When Tino Sehgal has his way at the Walker Art Center, beginning December 12, you won’t find any labels tagged to his work. You also won’t find a catalogue, written biography or paper trail of any kind. Born 31 years ago in London and now living in Berlin, Sehgal has made a quick mark in the contemporary arts by intentionally leaving no mark.
He doesn’t create objects, present video or stage performances (he also doesn’t allow any recording of his work). Rather, Sehgal calls on casts of characters – front-desk receptionists, security guards, tour guides, assorted performers – to play out his “ situations.” For his Walker debut, Sehgal is planning five “ live” pieces involving more than 50 accomplices from the Walker staff and elsewhere. These singers, dancers and other artists will act as interpreters, confronting visitors from the moment they step to the admissions desk until they leave the museum.
Sehgal once commented that his work depends upon “ action/reaction.” He wants people encountering his pieces not only to react in the moment but consider their reactions, hoping his work inspires questions about the creative process and the cult status of object-based art. The New York Times wrote about Sehgal in November. Regardless of your response, Sehgal promises you’ll make a personal imprint on a given piece.
“ There’s no possibility not to act, so everything you do, even if it doesn’t seem like acting, produces an effect,” Sehgal told the online journal Kulture Flash, in January 2007.
“ In its classical form, the museum views you as a subject,” he said. “ There was a democratic process that constructed culture and, when you entered the museum, you received this culture, just as you would receive orders from the king. I don’t think that’s the case in our society. We are constantly constructing culture. So when you enter my work, you are also constructing it.”
Sehgal cut his artistic teeth primarily through dance–he trained a decade ago under the French choreographer Jérme Bel, an association that also exposed him to the minimalist, improvisational dancer Xavier LeRoy and the avant-garde composer John Zorn. Both artists informed Sehgal’s fledgling esthetic, encouraging Sehgal to pave level ground with his performers and his audience. Sehgal has always targeted his work for museum spaces rather than theatrical stages.
“ If somebody is interested in acquiring one of my pieces, they can,” Sehgal told Kulture Flash. “ Museums, for example, could show them for years. It would take a lot of work, but restoring a painting also takes a lot of work.”