Turbine Hall commission makes me wonder about fellow art critics. Do they not get out enough? I’m struck by how easily seduced they are by brief encounters with live, interactive artworks, as if spending so much time looking at inanimate things instead of talking to people has made them imagine that talking to strangers who’ve been drilled for the task is either life-enhancing, edgy or, in fact, interesting.
Actually, Seghals's piece doesn’t really invite you to converse with strangers. This is about strangers imparting rehearsed stories, in your general direction, whilst standing barely a foot away. Perhaps the performers were nervous on press day, so that the encounters felt more forced than if they’d simply struck up a conversation with you in a queue in Starbucks. In any case, they're only allowed to spend so much time with you before skipping off to return to the fold and begin chanting their strange song at the end of each of their set routines – the chanty, repetitive song whose words I could only catch in snatches: “Tush, Tush, Tush”; “We are technological humans"; “Electricity, electricity, electricity”. What was this? “We are a cult and we’ve been drilled to speak like zombies”? Cute.
Both were eager-faced and friendly, like Scientologists seeking out vulnerable prey
The 50 or so performers begin the set by running around, getting breathless in what looks like a game of tag. Perhaps this is simply a way for them to limber up and get rid of a little muscle tension before embarking on their Method-acting monologue. During the piece, I had two separate encounters. One with a young man, sweating profusely after his exertions, the other with a young woman. They homed in on me with what, in other circumstances, might appear to be mildly sinister intent. Both were eager-faced and friendly, like Scientologists seeking out vulnerable prey. And they each related a personal vignette about love. I obliged by asking a few questions and nodding, but you didn’t get any sense that they were willing to go off-piste. Both had that rather glassy-eyed look that tells you they're going through a drill.
Seghal only ever works with performance and never records these live events, nor will you even find the piece listed on Tate’s website, so eager is the Berlin-based artist to do away with the idea of art as commodity – though the piece always has to be expensively funded somehow (Unilever, those radical anti-capitalists, in this case). But still, the commission seems timely, especially as we’re finally seeing performance art come in from the cold. The recent release of a documentary about Marina Abramovic, the “godmother” of performance, and the opening of Tate Modern’s The Tanks testify to its belated mainstreamness.
The performers eventually regrouped, and the lights of the cavernous hall flickered on and off a few times. Then into this partial darkness the chanting began. But really, I’ve had odder encounters with strangers sitting quietly in a café. Ones that have been genuinely spontaneous and more sincere. This work felt oddly uninvolving. It felt flat, though how surprising is that for such a self-consciously staged piece? You're aware of its artifice. Critics, try getting out more and looking people in the eye. Then see what happens.
- Tino Seghal: These Associations at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall until 28 October
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