Gestures, silences, interruptions add a lot of meaning to a conversation
Pick the many landmarks of the past 400 years of human civilization through quotes, without revealing the author (but with the year), place six people in a room in a simple choreographic arrangement, have each of them at one point recite one of those quotes and have them discuss it for a while before flowing to the next quote.
This is “The Situation”, as envisaged by Tino Sehgal, a trained dancer and economist. And when one is part of this “situation”, what remains then, is an experience of a perspective on an idea of human condition at that point in time when the quote, which is actually an idea, was spoken. Essentially, isn't art also a representation of an idea or a concept, inevitably the artist's perspective of human condition?
“‘The Situation' is a form for conversation, with an aesthetic frame. The frame is there to add sensible tangible aspects to the conversation that might otherwise be missed. Usually conversation is verbal, but this is about placing attention on the gestures and culture of the conversation, the silences, the interruptions and the self contradictions,” says Louise Hojer, Tino's associate who has been travelling with the piece on a tour across Europe to India from Romania, Serbia, Turkey, Georgia, Iran, U.A.E, before coming to India.
“This is Tino's answer, somehow, to situation-ism. There is the desire to create an alternative, but he has always been interested in working from within the institution and changing it.”
Tino is known to be an artist who does not subscribe to idea that art has to be tangible. He questions the materialist mindset of the West. None of his pieces, which are usually composed of gestures, phrases and conversations, are ever recorded. The only way they are carried forward is by those who subject themselves to the experience.
The shape of a conversation is largely dependent on those who pass through it, says Louise. They, therefore, become a part of the piece. The recorded conversation hence is not the true representation, she argues, because much of it is dependent on how you are in that space, your physical location, who you look at, what kind of energy you get from the other.
“Photographs or videos wouldn't capture it effectively because there is no vantage point, there is no clear division between where it's happening and an audience. We're trying to create a space where there isn't an outside, everyone is intermingled. You're always implicated, even by your presence,” explains Louise.
And so it was. People came in, and joined the conversation. There was no unease even if there was no viewer participation. The conversation went on, like a ballgame, acknowledging someone's presence only when they entered. Then, the six participants would chant together, “Welcome to this situation”.
The participants talked about everything from technology vs inventions, machines replacing humans, physics and biology, the human mechanism, the self and the nature of shame and guilt.
“Art tries to create experience. But the idea here is that one cannot transplant experience through the product. Tino has created a structure that allows flowing conversation without role-play, but with some deliberate distancing. It is about Bhava — being and Rasa—the essence of experience,” says theatre person Prakash Belawadi, one of the players in Bangalore.