Magazine article Artforum International

Fair Use: Joe Scanlan on Tino Sehgal

Magazine article Artforum International

Fair Use: Joe Scanlan on Tino Sehgal

Article excerpt

I CHOOSE to consider writing as a useless labor, apolitical and of little moral significance. Urged on by some base inspiration, I confess I would experience a kind of pleasure at being proved wrong. A guilty pleasure, since it would be at the expense of the victims, those who thought I was right.

For Tino Sehgal, other people's writing on his work would appear to function as notary to the juggernaut that is the artist's career, a kind of amicus brief in which the content is irrelevant so long as its signature achieves the necessary gravitas. All that really matters in this moment of writing, then, is that the proper name, Tino Sehgal, and the proper place, the Guggenheim, be printed in tandem on 220.5 square inches of coated paper within the binding of this issue of Artforum. It should also be recorded that the Guggenheim's rotunda and ramp were devoid of inanimate art objects for the duration of the show, the first time in the museum's history that it was both open to the public and "empty." Instead, Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture provided the format for two of Sehgal's choreographic artworks, This Progress, 2006, and Kiss, 2002. As is always the case with Sehgal's works, both pieces were enacted by amateur actors (Sehgal refers to them as interpreters), willing participants selected through personal referrals and casting calls, carefully rehearsed, and stage-directed throughout the show. Last, it's important that something be printed on the verso and recto of these two pages, including consecutive page numbers in a consistent font, as verification that the pages are authentic, authentic even if they were to become separated from their binding several hundred years from now should some catastrophe befall the Library of Congress. As the writer of this text, I have a lot of leeway. But the one thing I can't do is introduce any doubt--now or forever--that Tino Sehgal had a one-person show at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in the year 2010.

I liked This Progress. Kiss, not so much.

What else needs to be written? I have many swift arrows in my quiver that speak to the wise, but for the crowd they need interpreters. The skilled poet is one who knows much through natural gift, but those who have learned their art chatter turbulently, vainly. Saying anything more would mean giving in to the presumption that some kind of extended analysis, reasonable or otherwise, would be useful to our apprehension of Sehgal's work. I doubt that is the case.

It doesn't matter, really, because the point of Sehgal's work isn't our apprehension of it, but its apprehension of us. Every act is political and, whether one is conscious of it or not, the presentation of one's work-especially other people as one's work-is no exception. For that reason, as someone engaged in a useless activity, allow me to suspend judgment; my present task is not to solve any enigmas, but rather to try to understand what Sehgal is putting forth and recognize what his artworks are actually proposing.

Kiss is a durational choreography in which two interpreters performed a slow, tumbling embrace across the circular floor of the museum rotunda. The piece--which I have only ever seen performed by a man and a woman--is by turns torturous, smoldering, and delicate. At loosely predetermined intervals, the performers are at liberty to morph into poses reminiscent of art history's greatest hits of the genre: Bronzino's Allegory with Venus and Cupid, 1545; Auguste Rodin's Kiss, 1889; Constantin Brancusi's Kiss, 1916. The interpreters at the Guggenheim were plainly clothed and virtually oblivious to their audience, and some of them are (or were) actual couples. They worked in three-hour shifts and were paid twenty dollars an hour, plus workers' compensation, if they happened to get injured on the job.

Now, if the participants in Kiss were given enough agency within its structure so as to give the impression of being responsible for themselves, then, from a labor standpoint, Sehgal's artworks are ethically no different from any other industry in which live human beings are the willing stock in trade: fashion, music, theatre, reality television. …

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