Kelly Carmichael – 18 February, 2014
Watching Sehgal's work unfold is intensely enjoyable and vastly different from experiencing the work. Witnessing 'This is so contemporary' opens up the way in which the artist interferes with the social subtleties of a space, offering an unusual mix of privilege and democracy at work. As Sehgal's work randomly and spontaneously recruits its creators the notoriously cliquey art world opens up to allow others into its fold, placing them at the very centre of the work's creation.
This is so contemporary
6 February - 23 February 2014
It goes something like this: a visitor walks into the foyer, mindlessly clocks the security in typical AGNSW uniforms stationed at regular intervals, and as he or she begins to move through to the gallery floor they’re circled by chanting, jazz-hands wielding guards. Some stand frozen, with a deer-in-the-headlights expression. Others cringe like teenagers called out by parents in front of their peers. Most seem transfixed and slightly baffled by the experience as they randomly and often unwillingly become participants rather than visitors. Presented by Kaldor Public Art Projects in association with the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Tino Seghal’s This is so contemporary is the latest in a series of successful public art collaborations between the two organisations.
Sehgal is the current master of an increasingly interesting sector of contemporary practice that interrogates the conventional art-spectator relationship. Educated in political economics and choreography, Sehgal’s practice is shaped by both. His works - or ‘constructed situations’ as the artist would have it - disrupt expectations and create experiences rather than objects. His practice is ephemeral with no physical form, designed to leave no trace - Sehgal refusing to allow any pictures, video or documentation. They become the stuff of legend, emphasising the moment, fleeting social exchange and reflection. Fusing physical movement and serious-minded interaction, This is so contemporary and other Tino Sehgal works ask that we not only rethink art within the gallery context but also experience it. Audiences are engaged not only in the creation of the piece, but also in constructing the critical and cultural reflection that generates it.
Sehgal has crafted an ambitious catalogue of works that, although relying on the unexpected and often confrontational, are essentially about human interaction. His work can be surprisingly and touchingly intimate. Existing as live encounters between people and making use of exchange or transitory gesture, Sehgal’s situations rely on our presumption about what should or shouldn’t happen in a given space. There were visitors to the AGNSW who clearly knew about the piece and allowed it, standing there with the sort of expression people get when ‘happy birthday’ is sung to them at restaurants. A few foreign tourists, however, were encircled and chased from the foyer into the main space, uncertain whether the chanting was performance or harassment, even after the performers had peeled off and resumed their stations. The rest of their group remained in a confused huddle at the entrance, reluctant to even enter.
Watching Sehgal’s work unfold is intensely enjoyable and vastly different from experiencing the work. Witnessing This is so contemporary opens up the way in which the artist interferes with the social subtleties of a space, offering an unusual mix of privilege and democracy at work. As Sehgal’s work randomly and spontaneously recruits its creators the notoriously cliquey art world opens up to allow others into its fold, placing them at the very centre of the work’s creation. Participants unknowingly become artist, curator and audience, caught up in not only the realisation of, but also varying conception and interpretation of the work. The nous and connections necessary to function at the epicentre of the art world and its production are dissolved. The sought after and socially prized engagement with contemporary art is democratised, no longer the realm of biennales, art fairs or post-opening dinners. This is so contemporary creates a space and rhythm unlike that which controls everyday life.