Tate Modern

These Associations – Turbine Hall, Tate Modern.

In visiting the Tate Modern for the Edvard Munch exhibition, I chanced fortuitously upon a very different use of the gallery’s space.

Berlin-based artist Tino Sehgal was commissioned by the Tate to utilise the Turbine Hall for a work entitled ‘These Associations’ which runs until October 28th, 2012.

The piece consists of what the gallery describe as “an assembly of participants”; around 70 men and women who work four-hour shifts.

They are paid a modest sum of between £8 and £9 per hour so I think it’s safe to say that the primary motivation isn’t financial.

Sehgal calls this work a ‘constructed situation’ rather than adopting the more pretentious and off-putting term of ‘performance art’.

One of the key aims of the project is to explore the characteristics of groups. The individuals’ interaction with each other is non verbal unless you count the occasional chanting – when I was there they all said ‘electric’ in unison, prolonging the word to make it sound like a mantra.

Tino Sehgal

They sit or stand still, walk or run at various speeds; often it is as if they are engaged in an elaborate playground game which they are making up as they go along. The lighting changes frequently and sometimes is turned off completely.

Visitors can watch their activities from the walkway overlooking the space or else mingle with them. If you’re brave enough to do the latter you could become part of the ‘performance’. You may be approached, as I was, by one of the participants who will tell you a personal story without any “can you spare a few minutes” preliminaries.

A friend had told me what to expect but it was still an odd experience. You are under no pressure to respond, all you need do is listen. Nevertheless, I felt moved to interact with this man, named William, and we ended up having an energising conversation about family secrets and what we find out about people when they have died.

The stories that these people tell are, I would guess, rehearsed but they are not actors. The one I heard seemed like a mixture of a real memory and fantasy, but there was no way of knowing if it was true or not and, ultimately, this hardly matters. The mere fact of being privy to another individual’s personal reflections was intriguing enough in itself.

It’s sad to reflect that, in our daily lives, people who speak to you in such an open way are usually drunk, disturbed or desperately lonely. Perhaps only strangers on a train or plane may take a chance to reveal some innermost thoughts safe in the knowledge that the likelihood of meeting this person again are slim.

The mixture of choreography and spontaneity means that Seghal’s work can be viewed as an eccentric spectacle or experienced as an original example of group dynamics and individual interaction. Either way it’s a fascinating conversation piece.