Architecture, we hope, is first of all a field of knowledge, and only then of action. Our hope is rooted in the judgement that actions are most constructive when informed by an idea that fits into a larger understanding of ourselves and the world. When we design and build, we demand that they embody such an idea of human experience and how it is enabled by the conception, design, and construction of space. Our existing knowledge is important, because it is the structure of what is already here. Architecture, like other fields, reveals the structure of the familiar. It remains only for us to see this structure as though it has not been seen before, freshly, as though for the first time. This is, I believe, the task of architects.
The first task of experimental works of architecture and art is to stake out new points of view on what already exists. The second task is to test them.
The energy-systems view of the city and its life have strong political implications, in particular, regarding prevailing ideas of identity and, its corollary, property. Individuals, in such a view, are identified not so much by what they ‘own’ or who they ‘are,’ according the social roles they play, but by what they ‘do,’ how they interact with others, including the inanimate systems in their environment. In the same way, buildings, public spaces, and other forms of property can no longer be identified according to building types set by pre-determined economic and functional categories, but by how they perform in a landscape shaped by complex interactions. What architects do with their own initiatives or those of others seriously impacts networks of interacting human and other energy flows, as well as the energies latent in the city. Their ways of thinking and working need to integrate this reality more than they do at present. In doing so, the role of the architect will be transformed into a more expansive and more complex one in the evolution of the urban landscape. The identity of architects—like that for whom they design—will be based on the depth of their mastery of particular skills and knowledge, but at the same time, on their agility in engaging an urban field of continually changing conditions.
Tino Sehgal (b. 1976, London) constructs situations that defy the traditional context of museum and gallery environments, focusing on the fleeting gestures and social subtleties of lived experience rather than on material objects. Relying exclusively on the human voice, bodily movement, and social interaction, Sehgal’s works nevertheless fulfill all the parameters of a traditional artwork with the exception of its inanimate materiality. They are presented continuously during the operating hours of the museum, they can be bought and sold, and, by virtue of being repeatable, they can persist over time.
…Is it possible to be both playful and profound? Tino Sehgal is wagering yes. The moral earnestness that underlies his work would be ponderous if unleavened by humor; the games would be just child’s sport if they did not illuminate serious matters. The mixture can confuse people. At a meeting that Sehgal, on one of his human-quarrying forays, held last May with the administrators of a Harlem after-school program, he was pressed to explain what he aimed to accomplish in the Guggenheim piece. “The real deal is what happens there,” he said. “The real deal is the conversation.” For an educator who was trying to wean children from the cycle of poverty, this was palpably an unsatisfactory answer. He asked Sehgal again what was his goal. “It’s a structure to have a conversation about people’s values,” Sehgal said.
A little later in the discussion, the man returned to his theme. “So I guess you’re saying your ambition is to change perception,” he said. “Is that correct?” And this time, Sehgal took the bait.
“That’s a very simple way of saying what I’m doing,” he said. “For the last two or three hundred years in human society, we have been very focused on the earth. We have been transforming the materials of the earth, and the museum has developed also over the last two or three hundred years as a temple of objects made from the earth. I’m the guy who comes in and says: ‘I’m bored with that. I don’t think it’s that interesting, and it’s not sustainable.’ Inside this temple of objects, I refocus attention to human relations.”
This time the man nodded in understanding, with an expression I recognized. He was seeing things from another perspective, as he participated in a conversation within a framework constructed by Tino Sehgal.
Julia Spicer recorded her journeys through the centre of London using a camera concealed in her backpack, capturing images at random along the way. A fictional correspondence with a reclusive film maker acts as a framing device for the work - Spicer appears to be following routes and ground rules set by an elusive auteur as part of an initiative test. This test required Spice to ‘reacquaint’ herself with her environment. The resulting images, abstract and fractured as they are, covey the reality of our everyday experience of a city, at ground level and on the move. There are no grand vistas and considered views; instead there are glimpses of details and textures that we frequently see without registering them at all.
We are making a guided tour for this city and in trying to determine the route we are helped by many people who live and work here.
We start by asking them questions like:where is the tourist centre of the city, where is a rich neighborhood, where is a poor neighborhood, where is an industrial area?
But these boring question get teh boring answers they probably deserve. We do not find what we are looking for. We switch to another tactic. Richard and Claire are talking to one of our helpers. They ask her:
If you had killed someone and had to dump the body where would you take it?
If you had to say goodbye to a lover where in this city would you most like to do it?
Where in this city might be the best place for a spaceship of aliens to land?
This is what you might call our geography.
Sincerely yours -
It is ten to eight and we are still struggling to fix the on-board microphone.
What a strange project this is, with its audience and performers inside a bus - slipping through the centre of its cities and out of control - off the beaten track, playing always to the difference between on-route and off-route, centre and periphery, with versions of truth both legitimate and illegitimate.
In the end perhaps it is simply a guided tour of the unremarkable, of the banal made special. The text we’ve created - pointing out buildings, street corners, car-parks, patches of wasteground - is always overlaid with other texts - with the whispered or even shouted texts of other passengers (‘That’s where I used to work… That’s the place where…’) and the silent text of actions created by those living and working in the city as the bus moves through it.
Sometimes it seems as if all we have to do is gesture to the windows and ask people to look.
did I say we’re writing over the city?
Perhaps I forgot to stress how important it is that the city itself resists this process. That, where we talk of magic there is simply an ugly dual carriageway, that the streets themselves have their own stories, cultures, politics. There’s no authority to what we do - it’s all partial, provisional, and often simply wrong.
In the end the city tells its own story, asks our passengers for theirs, resists or concurs with the story we are making - all resulting in a complex dialogue, bringing focus to the different histories written in urban space - the official historical, the personal, the political, the mythical and the imaginary. How can these things co-exist? And to whom do they belong? Perhaps those are our questions.
This is one of the concerns of performance art - the reinvention of the art of action which is the art of the exercise. The exercise is not a drill done for some more obvious purpose. The exercise is done for itself. Doing something for itself is a very deep purpose. The exercise is action. And without action nothing made can be begun.