CORE COURSE—Tino Sehgal research

It’s difficult to find textual information on Tino Sehgal, probably because he exercises a policy of no objects and no photos or recordings, which makes it difficult to research the essay I’m writing on his work.

Here I’ve collected some quotes from online sources that may prove useful.

de Selby is in some places transcribing the artists own words, so while they will be useful in themselves as opinion or critique, I’m also trying to get hold of the recording of the original talk for the source material.

The Moisdon article is perhaps the most interesting from a theory point of view, while the Frenzhel piece has lots of Sehgal’s own comments.

As Moisdon says, the works make for an interesting situation for a writer, leading you into what could easily become “tautological traps” – I see this as an opening for some philosophical debate, and I’m looking forward to writing the essay.

. . . his art takes place on the macro level of institution and medium more than on the micro level of an individual work. (de Selby, 2006)

. . . the subject of any particular piece was secondary to it. (de Selby, 2006)

Sehgal said once again that he was not interested in adding more things to the world and that he was interested in figuring out an alternative form of production and exchange. (de Selby, 2006)

. . . he turned to the social institutions of art deliberately because its character and structure lent itself to this sort of experiment. (de Selby, 2006)

His most caustic remark, though—and he apologized for possibly being reductive—was about the antimarket attitude of many twentieth-century avant-garde artists. He said he thought they were misguided and naïve. (de Selby, 2006)

One cannot write about Tino Sehgal’s works without committing a first anomaly, by attempting to give them a title, to describe or to list them, that is, to enter into rivalry with the form of the work itself, which is the affirmation of what it is. (Moisdon, 2003)

. . .a series of traps, which render the artist and the viewer complicit, more by means of play than by default, of the context in which they come about, of the place in which they are exhibited; of the mercantile system which will, in order to sell them, inevitably seek to extract them from the trap. (Moisdon, 2003)

This work opposes certain illusions of what one could call the militant modern avant-garde, whilst nevertheless observing the mechanisms by which the art work is a spectacle destined to sacralise merchandise, to dissimulate regulations/deregulations of a system that precisely never really succeeds in distinguishing itself. (Moisdon, 2003)

Even though his pieces sometime appear destined to reveal the relationship of dependence that links the artist to the economic system, they are nonetheless also completely autonomous. and disalienated from this critical and political perspective. (Moisdon, 2003)

He aims for a mental reality beyond a visual reality and rediscovers the implacable (which is not irony) of affirmation. (Moisdon, 2003)

Sehgal’s tautologies (This is good, This is propaganda) are true by definition, and serve to situate the exhibition spaces. (Moisdon, 2003)

Via these affirmations, which contain their own solution, he renders obvious the retreat of knowledge, expertise; this competence, which allows to determine the meaning of an enunciation. Tino Sehgal’s signature does not dominate the representation of the space, it doesn’t refer to him as a real individual; it represents a place which allows ample space for other, equivalent identities. By means of repetition of the signs of self, Tino Sehgal’s enunciations finally liberate the work from the character of the author . . . (Moisdon, 2003)

The museum guards and gallery staff are part of this system of communication; they are the instruments, the relays that allow the artist to pursue his demonstration. Neither subjects now objects, they simply form part of the material elements of a proposal that seeks to verify the post-Duchampian question of the museum as medium, to know whether it is the museum that makes the work or the work that makes the museum. (Moisdon, 2003)

Duchamp affirms that only the artist’s signature suffices; that it is stronger than the institution. With Buren, the signature is the institution; he has no need to place his signature. Tino Sehgal inscribes himself into this perspective, in producing a third voice, a displacement; a subversion of the historical function of the signature and the readymade. (Moisdon, 2003)

That which Tino Sehgal bestows upon the place of his signing, is precisely this space of invention, its necessity: why invent? Why even «present a world» which would «add to» reality? To produce a discourse, a fiction, a representation? Perhaps merely for the creation of employment. (Moisdon, 2003)

Sehgal stages situations in which the observer is directly addressed and required to react. He surprises his viewers without making unfair demands on them. (Frenzhel, 2005)

. . . one wonders more about the framework in which the actions take place than about the actions themselves. (Frenzhel, 2005)

“My work belongs in a museum.” (Frenzhel, 2005)

“What intrigues me in art is the tradition of Duchamp, the possibility that a thing can become different and at the same time remain the same. The objectness of art however, never interested me. Because every object-based artwork affirms the highly problematic mode of production – the transformation of material because it is produced in the same way.” (Frenzhel, 2005)

