Minsheng Art Museum, Bldg F, No.570 West Huaihai Road, Shanghai
16 July – 14 August, 2011
In amongst the videos and installations by Zhang Peili at the Minsheng Art Museum (which I reviewed here last week), I also had a surprise encounter with the work of Tino Sehgal, whose works of performed discussions as institutional critique added an unusual perspective to the display of new media work.
Under the collective title “Taking the Stage Over,” curator Biljana Ciric has organised a year-long series of events for Shanghai. From July to September she has arranged for Sehgal to present pieces at MOCA Shanghai, then the Minsheng Art Museum, and finally the Rockbund Art Museum. On my visit to the Minsheng, “This is New” and “This is Exchange” had been “installed” in the reception area and in one of the galleries.
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.
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.