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…