You Talkin’ to Me? Some thoughts on Tino Seghal at Tate Modern

I’ve been thinking a lot about this new ‘artwork’ in the Turbine Hall.

The Associations, by Tino Seghal, Tate Modern

It disturbs me, this idea of strangers in my face, invading my space – what Adrian Searle, in his admiring review, calls “unasked for intimacies”, and Claire Bishop, also in The Guardian and less admiringly, sees as part of the neo-liberal agenda: ‘no choice at all’ masquerading as ‘freedom to choose’.
Forced participation.
I have, by inclination, some sympathy with the latter view.

Then this:
On a very busy Tuesday evening, a middle-aged man committed suicide by throwing himself from the sixth floor of Tate Modern, right in front of the main entrance.
Note the top Twitter comment: ” outrageous performance (my emphasis)”.
Difficult not to view it as ‘performance’; why then, why there, of all places?
For the witnesses to this appalling act, it must indeed have been an ‘unasked for intimacy’, this imposing on others, strangers, of a profound, personal, distress.
Of course, there were images; there always are.

I’m asking myself, how is this act different from what was concurrently passing as ‘art’ in the Turbine Hall, if not only in degree?
Private drama as public spectacle.
I’m reminded of when some ‘artist’ -can’t remember her/his name – caused a shitstorm by declaring the attack on the Twin Towers the ‘greatest artwork of the century’.
It’s not enough any more to be a quiet observer, we have to be/be made active participants, continually involved in everything, even if it’s just by taking the ‘I was there’ photo and posting it on Facebook and Twitter.

Is this a good thing?
It’s all very well, talking about ‘breaking down boundaries’, ‘democratic, participatory art’, and so forth; what I’m increasingly seeing this sort of thing as is pressure, pressure to be ‘in the loop’, to ‘belong’, to ‘get it’; pressure to endorse an unmediated, insidious, ultimately exploitative form of ‘artistic’ confessionalism where all, indiscriminately, is played out in the public domain.

“We’re in the middle of things. It is marvellous”. ~ Adrian Searle

Is it?
I feel like running a mile from this Tate show and everything it appears to stand for and do. (That probably says a great deal about me; something like ‘sociopath’.)
Besides, Mr Sehgal and all your minimum-pay ‘assistants’, the way I’m seeing it, if indeed this is ‘art’, on a bright, sunshine-y evening in London Town, you were comprehensively, and tragically, trumped.


(I apologise if this piece is less cogent than it should be. As I say, I have been thinking about this ‘artwork’, and very much still am. All thoughts, contributions, objections gratefully received.)

29 July: Another (very positive) review by Laura Cumming. It’s starting to look like I’m just a joyless misanthrope…

The old fella just made an interesting point re the Sheffield ‘migrant’ in LC’s review: perhaps southerners are so entranced by the ‘show’ because, as a rule, the folks Down South do not speak to strangers. Address a stranger on the Tube and she/he will think you certifiably insane. So there’s a novelty value.
Here Up North such intercourse is totally acceptable, but within limits: “Looks like rain again…” is fine; anything more personal and you’re a ‘nosy bugger’.
As a northern ex-Londoner, I’m caught between the two…

15 thoughts on “You Talkin’ to Me? Some thoughts on Tino Seghal at Tate Modern

    • Hi Sam! Thanks for dropping by. Reading back, perhaps ‘unmediated’ isn’t the best choice of word (I wrote in a rush); maybe ‘unconsidered’, ‘unexamined’ are closer to what I was trying to get at. Dunno… still chewing it all over.

  1. The faux confessional rushing up to me – no thanks. But I’d have to experience it to understand if I felt it was art or not.

    • ‘Faux’ – yes, absolutely; intensely off-putting to me. I instinctively feel there is something very manipulative and cynical about the whole enterprise, but you’re right, one should of course experience it before rushing to judgement.
      Thanks, Deanne – if you do manage to see it (be it?) I’d love to hear what you think.

  2. Odd. What is the difference between this exhibit and a town square? I’m rather confused by the whole thing. Aren’t their fast food restaurants like this? A few years ago I read a book regarding privacy. At the beginning of the 19th century there was very little. Unless you were wealthy you and your family were packed into small apartments. 2 or 3 children to each bedroom. Or whole families living in one flat. (Diaries became very important as an outlet for private thoughts.) After world war 2, people gained more space, more privacy. This lack of intimacy with others was considered a luxury. With the internet, cell phones, cameras etc we have returned to a very public world. Every step we take is monitored, measured, quantified. Not having to talk to others is a form of intimacy. With our own thoughts.

  3. I don’t get it. It’s a big empty room and there are actors who come up to you and… just talk to you? Are you supposed to interact with them, like there’s a story you need to tease out of them? This is very confusing, and I think I would also be intensely uncomfortable being there.

    • Yes Tim! You’re not missing anything – that’s all there is to it. Apparently it’s up to you if and how you interact with these actory jazz-handy types; a punch on the nose seems tempting.

  4. Glennie Bee,
    Seghal is the real deal. It almost pains me to say it because I, too, am very suspicious. But I can only speak from experience. Saw, and naturally took part in, a performance/happening/exhibition at the Marian Goodman Gallery a couple years back. It was charming and authentic. The scale was significantly smaller though and as these things rachet up in scale and bombast, I fear something might be lost. The critical dialogue is electric though and if he is only a catalyst for thought, then even that might be success enough in my mind.

    • Hi Mario! Excellent observations – thank you. Yes, I think the scale of the Tate happening is one of the things that puts me off, to be honest, and I think I would be far more ‘comfortable’ with something more intimate and with less potential for histrionics. Of course, that says more about me than it does about the ‘artwork’, and also raises interesting questions about where the work ‘ends’: is the debate we’re having about it, the reactions we’re feeling, even from afar, part of it? A catalyst not only for physical interaction but, as you say, thought.
      Thanks, Mario… you’re making me think about it differently…. (that’s ‘art’!)

      • Yes! I think you hit the nail on the head. The conversation we’re having IS part of the art and in that I confess to finding it successful! The thing that ultimately makes it work in my mind is the sheer sincerity of the endeavor. There might be pretension but it’s authentic and devoid of sarcasm or irony. These last two might just be the greatest cancer in the artworld. Peace out, Word up!

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