Tino Sehgal
Tino Sehgal

PRINCETON, NJ |  Tino Sehgal explicitly refuses to call his piece “This situation” a performance. He disavows it, in fact. He prefers to call this “constructed situation” as something in-between. Ordinarily on view continuously during a museum or gallery’s open hours over a period of six weeks or more, Sehgal’s work will be presented in a university setting in November. His work stems from a direct engagement with the present. Will the new berth at Princeton University generate a new critical context?

Sehgal’s practice, the press release states, “grows out of an investigation into what constitutes a work of art and a crystallization of an art experience.”  It is very definitely “constructed.” Choreographed gestures and spoken instructions are acted out by players and interpreters.  Visitors are conceived as “a fundamental part of the work” (i.e., not just as an audience). They may also alter the artwork’s unfolding if they choose to participate.

The work is purely experiential, engaging viewers immediately in real time and space to implore a questioning of the art experience, and experience itself. But is it also a work of performance design? After all, his work just happens to take place in museums and galleries, rather than a traditional stage.

It verges on the theatrical, even as it rejects any traditional framework of staging.  A trained choreographer, Sehgal composes what is then physically interpreted by non-actors, actors and dancers, and in the case of “This Situation,” intellectuals.

“The situation” is described as something “akin to a contemporary salon in which live interpreters, drawing on quotations selected from 500 years of thought, discuss among themselves and with visitors such issues as the aesthetics of existence and the implications of moving from a society of lack to a society of abundance.”

Installed by Sehgal’s collaborator Asad Raza, “The situation” will be hosted by the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities and the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Visual Arts at Princeton. Visitors are invited to participate during any of the following times: November 18 to 20 from 2 to 6 p.m.; November 21 from 12 to 4 p.m.; and November 22 from 12 to 6 p.m. Where: Room 301, Lewis Center for the Arts, 185 Nassau St.

Since this is the first time “The situation” takes place in an academic setting, the university cannot help but hold a symposium as well. The conference, called “Art and School: A Symposium,” takes place November 21 at 4:30 p.m. at Betts Auditorium, School of Architecture, All events are free and open to the public. For more information on the Lewis Center for the Arts, visit www.princeton.edu/arts.

“The situation” made its New York premiere at Marian Goodman Gallery in 2007, It is now held in the permanent collection of the Centre Pompidou, Paris. This past summer he was awarded the Golden Lion as the best artist to participate in the international group exhibition of the 2013 Venice Biennale.

Tino Sehgal
Tino Sehgal

Born in Britain in 1976, Sehgal currently lives in Berlin. His recent works, in my opinion, are also examples of performance design. For example, in his artwork “These associations,” 70 players filled the immense Turbine Hall of Tate Modern in London. Sehgal’s work displays an antipathy to art objects. The museum context allows him to politically place himself in opposition to an excessive proliferation of goods in Western society

He has stated that, “My big question, which I think is the question of my generation, is that the way we produce nowadays, the social form of economic organization, is not going to be able to persist, and we are going to be measured against the question of how we are able to adjust to that.”

The academic setting of “The situation,” we are being led to believe, proposes a new discourse around Seghal’s critique of the political economy. Thinking in advance about his work conceptually, I am not yet convinced how new the directions of such discourse would be. The museum setting might allow his work to philosophically question art’s relationship to the outside world and to capitalism at large. Yet I also believe that the university is just another elite microcosm of our economic and political realities. I wonder if the players of “This situation” might end up loftily satirizing or exposing academia itself as the players and interpreters engage viewers on subjects such as capitalism, boredom, industrialization and oppression, while imitating the postures and speaking styles of academics throughout western history.

Given that Princeton is an Ivy League university, “This situation” has the potential to incriminate or implicate or (less neutrally) embody a commentary on the stuffy elitism and high fees and academe’s dysfunctional ability to truly transmit or sanction alternative forms of knowledge and value. Exactly how substantially different that academe-based discourse might be to the museum’s institutional setting? Well, I am maybe getting too ahead of myself. Go! –rg

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One thought on “BUT IS IT PERFORMANCE DESIGN? | Tino Sehgal’s “This situation” dreamily implicates the art experience, and quite likely elite academia itself

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