Wednesday, 5 September 2012

On being art

We went to see the new installation in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall this past weekend. It was a new work created by Tino Seghal for the Unilever series.

I say 'installation' and 'work', but I don't really know what to call it. It's more specifically a piece of performance art, but one in which we, the gallery visitors, are part of the performance.

Gallery visitors are incidental performers. There is also a group of volunteers moving about the hall in choreographed actions - sometimes walking, sometimes running, sometimes sitting.

Running through the Turbine hall

And visitors can join the group, where they may be quietly approached by a volunteer and engaged in conversation.

Walking and talking with strangers

I spent about an hour moving with the group and chatting with the volunteers - we talked about various subjects: our experience of reading as a child, what impact names can have, the importance of ritual.

The conversations were pleasant and thought provoking, but the most interesting thing about the experience was how it made me look differently at the people around me.

You couldn't be sure at a glance which people in the Turbine hall were part of the group. Sometimes the volunteers who were engaged in conversation did not follow along with the activities of the larger group - in conversation, they could be any other visitors to the museum.

And as for the museum visitors, even if they were not intentionally taking part in the choreographed movements of the group, they were still part of the work, in a way, because they were interacting with the group - circling them, passing through them, or standing watching. So the group consumed everyone in the hall, and you ended up wondering if everyone was part of the work.

Who is art?

When we moved on to other rooms in the museum, the experience still lingered. I had this uncanny feeling that all the people throughout the museum were interacting on a deeper level. I somehow felt that we were part of a choreographed dance, like the people in the Turbine hall, and that at any moment we might intersect and start talking about profound and personal things.

We ended our visit downstairs in the Tanks, Tate Modern's newly opened dark, industrial gallery space - perfect for watching (and interacting with) video installations. And there we saw someone dancing in the light cast by a video installation, her shadow drifting with the video images on the wall, and it was the perfect end to this experience of being art.

Shadows on the wall