What characterizes these artistic endeavors is a curiosity concerning the performative side of how meaning is generated; the set of rules under which word and action/doing are linked and constitute reality in a specific work of art. These rules are not contested through symbolic art objects, but in the design of very particular situations in which time is one of the prime materials. The translation of the performative from the theoretical context of linguistics into the art context has come to imply a focus on what the artwork does, how it is staged and what kind of relation it creates with the viewer. The word itself, performative, originally comes from linguistics, defining an utterance that designates action and constitutes reality, in contrast to the constative, which reports. Both aspects are part and parcel of any artwork and utterance. Therefore it does not make sense to speak of a performative artwork, but one can speak of the way an artwork utters and does something: “To speak of a performative artwork is (therefore) tautological, because there is no such thing as a non-performative artwork. As every artistic ‘utterance’ has a form and content (even if the content lies in being meaningless), every artwork has a performative dimension: it gathers attention, generates effects, produces experiences and arranges bodies in space that make these experiences.”
Co-Thinking of Museum and Theater Inter-subjective, non-interchangeable situations are presented in museums today. Artwork and event are not opposites anymore, but integrated aspects of a contemporary artwork, questioning or establishing relations between people, space and objects. Here Dorothea von Hantelmann makes a point that the way to constitute and make knowledge exhibitional through materialization in itself is a political issue. Every medium has certain production conditions - materially and symbolically - and way of entering the social. The social element in the presentation of art has increased importance here, because the production in situ and in actu of presentation is in focus, a live negotiation of meaning. Concerning the performative aspect of contemporary art, Hantelmann continues: “It produces and reproduces the central categories that make up society: subjects and objects, as well as rules of behavior that set these into relationship with one another.”4The point for her is to ask: “What kind of discursive potential does the exhibition situation produce as a specific framework for the perception of art in an institutional space?” The answer suggested is the co-thinking of the museum and theater, where the museum – inspired by theater - reflects the projected identities in a more transparent way, and here: “(...) theater comes within the scope of visual arts. That is, as an art form that understands the gap between the artistic phenomenon and its reception to be a social place occurring here-and-now, creating a fundamentally heterogeneous space that rejects any one-dimensional categorization and, by so doing, allows us to reflect on the categorization system.”
When a museum hosts an exhibition like Rirkrit Tiravanja’s, A Retrospective, or of Tino Sehgal’s, Journal # 6, it takes on some functions of the theater and becomes a place where social power relations are mirrored, where reproduction and negotiation of society transpires. Most museums are still accustomed to knowledge and esthetic experience being transported through objects. As institutions, museums are set up to host visitors at certain hours of the day and still struggle with the former identity as mausoleum, (“a large burial chamber, usually above ground” or “a monument to dead things”). Nevertheless, at least a handful of museums and contemporary art institutions are beginning to experiment and even sometimes master the moment.
"There's a tradition to that. If you look into the writings of 18th- and 19th-century British social reformists, there was a belief -- which relates to Foucault's concept of governmentality -- that the museum was a machine to shape behaviour. These authors don't write one word about art-objects. They talk about the effect the museum has on shaping the lower class. It's all about what the museum should do, practically -- you can't let people of the lower class in freely without a guided tour, for example, because they'll get drunk. With This Success or This Failure and Carsten Holler's slides at the Turbine Hall, we've come full-circle. We are now so civilised and so contained that we can actually afford ourselves the luxury of being loud and of having these kinds of experiences in a museum setting. So I think that both his and my pieces are a celebration of this point in time."
Direct experience is an essential component in the work of Tino Sehgal. Over the past seven years he has been known for making art without actually making any objects. His working method involves organizing and instructing people (adults, teenagers or children) to use their body and/or voice to construct “situations” that can be observed and experienced. Arguing for a conception of art that ventures beyond its own materiality, Sehgal’s work proposes a dynamic take on the idea of the “expanded concept of art,” arguing for a process of production that revolves around exchanges and transformations of thoughts, as he has said, “rethinking the notion of a product as a transformation of actions not as a transformation of materials.”
In 2005 the Stedelijk Museum acquired Instead of allowing some thing to rise up to your face dancing bruce and dan and other things (2000), the earliest work by Tino Sehgal (b. 1967, London). In this live work a slowly moving human figure is to be seen assuming poses on the floor that refer to positions of the human body in early films and videotapes by Bruce Nauman (Wall/Floor Positions, 1968, Tony Sinking into the Floor, Face Up and Face Down and Elke Allowing the Floor to Rise Up over Her, Face Up, both from 1973) and Dan Graham (Roll, 1970).