There are no photographs, no videos of his works – they are saved exclusively in the memory of the participants. (Frenzhel, 2005)

Sehgal wants to go beyond emptiness without losing himself in metaphysics. “For me it’s a matter of looking: what comes after emptiness, how can I create something beyond asceticism or pure negation? One element is certainly the empowerment of the viewer.” (Frenzhel, 2005)

“My work exists in the form of a potentiality – they are realised when the visitor enters. And what happens then is not entirely in my control.” (Frenzhel, 2005)

The tautological trap snapped shut: the discussion had become the work, which had the goal of becoming the object of a discussion. (Frenzhel, 2005)

“The thing can only work because there are certain conventions and the situation plays with these conventions.” (Frenzhel, 2005)

. . . situations in which the distinction between artist, work and viewer are blurred. At this point zero of the white cube logic, something happens which in its fleetingness defies an attempt to interpret; something that is significant but whose significance cannot be pinned down. (Frenzhel, 2005)

CREATIVE JOURNAL—Feminist Art History

It’s quite shocking, really, the way that women have been institutionally excluded from art history. Not only is it shocking, but the implications of this exclusion are eye-opening.

Building on a Foucaultian methodology, Linda Nochlin’s Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? (Nochlin, 1971) and Griselda Pollock’s Modernity and the Spaces of Femininity (Pollock, 1981) work to expose the systems involved in the above mentioned process of exclusion. Much more than Foucault’s rather dry and disengaged litanies in The Order of Things, It’s really driven home for me the way that positions are normalised – we think we act rationally but are really working to and through a set of prejudices.

The Nochlin and Pollock texts are from the early 90’s when Feminist Art Historical thinking was progressing beyond the rehabilitation of potentially hidden or forgotten female artists, into an area where the fundamental institutional structures would need to be addressed.

The realisation that applying the standards of “genius”, developed with respect to a male-oriented and produced system, to women was effectively playing into the hands of this patriarchal system by acknowledging and hence reinforcing those standards.

At this time it had become apparent to these writers that it was the system itself that, far from dispassionately judging the male and female artists equally, was biased in it’s very constitution towards one side. These “standards” relied on institutional systems that had been developed by and for the exclusion women – it was more or less impossible for women to attain to these standards.

Maybe I’m being naïve and maybe this is in the “nature” of things (the creation of any kind of standards), but for a group as large as a particular sex to be excluded in this way, and for this to go relatively unremarked upon for so long, firstly confronts you with the problems feminists were addressing at this moment in time, and secondly makes you think about what other exclusions may be in effect.

Thinking in terms of the judgment of artistic excellence that these particular exclusionary systems sought to address, it seems to me that in order to judge their effectiveness, far from looking at it from the point of view of their results (i.e. the artists that make it to the canon), one might first assess the ways to reach those standards and the systems that are in place to allow one to reach them. From there one may be able to identify the institutionally excluded groups by the inverse of those who are included.

Of course, one could always argue that any judgement excludes someone. In very real terms this is self-evident. However for a judgement to be “fair”, which perhaps is what is being striven for here (at least by feminists in this case and other excluded groups in other situations), it must be seen to have standards that are able to be applied equally and are applied equally in reality. That, however, is another story.

I have avoided getting into the whole what is “sex” and “gender” discussion (Irigary) as, at least for me, it would hopelessly complicate the matter. Maybe when I have a better grip of the argument . . .

  • Nochlin, L. (1971). Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? In Women, Art, and Power and Other Essays. London: Thames & Hudson, 1988. pp. 145–178.
  • Pollock, G. (1988). Modernity and the Spaces of Femininity. In Mirzoeff, N. The Visual Culture Reader. London: Routledge, 1998. pp. 74–84.

BOOKS—About books and potentiality

My partner asked me about my obsession with books tonight, and perhaps it bears some explanation.

Books, for me, are not just about their content, their words and the knowledge that can be gained form those words.

They are much more about their potential.

I love buying books. But I am well aware that I may never read all of them – I expect it would be impossible to do so. However, to see them all together makes me feel encouraged, I could possibly read them all. I am genuinely interested in the author’s works, otherwise I would not buy the books, but it’s enough perhaps to own the book, not to actually read it.

Hence it’s the effect of the book’s structure to create the space for potential. The physical make-up, the parts of the text – all treated as objects holding meaning beyond their meaning.

Each book is precious as an object, but—at a certain level—it is also equivalent and replaceable by every other book.

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