So what does gesture tell us about Tino Sehgal’s work and what value does it have?
Sehgal’s pieces seem a good fit for Agamben’s gestic politics – they deliberately eschew a product or remnant of any kind, and implicate the audience in a perpetual game of the confusion of roles with the other participants of the piece. The pieces themselves do not live outside of memory and make the audience physically aware of their role within the institutional context of the gallery or museum and within the piece itself.
Sehgal’s work relates to Agamben’s concept of gesture in a sense through it’s retreat form material form. Sehgal’s strategy of no documentation ensures that the materiality of the pieces remains in abeyance (although this action in itself becomes an important discussion point). By taking this approach to residue, the works emphasise the temporary nature of their acts, which in themselves incorporate gestures in the commonly understood sense of the term. For Agamben gesture requires that “nothing is being produced or acted, but rather something is being endured and supported” (Agamben, 1992, p. 56) which would seem to be a good description of the experience of a Sehgal piece.
The extensive use of quotations in the list of artworks above reflects the fact that there is very little ‘original’ documentation of the pieces, for example artist’s statements, photography or recordings. Most information about the pieces comes from anecdotal evidence. These descriptions of the pieces appear not only as off-hand comments in informal publications, such as internet blogs (where one would expect this level of commentary), but also crop up as a common feature of magazine reviews.
[He] seems less concerned with subverting or challenging global capitalism, and the art institution, than with making them freshly visible, open to new possibility. (Steeds, 2005)
The artist actively avoids anything which could be seen as an object in relation to his pieces, either of the piece, or any physical objects left over from the event. Similarly there is little or no record of the work except what visitors take away with them in their memories. The works rely almost exclusively on memory for their extended ‘life’ beyond the actual event in the original site. These may then be committed to paper or other forms of record by reviewers or commentators, but essentially the works live on only by the mediation of another, the audience that experienced them.
The following is a selected list of the artist’s works with short descriptions:
- 2000 Instead of allowing something to rise up to your face dancing bruce and dan and other things
An interpreter writhing on the gallery floor.
- 2001 This is good
“… gallery guards singing … thrashing their arms about in circles while jumping from leg to leg.” (Bishop, 2005)
- 2002 This is propaganda
“… a brief, ghostly recording by an unidentified woman singing “this is propaganda, you know, you know” (from a pop song); the recording is triggered whenever someone passes by an unmarked spot in the room.” (Gabri, 2003)