Tino Sehgal constructs situations that defy the traditional context of museum and gallery environments, focusing on the fleeting gestures and social subtleties of lived experience rather than on material objects. Relying exclusively on the human voice, bodily movement, and social interaction, Sehgal's works nevertheless fulfill all the parameters of a traditional artwork with the exception of inanimate materiality. They are presented continuously during the operating hours of the museum, they can be bought and sold, and, by virtue of being repeatable, they can persist over time.
The fact that Sehgal's works are produced in this way elicits a different kind of viewer: a visitor is no longer only a passive spectator, but one who bears a responsibility to shape and, at times, to contribute to the actual realization of the piece. A work may ask visitors what they think, but, more importantly, it underscores an individual's own agency in the museum environment. Regardless of whether they call for direct action or address the viewer in a more subtle sense, Sehgal's works always evoke questions of responsibility within an interpersonal relationship. His situations therefore produce meaning and value through a transformation of actions rather than solid materials, as was particularly evident during Sehgal's 2010 presentation of This Progress (2006) at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, when he stripped the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed rotunda of all physical artworks, and employed the iconic ramp as a platform for discourse.
Because of the individualized conception of Sehgal's work, experiences of each piece are highly subjective and might change dramatically on repeat visits, leading to discussions about a wide range of topics such as sustainability, economics, politics, social reform, or personal growth. These varied results from a single scenario are the crux of Sehgal's singularly elastic and provocative practice. By setting the stage for a conversation, rather than opting for more traditional one-way spectatorship, Sehgal puts the spectator and the work on equal footing, eradicating the implicit hierarchical relationship between the viewer and the work of art.
Claire Barliant with Nat Trotman