A mysterous door leading to unexpected situations: the elusive Tino Sehgal has come to Avignon

He doesn’t allow for his works of art to be photographed. And there are no other traces left, as well. Tino Sehgal must be one of the most elusive artists in contemporary art. Over the past few days I’ve become an addict of his This Situation, here in Avignon. Everyday I spend some time listening to conversations taking unexpected turns at Salle Franchet. As I said: no pictures allowed. That’s why you’ll have to do with a picture of… the door leading to that situation.

Welcome to this situation! It does take some courage to walk through that door. As you enter Salle Franchet, you are greeted by six performers, welcoming you with those four words and a smile. But just after your heart has skipped a beat, they avert their eyes and you realize: I’m safe. And you look for a place to sit down, along those four walls, among the other spectators.

Then one of the six performers utters (in French): ‘In 1950, someone said…‘ and he or she cites a quote, as to give everyone present in that small Salle Franchet some food for thought. Then one of the other performers picks up on it and starts a little philosophical discussion. Or they continue a previous conversation. Sometimes a long silence follows. Then, for instance, a member of the audience breaks it and takes part in the conversation too.

And then somebody new walks in. The performers breathe in and then breathe out with ‘Welcome to this situation’. They take a few steps backwards, walking in a circle, and then take on poses that imitate ancient sculptures or paintings (Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe). And then they start talking again, all the while moving very slowly, as if they were astronauts in outer space.

Once in a while, they say: Tino Sehgal, This Situation, 2007. Indeed, British-German artist Tino Sehgal has brought this performance to Berlin, Paris and New York already (for renowned New York magazine critic Jerry Saltz it was the best exhibition he encountered in 2008). It has been bought by Centre Pompidou (Paris), in 2009,  leading to much controversy. In Avignon Seghal’s ‘players’ perform This Situation day after day, from 12.00 till 18.00 (!).

It’s an intellectual and artistic game that I find utterly fascinating. Somebody (Tino Sehgal) decides upon a couple of rules that have to be followed, some players are called in and you have a work of art; a performance. There’s a framework, but what will happen is unpredictable, to a great extent. Of course: the quotes are well-chosen, so the conversations will always tackle serious issues (ethical, philosophical…). But it never becomes too heavy.

During the few occasions that I’ve sat in on This Situation the conversation ranged from French singer Joe Dassin, the word status (as in Facebook status), a three-day mystical experience (can one have an orgasm that lasts that long?), the effect of morphine, to the question whether all good will come from the next generation or the issue if this world would be better off with more women at the top.

It makes you think, it makes you smile. Fascinating stuff. And it makes you wonder what this critically acclaimed artist will come up with in 2012 at Tate Modern, London. Believe it or not, but Sehgal has been commissioned to create a site specific work for that huge Turbine Hall as part of the Unilever Series.

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