Sat. Oct 16th, 2021

The good news regarding my interview with Tino Sehgal, the British-born artist in Berlin, whose infamous sense-scramble discouraged an art lover, is that he’s there on screen, on time and ready, as it turns out. , for a solid philosophical conversation about his new work.

Not to suggest that he is anything but professional in any of his actions; it’s just that I first remember encountering his work, at the Venice Biennale in 2005, when I entered its installation in the German pavilion to be confronted by three uniformed Biennial security guards who immediately sang happily in my face. has: ‘It so contemporary! Contemporary! Today! “It was indeed, I think, and I note Sehgal as one to look at.

The following year, at the London Institute of Contemporary Arts, another installation, another disruptive experience: a nine-year-old girl who told me she was Devon said she wanted to interview me about the concept of progress. Before I could sum up my answer, she passed me on to a young man who passed me on to a middle-aged woman, who passed me on to an 81-year-old book-like type who taught and wondered physics all his life, he said a little heartbroken, if it was all worth it.

These pieces of work in the early years of the new century, playful and profound, helped establish Sehgal as one of the most liberating figures in a contemporary art world, dizzy with newfound commercial success and growing public interest. Sehgal – a former dancer – resisted the trend by doing work that did not involve objects at all, only the unregulated and spontaneous results of random human interaction.

Artist Tino Sehgal, 2013 © Wolfgang Tillmans

His subsequent performances in the New York Guggenheim, Tate Modern, the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, expanded more with the elusive dances of strangers. Sehgal’s contempt for the object extends to the refusal to even publish catalogs for his performances. (I remembered asking for one at the ICA show, only to hear that it did not exist, but I could pay £ 25 to have a word whispered in my ear by the bookstore assistant, after which I has: “No, thank you.”)

Expect more of the same, on an ever larger and more lavish level, in the 18th-century baroque Blenheim Palace this month when Sehgal’s latest piece is introduced as the latest from the Blenheim Art Foundation’s seven-year-old commissioned program. As for dramatic twists, he has some form of accomplishment. Two years ago, a show by another talented target, Maurizio Cattelan, attracted extraordinarily intense coverage of the tabloid newspaper when the artist’s 18-carat gold toilet, “America”, was stolen two days after the show, locked, flushed and Stortbak. opening.

Sehgal’s installation this year sounds less like a disturbed episode of Morse, and more like something that seems to fit the strange times. A swarm of locals cast especially for the project will be described to visitors in the palace’s Capability Brown-designed site in a “fluid and porous choreography”. Could there be more resonant response to a year-and-a-half closure than a celebration of the warmth of human contact?

“This has been my principle for the past 20 years,” Sehgal told me in a Zoom call from Berlin. (He’s of German and Indian descent.) ‘But after the first exclusion, even for me, when I had my first encounter with someone, I thought’ Oh my God, I really feel what’s happening here. I feel the energy of this person, the soul. “I did not know what it was, I can not put words to it. But I realized that more than ever before, I was deprived of what I was promoting in my work. ”

Sehgal says he was inspired by the open, natural spaces of Brown’s 2000-acre landscape. ‘We had 100 years of the white cube [of the art gallery]. We spent a lot of time in these white wall spaces. But as I get older, I feel they are characteristically modern in a not-so-good way. I saw the park and, not that I know much about landscape design, I thought, ‘Here’s a master at work’. I had the feeling when I first walked through Guggenheim by Frank Lloyd Wright, and I have not had it since. ”

He says he views Brown’s work as a kind of ‘duet’ with the planet. “He does not stand back and say, ‘Nature is perfect, who am I?’ Nor does he say, like French horticulture, ‘people can do it better’. He says: ‘I am also part of the earth. I can improve it, I can work with it, but I do not have to reinvent everything, because what the earth has to offer is already at a fairly high level. So his own intervention makes it a trio? ‘Ha! Yes, you can put it that way. ‘

Blenheim Palace © Alamy

Blenheim Park and Gardens, with Landscape by Capability Brown © Thanks to Blenheim Art Foundation

One of the sweet things about Sehgal’s performances, I say, is that it brings a smile to people’s faces. Part of the ‘This So Contemporary’ show in Venice was attended by actors who offered half of their entrance fee if they would talk to them about the market economy. I tried to claim my refund, I tell him, but the receptionist told me they were ‘running out of money’.

“It was a little failed then,” he says a little icy. Wasn’t that part of the show? ‘No, no, no, no. Sometimes things go wrong. He says he wanted the exhibition to be a ‘joyful’ exhibition. “I’m not the happiest person,” he says. “It does not come easily to me.”

It is part of Sehgal’s broader thesis on the art world that the idea of ​​the lonely, passionate, vision-inspired (and mostly masculine) artist almost took its course. ” Part of the success of visual art over the past 200 years is that it has a certain clarity, because it’s individuals expressing themselves in a simple, short way. ‘ Now, he says, it feels like the time for more fluid and more collaborative ways to describe the “complexity” of the world.

“What is individuality? This is the breaking of rigid bonds. We do not want to be bound by our religion, our parents, our class, because they hold you back. Of these we have had a few hundred years. OK, now we can move on. But where do we belong? And where are we going? Hence Sehgal’s emphasis on discourse, teamwork and interrogation in his art. “It’s a little pathetic to be this star hero,” he says of society’s continued obsession with individual achievements.

Sehgal’s mockery of material objects, and for the excesses of the capitalist economy in general, also extends to his business transactions. The sale of his works, which enables museums and even private collectors to install his “situations”, is done without a written record of the transaction; the “contract” depends on the memory of those present at the sale. And he placed strict orders on photos and films of his projects.

I ask Sehgal how important it is that he is able to sell his work. “It’s very basic. If you are doing something special, do not bring the specialized activity to your table in the morning. If you want to transform the specialized activity into your breakfast, you need to find someone, a few people are enough who are interested in it and who will pay you for it.

‘I feel that people have a lot of cultural reservations about certain markets. On a superficial level, I understand that. But that says nothing about the market per se. ”

I finally ask Sehgal about his contribution to a newly published booklet, 140 artist ideas for planet earth, edited by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Kostas Stasinopoulos, taking the form of a single, unpunctuated sentence: “you are doing all of it”. What does he mean?

‘That you are a producer of reality, not just a recipient of reality. If you come to the museum, which is a highly legitimate ritual of Western culture, I do not want to place you as a recipient. I want to set up a game where you’re also an agent. It is always a trend in my work: that we as individuals, as consumers, as people of the world, have power. We also decide the course of events. ”

July 9 – August 15, produced in collaboration with Marian Goodman Projects,

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