Dhaka Art Summit
Dhaka
 
Tino Sehgal
 
Text
Michel Gauthier
Art critic, curator at the MNAM — Centre Pompidou
 
In his work, Tino Sehgal (born in 1976, lives and works in BERLIN) forsakes the material object and the physical trace, creating experiences that exist only for the duration of the exhibition, then in the viewer's memory. Ann Lee, the manga character “freed” by Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno, was presented at the Dhaka Art Summit in Bangladesh in February 2016.
 
 
<br><br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>Tino Sehgal has always liked making references to earlier works by other artists in his own. In fact, one of his most famous works, <i>Instead of allowing some thing to rise up to your face dancing bruce and dan and other things </i>(2000), even evokes performances created by two of his predecessors: he instructs the actor performing the work to roll and twist on the ground while thinking of Dan Graham’s <i>Roll </i>(1970) and of Bruce Nauman’s <i>Tony Sinking into the Floor, Face Up and Face Down </i>and<i> Elke Allowing the Floor to Rise Up over Her, Face Up</i> (both from 1973). In Sehgal’s <i>Kiss </i>(2000), two entwined performers recreate a number of famous art historical embraces, evoking works by Auguste Rodin, Edvard Munch, Jeff Koons, and more. In<i> This Situation </i>(2007), actors recite quotes from Montaigne, Rousseau, Marx, Nietzsche, Guy Debord, Thornstein Veblen, and Michel Foucault as they move through a series of poses that recall at times Manet’s<i> Luncheon on the Grass</i>. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>Sehgal, then, enjoys borrowing from others. With <i>Ann Lee</i> (2011), he demonstrates this once again, but adopts a very different strategy from the one used in the works mentioned above. In 1999, Philippe Parreno and Pierre Huyghe acquired the rights to a manga character by the name of Ann Lee. They bought her from a Japanese animation house that provides comic book editors with characters, down to every detail of their appearance and aspect of their personality. In 1914, Duchamp purchased a bottle rack from a department store, the Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville, and created the first readymade—an object, removed from its original, utilitarian function, that became art because he deemed it so. Rather than buying an object, Huyghe and Parreno purchased a person, a character: the child/woman Ann Lee. Freed from the entertainment industry, Ann Lee became instead the protagonist in a work of art, written collaboratively by a group of artists as part of the project, initiated by Parreno and Huyghe in 1999, entitled <i>No Ghost Just a Shell</i>. For this ongoing, commissioned work, Ann Lee was loaned to several artists: François Curlet, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Liam Gillick, and Tino Sehgal, who created for her what is likely the most beautiful chapter in her singular career. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>The interpreter of Sehgal’s piece, a little girl or young woman, narrates her own story, describing her “rescue” by Parreno and Huyghe. Her troubling monologue is punctuated with questions addressed directly to audience members. She haltingly describes the daily life of artists and of the world in general; in a plaintive tone, she reveals that her new “employers” are very busy, as are her two creators and Sehgal himself. While she may have escaped the sad destiny that awaited her as a manga character, now her lack of purpose in the art world and the loneliness that goes with it are making her melancholic. For some, this could perhaps evoke Gilbert Sorrentino’s multilayered postmodern masterpiece, the novel-within-a-novel <i>Mulligan Stew</i> (<i>Salmigondis,</i> 1979): Sorrentino’s two main characters are borrowed from earlier novels by other writers, so that one protagonist’s most famous prior role was as a character in James Joyce’s <i>Finnegan’s Wake</i>, while the second appeared in a novel by Dashiell Hammett. Together, they plot to leave the book in which they are “acting,” and in which they are unhappy. Similarly, Ann Lee would like someone to pay attention to her, preferably the audience. They could answer her questions about their occupations, for instance. Rather than aspiring to a noble, artistic purpose, Ann Lee dreams of interactions, of exchanges. This goal—creating exchanges—is often the crux of Sehgal’s work, including one of his most successful performances, <i>This Objective of That Object </i>(2004), in which a group of actors explain, first in a whisper, then in a shout, and finally, in tears, that “the objective of the work is to become the object of discussion.” If the audience doesn’t heed their appeal and remains passive, the work comes to an end: the actors fall, inert, to the ground. Ann Lee hopes that, while the artists/puppet masters who should be providing her with a role and a purpose are busy, she’ll at least get some attention from the audience, perhaps even start a conversation. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>Works such as these can inspire varied commentaries, endless interpretations: it would be impossible to list every one, since every different reaction by the audience—whether or not they ignore her pleas, how they respond to her questions—elicits in turn a different interpretation. There is one clear lesson to be learned from Tino Sehgal’s chapter in the life of Ann Lee: you cannot free someone from the culture industry only to use them in a series of roles, even fascinating ones, in which they are no still mere puppets, without free agency. Ann Lee didn’t aspire to go from low to high art, but to leave fiction for reality, manga for real life. She isn’t a ghost, nor is she an empty shell. “I’m now a person,” she asserts. So when you see her, speak to her. No ghost, no shell, just an individual. <br><br>
 

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