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.
This would seem to reflect the fact that the pieces themselves only really exist in the first place by virtue of their audience – there is a great reliance on interaction between the interpreters and the visitor in the making of the experience of the work. The artist creates a set of rules for the situation, which the interpreters are asked to follow and interpret as they see fit – the use of the word ‘interpreters’ by the artist to describe the people employed to make the piece is an indication of this aspect. These rules can be more or less proscriptive, depending on the piece. In some pieces they allow for a large amount of variation and improvisation on the part of the interpreters and leaving ample space for input by the audience to serve as a guide for the piece.
Sehgal relates the decision to avoid objects and documentation back to his early work in dance, where “one does something without any material product,” resulting in a ‘thing’ which can still be talked about or thought about. (Sehgal, quoted in Frenzhel, 2005) This choice is grounded in an critique of the methods of production at play in the world at large and the art-world in particular. Sehgal is firmly against the existing methods of production of objects, a process he sees as merely “affirm[ing] the highly problematic mode of production – the transformation of material.” (Moisdon, 2003)
Why is this a problem? Sehgal points to society’s attachment to technical progress:
. . . development means technology’s transformation of natural resources into ever more refined things. But we already have far more than we need, and the mode of production is not sustainable . . . (Frenzhel, 2005)
Sehgal positions as an ethical stance, his practice is a way to avoid adding more objects to the world, against our consumer society. To counter this he works to incorporate the activity of ‘deproduction’ in his work.
Deproduction represents “the possibility of simultaneously making and not making something.” (Bishop, 2005) Sehgal sees his work’s transient nature and lack of residue as a demonstration of this activity. But it’s important not to take the concept of deproduction in isolation – the activity is impossible without production itself and Sehgal points out that “’deproduction’ in itself isn’t of particular interest to me but the simultaneity of production and deproduction is.” This simultaneity reveals itself in the process of the “transforming of actions” (rather than the “transformation of material”) within his works:
If one does a movement or sings or speaks, then one is obviously producing something. But immediately as a note ends or the movement stops, it is gone: it deproduces itself. (Sehgal, quoted in Griffin, 2005)
Through his pieces Sehgal presents this simultaneity by the various actions that the interpreters are asked to enact and the relations these set up between them and the audience.
The lack of documentary evidence from this practice of production/deproduction can be seen as an effect of this work. They purposefully “evade documentation at all stages” through the construction of “a polished, impregnable closed system” which is described as a “motor” for this effect – some kind of active agent set up by Sehgal within the structure of the work:
The ostensible motor behind these deceptively simple works is the desire for a regime of total immateriality. (Bishop, 2005)