Moi je dis, moi je dis…
by Stéphanie Moisdon, 2003
One cannot write about Tino Sehgal’s works without committing a first anomaly, by attempting to give them a title, to describe or to list them, that is, to enter into rivalry with the form of the work itself, which is the affirmation of what it is. These works can be understood as a series of traps, which render the artist and the viewer complicit, more by means of play than by default, of the context in which they come about, of the place in which they are exhibited; of the mercantile system which will, in order to sell them, inevitably seek to extract them from the trap. Sehgal’s pieces do not reflect any of an artwork’s characteristics for the simple reason that, most often, the difference between what is a work of art and that which isn’t, is solely a formal difference. At the heart of the processes and exchange values, he unifies concept and production, the multiple and the unique, aura and demythologisation, and allegory and alienation in a precarious equilibrium. This work opposes certain illusions of what one could call the militant modern avant-garde, whilst nevertheless observing the mechanisms by which the art work is a spectacle destined to sacralise merchandise, to dissimulate regulations/deregulations of a system that precisely never really succeeds indistinguishing itself. Tino Sehgal does not seek to identify himself with an artist, a poet, a playwright or an economist. He seeks most of all to dis-identify himself of everything, to disconcert the definitions of art and to see what, amongst forms and activities, is indissociable from thought. Even if Marcel Broodthaers constitutes a kind of poetic reference, Sehgal does not necessarily consider with that same melancholy that art has entered an irreversible era of the devaluation of meaning, accomplished at the benefit of the law, of the mere value of exchange. Even though his pieces sometimes appear destined to reveal the relationship of dependence that links the artist to the economic system, they are nonetheless also completely autonomous, and disalienated from this critical and political perspective. Tino Sehgal seeks to discover up to which point the artist remains master or slave of his own strategies of visibility, enunciation, commercialisation; in which way he withdraws from and plunges back into banality. He aims for a mental reality beyond a visual reality and rediscovers the implacable (which is not irony) of affirmation. A sort of objective writing (against subjectivity), a machine for saying what is there, without excess, to say what is seen, a space without objects which is not a void, because the void is another formal invention, that is ideological and restrictive. By entitling his exhibition at Galerie Jan Mot Le Plein, he returns to this misunderstanding of the void, and suggests a contradictory and antagonistic reading of the space. Because speech, singing, movements, replace the necessity for the presence of things; which doesn’t mean that these things have disappeared but that they could just as well be absent. He doesn’t install stagings, but arrangements, devices of which the implications multiply and develop in a programmed manner over various incidents; exterior, contingent events: the institution’s opening hours, the duration of the exhibition, the agreement made with the guards, the presence of the surrounding artworks, the circulation in the space. Sehgal’s tautologies (This is good, This is propaganda) are true by definition, and serve to situate the exhibition spaces. He envisages art as such and takes as material the components, the techniques of dispersal, but also its formats, its conventions, its true or false hypotheses. In this register of tautology, Sehgal is interested in the gap between the signature and the entitled work, between designation and the errors of enunciation. The fact of not carrying out the actions himself and providing instructions to executioners, allows him to bifurcate the stakes of all classification: of the performance as category and of the conventions of involvement (the body of the artist presented as a guarantee of his investment), which provokes a sort of liberation for the spectator, a cancellation both of identification and mythical projections. Now that Duchamp’s irony and Warhol’s aura no longer suffice to maintain, under new conditions, the paradigm of the readymade, the question today is to find out which instance is still in a position to declare authenticity or inauthenticity. The signature with Sehgal, his proclamation, is this possible instance which indicates and affirms a determined reading, an order founded in oneself (« This is good » equals saying « this is art »). Via these affirmations, which contain their own solution, he renders obvious the retreat of knowledge, expertise; this competence, which allows to determine the meaning of an enunciation. Tino Sehgal’s signature does not dominate the representation or the space, it doesn’t refer to him as a real individual; it represents a place which allows ample space for other, equivalent identities. By means of repetition of the signs of self, Tino Sehgal’s enunciations finally liberate the work from the character of the author and vice versa and testify this rupture in front of the public. In his interventions, the inflationist repetition of the signature, the title and its distribution within the space is in correlation, paradoxically, with a kind of negation: absence of the work, and of its author or of the artist. The signature only signs its own repetition, even if this formal absence doesn’t necessarily signify a complete refusal, but a manner of conceiving communication as a symbolic circular exchange of questions and answers, of words and of objects. The museum guards and gallery staff are part of this system of communication; they are the instruments, the relays that allow the artist to pursue his demonstration. Neither subjects nor objects, they simply form part of the material elements of a proposal that seeks to verify the post-Duchampian question of the museum as medium, to know whether it is the museum that makes the work or the work that makes the museum. Duchamp affirms that only the artist’s signature suffices; that it is stronger than the institution. With Buren, the signature is the institution; he has no need to place his signature. Tino Sehgal inscribes himself into this perspective, in producing a third voice, a displacement; a subversion of the historical function of the signature and the readymade. With him usage has the upper hand over syntax, when a phrase succeeds in making itself understood as a proper noun. We know that the artistic discourse, at least in its most modern tradition, veers above all towards a critical discourse, that has been held in the interdependence of an affirmation – a judgement – and of a denotation – an object (whether this is sensitive or not). In this obliged point of encounter, a commonplace has imposed itself, a topos, a place for invention. That which Tino Sehgal bestows upon the place of his signing, is precisely this space of invention, its necessity: why invent? Why even « present a world » which would « add to » reality? To produce a discourse, a fiction, a representation? Perhaps merely for the creation of employment.
Works by Tino Sehgal (°1976, lives in Berlin) have been shown this summer at Manifesta 4, Frankfurt and in the exhibition ‘I promise, it’s political’ at the Ludwig Museum, Köln. Le plein is the first solo exhibition of the artist in a gallery. Tino Sehgal won the art prize of the Bremen Kunsthalle.
Translation by Kate Mayne