Wall/Floor Positions, 1968
Bruce McLean Pose Work for Plinths I 1971
Sehgal currently lives and works in Berlin, Germany.
Kiss is a sculptural and contemplative work executed by two dancers who move slowly and consistently through a prescribed choreography. Both real and constructed, representational and artificial, Kiss evokes a state of absorption that immediately catches viewers and draws them into a subtle engagement with their own personal experience of intimacy.
(This Progress, 2006) four generations discussing the relative merits of progress
For his last in a trilogy of annual exhibitions at the ICA, alternatively titled This Success or This Failure (2007), the London-born, Berlin-based artist relinquished the lower gallery to a group of schoolchildren and invited them to spend each day playing without the aid of objects.
“I would say the museum is about death, because it is about overcoming death; that it is about prolonging life, so it is double sided. Personally, I’m interested in proposing different notions of history, presence, eternity (…)”.10 Crucial to him is “…how these ideas come into society and perform themselves through this society. They are there even though they are not there anymore.”11 In this work the artist reenacts what he later in the interview calls an “ideology of doing.”
In the last couple of years, Tino Sehgal has developed his praxis towards instructing other people to enact his pieces - actors, dancers, opera singers, children, and guards. In doing so, he has further distanced himself from the traditional institutionalized categories of art, making no objects, documentation, written instructions or contracts with collectors. Moreover, he doesn’t sign his works of art (in print on paper); and furthermore, by not performing them himself, he rejects the supposed authenticity created in performance art, relating the work of art to the artist ‘embodied-self’. The instructions are given purely “body to body.” In a way, Sehgal merely integrates and reflects the existing communication system of the museum as a medium.12 However, it takes more than the consciousness of the museum system—and its information economy implemented by the neo-liberal market economy—to influence the museum as a medium.
Tino Sehgal presented the exhibition Journal # 6 in the newly renovated and expanded Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, Holland. In the exhibition space where he presented his work, the collection was on display as usual. Having seen his works in other contexts; I was curious what Sehgal’s This is… would point at in the museum. Entering the van Abbemuseum I missed all pieces by Sehgal to begin with - in my hasty pace (this time I wanted to dismiss the collection and go right to this show). None of the guards seemed to react, however, and I passed an empty room in the collection, which I thought had to do with the new director taking over and works being installed. I noticed there was a guard in that space who was wearing great make up. From the next room, I heard a voice singing for a few seconds and went back, stood blank, aha, then left the room in slow motion. Yes. The guard was singing and this time, I could hear it: “This is propaganda.” After a short breathe the guard announced, “Tino Sehgal, This is propaganda, 2002, courtesy Jan Mot Gallery.”Only some rooms had guards. Passing an “unattended” room with an unattended piece, I actually started looking at the exhibited works and forgot about the guards till I felt somebody moving behind me, turned to see a tall guard finishing large circular movements with his arms while jumping,
he froze and said, “Tino Sehgal. This is good, 2001. Courtesy the Artist.” Through the self-referential act of stating, “this is good” this piece reflected the tautological power of conveying a judgment (– so often done in the art context). The first time I saw this piece it was performed by Dorothea von Hantelmann in a university lecture in Berlin. It worked in both contexts, only here at the Van Abbemuseum “This is good” echoed a bit longer evoking all the primer judgments performed by curators putting together the collection in the museum: pointing out ideas and setting “criteria” for which ones should make their way through society (like certain styles of Dance also have).13 In the oeuvre of Tino Sehgal: “…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.”
It’s not exactly right to call Rikrit Tiravanija a "visual" artist. As he says, "it is not what you see that is important but what takes place between people." Tiravanija does not produce works so much as situations or events. Tiravanija’s art does not, strictly speaking, belong to him; it is not an object that anyone can possess. He sets a stage, offering an opportunity or a possibility -- the rest he leaves up to those who decide to participate.
An itinerant practically since birth, Tiravanija is always on the move and shows no signs of settling down. Travel, and especially the exchange between people while traveling, is essential to his work. Tiravanija’s life has been a perpetual negotiation of different cultures: he was born in Buenos Aires and raised in Thailand, Ethiopia, and Canada; he was educated in Chicago and New York; and his work has been exhibited across Europe, Asia, North America, and South Africa. He was constantly adjusting to different languages and customs, different modes of communication and interaction. As a result, he has a remarkable ability to strike up an intimate relation with anyone and an inherent love of dialogue, conversation, and human interaction.
