Earlier this year, Julia Simpson travelled to Remai Modern to work with local interpreters on the Tino Sehgal work This Situation (solo). The work takes place in the museum’s interstitial space, where visitors will encounter an individual who will engage them in conversation.
Simpson helped the local participants to create what Sehgal calls constructed situations — ephemeral art experiences activated through encounters between the museum visitor and the individuals enacting his work.
Sehgal’s work invites audiences to reconsider the way art is produced, presented and received. This Situation (solo), and all three works in the exhibition, offer a moment to slow down, to re-engage with the body and connect with people and ideas.
Remai Modern spoke with Simpson about her experience with Sehgal and what it was like to work with the Saskatoon interpreters.
How long have you been working with Tino?
I started working with Tino in 2010 when he came to New York to do a show at the Guggenheim, and we’ve continued to collaborate intermittently on projects throughout the years.
What was it that drew you to his work?
I’d never seen anything like his work before. I’d never heard of him when we met, and I found it so refreshing that Tino’s work just focuses on people. Tino sets up constructed situations that are comprised just of people doing things in space.
Presenting that in a visual arts context lets people appreciate human capability, whether that’s conversation or dance or interaction, and I found that extremely refreshing and beautiful.
What’s your background THAT MADE YOU a good fit for working ON a project like this?
I actually don’t really have a background in visual arts, and I think that weirdly was a good fit when Tino and I first started working together. I was working in film at the time, and I still work in film sometimes. I didn’t come to his work with a lot of visual arts baggage about what should happen in institutional spaces, just because I’d never really thought critically about it. But I did come with a background in organizing groups of people and in working collaboratively, which is something you do in film a lot to accomplish a shared goal. So, the way that he emphasized the human element in this work—you know, the human element is the only element in his work, in a way—made total sense to me.
Tell me a little bit about your experience so far in Saskatoon.
I’ve loved being here. I wish I was here longer. I came by train from Montreal and so I have had the luxury of seeing a lot of Canada to get here. Going from the forests of Ontario to the plains environments of where we are now, it was really nice, first of all, to see how beautiful Canada is, which I knew, but it was nice to really take some time appreciating that. I saw a moose and a couple eagles, which was really exciting.
Since I’ve been here, I have been really struck by—although, not surprised, because this is how I think of Canada; this would be my stereotype—everyone’s really friendly; everyone’s really welcoming. Here in Saskatoon, something I noted as I met people to talk about doing this project, This Situation (solo): everyone is really proud of the natural environment here and the land. Everyone talks about the sky. Everyone talks about the lakes. People talk about how cold it is in the winter and the river freezes over.
I was kind of moved before coming here about how proud everyone was about the physical landscape, and then since I’ve been here, I too have really marveled at the sky. The other day there was a giant storm here and this was a perfect place to watch it from and it was really biblical.
What’S IT LIKE TO BRING LOCAL contributors into the world of Tino Sehgal?
I would say one thing that’s a little bit different about this project is I had never met everyone over Zoom. Before, every time pre-pandemic, whenever we would do a project like this, I would be able to meet everyone individually in person and get to know them that way, maybe over a cup of coffee. So, meeting people remotely, I was actually a little worried because you don’t really have the same sense of someone when you’re just meeting them on the internet. So, I was a little bit apprehensive. But since I arrived and we started rehearsals, which are very much in-person, I’ve been really pleased with how quickly everyone has seemed to understand the work and understand why it might be interesting and important to do a work like this, so it was a really smooth rehearsal process. I’m really proud of the group. They came to understand the piece really quickly.
My only regret is that I won’t be here at the end of the exhibition, because I think after they’ve been doing this for six or seven weeks, they’re going to be so masterful. Clearly already the piece is very good, and one kind of funny thing about Tino’s work is it tends to get better as the exhibition progresses because the people enacting the work become more and more skilled at what they’re doing.
I’ll be sad to miss that, but I’m sure I’ll hear reports from afar.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE FOR A PERSON TO ENACT A WORK LIKE THIS?
This Situation (solo) is a work where it involves a conversation, or it involves interaction between the visitor and the person enacting the work. It’s kind of a particular piece. It’s both sort of particular, but also really open because you don’t really have to have any specialized background to do this particular piece. I think the people who are most successful at it are both really comfortable speaking in public and also, and this is equally important, they’re really skilled listeners, so they’re able to really take in what someone is saying to them and find a way to connect to that.
This group of people is very diverse, in terms of backgrounds and ages and specializations, et cetera, but what they all have in common is they are uniquely gifted speakers and listeners.
do you have any tools or strategies for encountering the work that you can share with us?
I would honestly just say come with an open mind and there is absolutely no preparation necessary. Just don’t come with any sort of preconceived notion about what you might expect to find in a gallery context.
Why is it important to experience the work in-person?
So Tino’s work isn’t documented. There’s several reasons it’s not documented. His work often kind of implicates the visitor. So, any sort of photo or video wouldn’t do it justice because the visitor wouldn’t be represented in that interaction.
One thing that’s unique about Tino’s work is that it produces—in this case with This Situation (solo)—it produces an interaction between the work and the visitor, and so the only way to really see the work, if you will, is to come here and experience it.
This interview has been edited for clarity and ease of reading.
About Julia Simpson
Julia Simpson is a creative director, producer and filmmaker. Her work is often interdisciplinary and collaborative, spanning the fields of music, film, visual art and beyond. She has worked with Tino Sehgal on multiple projects since 2010, including exhibitions at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2010); Tate Modern, London (2012); Musée d’Art Contemporain, Montreal (2013); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2016). She has also co-programmed and produced two interdisciplinary projects presenting Sehgal’s work in purpose-built architecture alongside a broad range of musical artists: A Prelude to the Shed, New York (2018) and Platform, Roskilde (2022). She lives in New York.
This Situation (solo), along with two other works by Tino Sehgal, is on view at Remai Modern until September 4, 2022.