Tino Sehgal, Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, London

I only vaguely knew Tino Sehgal's work before his commission appeared in the Turbine Hall as part of Tate Modern's Unilever series, so I went along with no real sense of what to expect. From that launching off point, I was pretty amazed to find myself standing in the Turbine Hall as random people - dressed the same as everyone else - ran up and down the hall. Played tag. Charged about as if looking for someone they'd lost in a crowd. Stood still chanting/ singing. Lay down on the floor. Walked in slow lines military style up and down the hall. Then, a man sat down and started talking to me and my family. He went straight into a childhood memory, talking to us as if he (a) knew us and (b) was responding to something intimate we'd asked him. When we started chatting to him as well, he went with it seamlessly. Then the rain - it was pouring outside - lashed hard on the roof and the lights in the Turbine hall cut out. Total darkness except for some safety lights. Silhouettes of visitors up above loomed down over us. The man disappeared and he joined the rest of those hired by Sehgal, in chanting a refrain about "Electricity". It was eerie like a cult gathering. Or a religious ceremony. Then there was  more running around. And someone else came and sat with us and also launched straight into a childhood memory. It seemed Sehgal was saying we bond most over childhood memories because they're more open, less clear and more universal: pets and moving school/ home formed the subject  matter several times. 

The strangest thing was that after one or two of these encounters, you felt somehow ignored and rejected if when they started another round of choosing people to go over to and talk to/ with, nobody chose you. And conversely, you felt "part of something" when one of Sehgal's storytellers did choose to talk to you. Why?, you wondered. Did they feel connected to you somehow and wanted to explore that? Was it your aura? Your facial expression? The way you were dressed? What made them choose you? 

It was unclear if the storytellers were telling genuine personal stories (i.e these things did happen to them) or if they were making them up. Or if Tino Sehgal had given them stories from other people to tell? Sometimes, it seemed that they were real stories and sometimes it didn't.

I found the work deceptively simple. And quite haunting. We ended up going back the following weekend for a second time and it was just as powerful, despite knowing what to expect this time. The second time didn't follow an identical 'staged' formula though. Some storytellers were the same, most were different. What they did overlapped at times with the first time we went, but was mostly different. 

My favourite conversation was with a storyteller who sat down and launched into a monologue about how her parents moved to Australia when she was thirteen and how when they got there and she started her new school, one of the classrooms when she walked into it, smelled exactly the way their family home back in the U.K used to smell at Christmas time. There was something otherworldly about both her and the conversation that followed and my family and I were sad we couldn't carry on talking to her. But she left us quickly, running suddenly up the Turbine Hall. 

The work really made me think about how nobody in London tends to talk much to anybody else. The cliche of the awkward silence on the Tube. And on the buses, too. The lack of reaching out and connecting. The lack of formal interaction, even, that you get in Paris, saying 'Hello' and 'Thank you', for instance, when you enter and leave a shop. Sehgal's work for the Turbine Hall is quietly touching - I can't think of the last time in London during an afternoon, three or four complete strangers came over and start talking intimately to me. And how surprising it was that of those three or four strangers who came over each time we went to experience the work, there was always one person who each of us connected with right away (my daughter would connect with one, me with another and so on). Which made me think how many personal connections we miss everyday in London. If you're intrigued, you can check out The Unilever Series: Tino Sehgal at Tate Modern, until October 28th 2012. 


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