Tiravanija has taken this talent and transformed it into art. Once he arranged furniture in an exhibition space, set up a temporary kitchen, cooked curry, and chatted with visitors while the gallery’s everyday business carried on all around him. In the Cologne Kunstverein Gallery, he created a makeshift rendition of his New York apartment, including a kitchen and bathroom, and simply invited people to set up camp. Equipped with camping gear and a portable stove, he rode his bike for five days across Spain and attracted crowds of people to visit and converse with him.
Everywhere he goes, Tiravanija creates a space of interaction and allows art to unfold as life, as communication, as "what happens between people." Perhaps no one else has so definitively destroyed the border between art and life -- he has integrated the flux of his itinerant life into the sedentary space of some the world’s most reputable galleries and museums.
For Rirkrit Tiravanija, art is what you eat. The New York–and–Chiang Mai–based Thai artist became famous in 1992 when he made Untitled 1992 (Free), a sculpture–performance–guerrilla action wherein he emptied out the office of the 303 Gallery in Soho and installed a makeshift kitchen, complete with fridge, hot plates, rice steamers, tables, and stools. He then cooked Thai curry; anyone could drop in, serve him- or herself, and eat. For free.
Back then, it was disconcerting and thrilling to be this casual in a gallery, to go from passive viewing to active participation. With this simple gesture, Tiravanija (pronounced Tea-rah-vah-nit) seemed to bridge a mind-body gap that often exists in Western art. He was a medicine man who literalized art’s primitive functions: sustenance, healing, and communion. Subsequently, Tiravanija repeated this cooking-as-art sculpture all over the world—so often, in fact, that by the late nineties he had almost branded himself as the happy Thai guy who cooks. Intriguingly, this was reminiscent of Andy Warhol, who allowed himself be seen as a village idiot. The disordered, highly social situations Tiravanija set up mimicked Warhol’s Factory scene, too.
Although Tiravanija’s art never contained the Factory’s out-of-control self-destruction and exploration of sexual mores, there has been sex. In 1999, Tiravanija built a full-scale wooden replica of his East Village apartment in the Gavin Brown Gallery. This sculpture included a working kitchen, a bedroom, and a bathroom and was open 24 hours a day. All that summer, people lived, ate, and partied there. Some had sex; one person told me he had group sex there. I went dozens of times and only had lunch. But a lot of Eros emanates from Tiravanija’s chaos.
If you want to feel the love, have a free meal, and possibly chat up Matt Dillon, David Byrne, Cindy Sherman, or Rufus Wainwright—all of whom have dined here—go to David Zwirner’s West 19th Street gallery, where you can partake or just gawk at others in a life-size wooden re-creation of Tiravanija’s original 303 Gallery potlatch-piece. The original tables, stools, and fridge are here, as is the detritus from fifteen years ago (wrapped, natch). In this karaoke ghost-sculpture, Tiravanija explores what happens when we try to step into the same river twice.
Untitled is a time machine that can transport you to 1992, an edgy moment when the art world was crumbling, money was scarce, and artists like Tiravanija were in the nascent stages of combining Happenings, performance art, John Cage, Joseph Beuys, and the do-it-yourself ethos of punk. Meanwhile, a new art world was coming into being. This is the rub: Many of the people who were forming this new world, and who were trying to create a new system, have become the system. The ism Tiravanija and others evolved, which came to be called relational aesthetics, currently dominates international exhibitions. These artists are now flown to far-flung locations, collaborating on shows and curating one another. The low point of this was Utopia Station, the awful hippie hangout curated by Tiravanija and two bigwig curators for the 2003 Venice Bienniale. What began in 1992 as a shock to the system not only became the system—it’s now the academy.
Amazingly, this doesn’t negate any of the power or magic of Tiravanija’s Untitled redux. In fact, seeing it at Zwirner adds alluring new layers. What some will take for a power gallery absorbing a more underground one, and a successful artist allowing himself to be eaten alive, is actually an exquisite symbiosis. Zwirner reveals his scrappy roots, Gavin Brown (who still represents Tiravanija) ups his ante, and Tiravanija, who no longer owns the piece, is just “acting” here. Helping matters is the excellent re-creation next to UntitledOpen House, a Dumpster the late artist turned into a homeless shelter. Unlike Matta-Clark, however, Tiravanija has never been able to make a convincing object—unless you call the re-creation a sculpture, in which case he’s a really good sculptor. This seeming weakness, however, is a crucial juju in his work. At Zwirner, it’s a huge relief not to size up objects or think about sales. Life takes over, commerce fades. Additionally, wasting all this space is an excellent strategy, especially now that efficiency is the norm and many shows look like product. There’s not much product at Zwirner, but the processes on hand are deeply rich. of Gordon Matta-Clark’s 1972