Tino Sehgal: What Did You Expect To See In A Museum? (Ep 1 Of 2)

Coming out of the subway station, dark clouds have gathered, looks like it might rain; better hurry up and cross the street. The train ride here was uneventful; some kids playing around, most of the adults looking down at their mobile phones, some women are chatting, others standing around staring at space.



Little puddles on the street reflect the buildings nearby, sky above. I step into one of them, in haste. Up ahead, the white, curving, expansive walls of the museum loom in the distance. I arrive, open the huge glass doors and flow into the lobby. People seem to be just milling around, chatting. Catheral-choral sounds fill the atrium, the high pitched angelic notes drawn out, a soothing sound, creating an atmospheric mood.


tino-sehgal-ep1-7I relax and walk around, mingling with the people gathered around, suddenly a little girl of middle eastern descent, not sure if she’s muslim, comes up to me and asks, point blank, “what do you think a museum should be like?”

Caught unawares as she was below my eyesight, I murmur something like, “oh, er.. probably interactive, you know, catering to different styles and what not..”
“What about the value of business? What do you think about the relationship between art and business nowadays?”
“And what do you think is the difference between a sign and meloncholy?”

And with that she left and started talking to someone else. ‘I need to take a leak…’ I thought to myself and darted across the atrium in search of the restroom. Inside everything looked normal, people doing what they’re supposed to do, and when it was my turn someone said to me “oh..the coffee in the cafe is really good, you should try it before the museum closes in an hour..” ‘hmm..okay, yeah…’

Back outside and into the atrium, tino-sehgal-ep1-1everyone is now mobile; instead of milling around and chatting, everyone is now walking around in groups of about 10. ‘What the….’ I notice the music has also changed, more rhythmic sounds, with more of a beat to it. I count about 3 groups of people are moving around, sometimes together, sometimes circling in different paths.



Then the lights go out, and people start running, jogging, still in 3 groups, sometimes coming together, sometimes going off on their own, like in an African safari; ‘strange how people can behave like animals’ I thought.

Another subtle thing I noticed; where are all the paintings? After about 10 minutes of safari-land, the lights grew brighter and the music softened again. And somebody came by and struck another random conversation with me, this time telling me about his problems with his wife/girlfriend, to which I nod in polite acknowledgement, and after a few minutes or so, also left abruptly. I move across the floor in search of the paintings, master-pieces of the modern and impressionist eras, to which I was certain they had moved to one of the side galleries to make room for this strange, temporary, ‘human performance exhibition’.


tino-sehgal-ep1-11Into the side corridors leading to one of the upstair galleries, some children ran by, I thought ‘are they..?’ Then I saw another strange sight; the security guards were dancing around singing “This is so contemporary, so contemporary, so contemporary…” over and over again as if in some Broadway musical. Upstairs, on the landing, some people, hooligan-looking types, were also sing this tune, so loud the sounds of their voices were ring off the walls in reverberation. And I haven’t seen a single painting on the walls on the way up here.

Pop into a gallery exhibition room tino-sehgal-ep1-4finally, and its silence. Blank walls all around.

‘Where’s the exhibits?’ And there ‘it’ is; a lone ‘exhibitor’ writhing on the floor to some atmospheric music, at times in a fetal position, at times slowly ‘growing’ out of it as in one of those time-lapse videos of plants growing. Its blank stares all around, as we spectators try desperately to look intelligent, but deep down everyone is thinking “what on earth…??” ‘Okay I got it. Its the people on the floor or dancing that are the performers. Everyone else is normal’ I thought to myself.


Back outside, two bodies lay on the floor in the distance, rolling around, embracing, caressing each other, in slow motion. I walk towards them, slowly treading, not sure whats going on, not sure if some danger lay ahead, the bare walls, sunlight glistening off the floor.


They kiss for a while, but its mostly tino-sehgal-ep1-6caressing, intimate, completely natural if it was done at a home, except this is on the floor of a museum. An anxiety arises inside, caused between the desire to watch, and the fear of intrusion; between the absurdity of the situation and the legitimacy of the act being done in a museum and so ‘I should watch it, just for a while, for educational purposes’.


Just as I was moving on, a little old lady walks by and says, “What do you make of it?”
I said “I don’t know…if it was any other day I would’ve thought I was in a mental asylum.”


And on into another gallery room, tino-sehgal-ep1-5where by now, I kind of know what to expect; people rolling around on the floor, or running in circles, or chatting in groups. But this time, it was startling; I was surprised, for there were 3 people on the floor, which is by now normal, but they were making strange sounds to each other, sometimes rhythmic like in a Bobby McFerrin song, and other times just wierd sounds.


They weren’t just making sounds but moving their bodies in response to the sounds that the others made. They were in effect communicating with each other using some strange sounds combined with body movements, like dolphins, or dogs, as at one point I thought one of them made a barking sound. Another surprise, there were some paintings on the walls in this room. I guess it makes for more of a contrast, as the ‘performances’ would look like they were communicating about the paintings.


tino-sehgal-ep1-8On the way out, back to the lobby, I passby some students who were deaf or mute and communicating via sign language; kids that normally would be loud and rambunctious are in this instance, strangely silent, their intent gestures punctuated by sounds of fists pounding into palms and fingers crashing into hands as they get their point across. In any other day, I probably wouldn’t have bat an eye, but in this context, I couldn’t help but wonder, are they part of the show?


tino-sehgal-ep1-9Outside the museum, the clouds had dissapated, but it was getting dark. Then I notice as I walk further along, there was some masquerade party going on and the revelers were flowing into the street from a hotel, and I was engulfed amongst people who all had masks on, and who were talking ‘party’ talk; a type of language that is based on English, but that is incomprehensible but not really supposed to be comprehended anyway.


Back at home, the place was also eerily quiet. Suddenly an android tino-sehgal-ep1-10looking woman appears in the distance with a flesh colored mask, silently walking towards me. For a second I wonder if I made a mistake, but no, its my wife; she’s just put a facial mask on to relax after losing her voice teaching kids at the primary school.