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
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
more Visual arts
Treasures jostle with texts to explore the art and science of manuscript illumination
Known as a painter of horses, the 18th-century artist captured an entire menagerie
The American who made colour photography an art form
A forgotten Slade alumnus restored to prominence
Fact and fiction coalesce in work by an artist born into an acting dynasty
Not comedy, not documentary and offering some very poor advice
Our man in France guides us through the highlights of the world-famous photo festival
Defined by sexual readings of her flowers and other paintings, the American modernist gets a much-needed retrospective
The first edition of the capital's annual all-night art festival brought light in dark times
An ongoing series of portraits has served as a tonic during difficult times, but its value is more personal than artistic
A glimpse inside artists' collections offers fresh insight into their own work
Magnificent new extension has light and space enough for new art and new visitors