Walk into the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern and you’ll find it full of visitors but empty of the ‘artwork’ that you came to see.
You glance around wondering whether the galleries on the other floors will be less crowded, when all of a sudden you realise that some of the visitors in the Hall aren’t doing what visitors normally do.
70 odd pairs of legs seem to be moving in a strange disconnected pattern, yet with the same stride and purpose that loosely bind them together.
A few suddenly break from the group and dart in different directions to talk to visitors.
Their conversations are without niceties and hellos or my name is’.
The man who approaches me says ‘When I was a young boy, my mother had a lovely collection of matchboxes but she never allowed me to touch them. So I decided to have my own collection that she wasn’t allowed to see or touch. So I started collecting words.’
‘I don’t like collecting things’, I say.
When I ask whether he enjoys the running, he says yes it is fun and runs away from me to join the group again.
They are a group but not quite because they don’t all do the same thing. Yet they form a group in the fact that they are not like you and me.
Not like visitors.
But I can’t seem to figure out the patterns in their routine. So unfortunately I can’t join in.
I remain me.
Another man approaches to tell me that he and his girlfriend love to sing to each other.
‘We sing when we cook, while getting ready to go to work, even when we are angry with each other.’
I’m itching to tell him that I don’t believe him. That he doesn’t have a girlfriend and he doesn’t like to sing.
Just so I can see his reaction and unsettle him like he is unsettling me.
But nice polite me, nods and says ‘Oh how interesting!’
He disappears in a few seconds and is replaced by a woman who comes and sits next to me but says nothing.
She unsettles me the most as she stares calmly into my face.
I wait for her to start a conversation but none is forthcoming.
So I say hello.
‘Are you going to say something to me?’
‘You’re being very creepy,’ I say.
She still says nothing and a few seconds later runs away to join the group who are now humming and chanting softly.
With every line they sing, the lights in the vast Turbine Hall move in rhythm.
On and off, on and off. Now suddenly in pitch darkness.
I’ve never seen anything like this before and the black is uncanny.
But the chanting grows louder. And the lights come back on.
Not all together, but one by one.
And with every light that comes on, this group of ‘elements’ as Seghal calls them, have now begun to move together, sweeping slowly across the Hall till they reach the slope, and then maniacally turning around to chase each other to the other side.
By now I have spent two hours watching them and I still can’t seem to figure the pattern.
Even the elements who have spoken to me have disappeared but without me knowing when and where to.
Seghal has achieved his point. But only for those who have had the patience to wait for something predictably unpredictable to happen.
An experience that is different to every single visitor; where you control the exchanges as much as the elements control them, this work definitely requires a certain mindset to absorb.
And though my hall of magnificence had been emptied and filled with je ne sais quois, I could definitely see and feel art in the making.
Live artist Tino Seghal’s work is on display at Tate Modern for the next week. He has strict rules against the photography and archiving of his work, so this would be your only chance to see it. Don’t miss out.
Upto 28 October 2012