This is so Contemporary, Temporary, Temporary…

Gallery visitors bewildered on a threshold between art and life

‘Staged’ in the vestibule of the Art Gallery of NSW, ‘This is so contemporary’, by Berlin-based artist Tino Seghal, is a strange welcome to the gallery space that works best if unanticipated, as intended by its artist. Seghal does not provide any preliminary information about his work so it remains a mystery until directly experienced. The lack of customary ‘signposts’ (brochures, catalogues, etc) disorients and confuses visitors, leaving them to their own devices as they attempt to make sense of the unexpected encounter. The work succeeds if it provokes curiosity (through irritation, amusement, anger, or other commotion), which might, as suggested by one of the performers, “eventually blossom into something profound.”

In the tradition of Futurism and Dada, and their later manifestation in Happenings, This is so contemporary deliberately provokes art’s sacrosanct values, subverting “the notion of a work of art as something outside of experience, something that is terribly precious,” as expressed by Oldenburg in the 1960s[1]. Seghal’s work is purposefully inserted into the fabric of a traditional art institution where it is in direct conversation with conventional culture and with a particular kind of audience, the one that is still resisting an ‘everything goes’ attitude towards art. The contrast between old and new heightens the viewers’ sensitivity to the piece which has “an almost moralistic sense of mission”[2].

Partly experiential and partly intellectual, This is so contemporary comes into being through discussion. Ambiguous and puzzling, to some outrageous and unacceptable, it asks for passionate debate which should not be mistaken as its side effect but rather its integral and crucial element. Although branded as immaterial, Seghal’s work, as pointed out by the Tate Modern’s curator Jessica Morgan, ends up being more talked about than any other object or artwork and, therefore, ironically more present.


[1] Haskell, Barbara, BLAM p43
[2] ibid, p50

[TEXT BY IRA FERRIS]

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