EXHIBITION—Tino Sehgal—This Success—ICA, London

I missed the previous two installments of this, the final part of a trilogy of works by Tino Sehgal. The piece is called—at least for the day I went to see it—This Success (2007), but the next time I visit it may be called This Failure. I’m not sure what criteria are being used to judge whether it’s a success or a failure that particular day.

The piece takes place in the main room at the ICA, and when you enter you’re presented with various groups of children generally doing what children do, i.e. running around, playing, talking and shouting. Immediately you’re approached by a small group of children and one by one they announce:

Hello, my name is —, and I think this show is a success.

before returning to their games.

In addition to the children, there seemed to be a small group of adult supervisors plus some other people who may have been other visitors to the show, talking with the children.

We went through the room to the exit at the other end, and found that the upstairs galleries were all closed. A very helpful invigilator let us know that the room we’d just passed through was the full extent of the exhibition – he also gave us a potted summary of the history of the pieces which I’ll expand on here. I missed the previous works, so I’ve quoted others for accounts of the events.

In 2005 Tino presented This objective of that object (2004) – here’s an account from Art in America at the time:

When I entered the gallery, two other visitors were sitting near the entrance, and as the interpreters’ voices began to rise, one of them started to interject a question, at which point the actors excitedly exclaimed “we have a question, we have a question.” The visitor, who apparently knew “how to play,” asked, “what do you think of Henri Bergson’s theory of creative evolution?,” prompting an interpreter to knowingly (perhaps too knowingly) expound on the philosopher’s treatise, which somehow led to musings on music, and back to the group’s initial misunderstanding of “creative evolution” as “creative revolution.” At the end of one long digression, the group simultaneously leaned back on their heels, let out a whoop and bounced around the space, pogo-like, changing positions with each other. It was utterly silly. (Cash, 2005)

The next piece–This Progress—took place in 2006 and consisted of a series of conversations with progressively ageing ‘performers’, starting with a child and ending with a 70-year-old. The Independent newspaper judged the piece to be “. . . both condescending and emotionally directive and implies the superiority of the artist, while actually being cod philosophy. . . . lacking in real intellectual or metaphoric content . . .” (Hubbard, 2006)

My experience of the latest piece, the last in this ‘series’, proved to be underwhelming in comparison to these accounts of the earlier pieces. I’m not a great chatter, especially with children. The invigilator mentioned earlier encouraged us to interact a bit, but I didn’t feel comfortable trying to strike up a conversation with them.

However, beyond my own experience, it also has to be judged as a completion or resolution piece, given its place at the end of the series of three works produced for the ICA.

The long-term aspect of the series is particularly significant, I think, and leads to questions like: were the formats of all the pieces decided in advance? did the reactions to the previous pieces affect later works? if so, it would obviously be interesting to know how, as this would cast light on the nature and meaning of them as well as on Tino’s work process.

The works seems to draw on aspects of institutional critique in its reflexive posing of aspects of the reception of the work back onto the audience. What are we thinking as we look at art? What if the art just asks us the same questions back at us?

All artworks implicitly give us the tools with which to judge them. They position themselves in a space of meanings, in relation to all other objects or artworks that we know of, providing methods by which we make our meanings from them.

Tino’s work seems to work on a similar level to Joseph Kosuth’s definition works, where there is an attempt to investigate the structures society uses to present knowledge and create meanings. Tino’s work uses the medium of conversation to present his meanings, thus fitting into the more recent conception of a relational aesthetic (Bourriaud, 2002) but also as part of an attempt to problematise the transmission of meaning, and hence the nature of the author’s rôle, a subject that could be fruitfully explored in relation to the post-structuralist writings of Foucault and Barthes.

I’ll pursue this line of thought in an essay I’m writing for my course. This is due for completion on the 1 May 2007, so I should be able to post it here soon after.

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EXHIBITION—Tino Sehgal—This Success—ICA, London by escdotdot is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International