We are on a trip to Paris, it is the beginning of November 2016, and I really need a break from the wet, dark forests of Småland.
My cousin Emma lives in Paris with her husband Henrik and their children for a few years, and we visit them. Since they are there to work with French foreign affairs at the Swedish Embassy, they are really well informed about the French society, and they can also give us some really good tips about restaurants, districts etc. in Paris.
Usually I meet them in the summer, we are neighbors at our summer house, and it feels good to see them, to follow their growing kids, one more time this year.
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There are several high prestigious culture institutions in Paris – Musée du Louvre and Musée d’Orsay is probably the most well-known. Musée d’Orsay is famous for its collection of French impressionistic and post-impressionistic classics between 1850 and 1915 – works by Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gaugin, and so on.
And the museum building is definitely something extra just by itself. It is an old railway station transformed into a museum in the 80’s, the huge clocks are still there, and several other structures.
Palais de Tokyo is another famous institution, but its orientation is completely different; it is a large museum dedicated to contemporary art, and it has been one of many trendsetter in the art world during the last 15 years. The building is old, from 1937, and was raised for the International Exhibition of Arts and Technology. The current art center opened in 2002, lacks permanent collection, thus it is not a museum in the traditional sense.
Right now a show by the Berlin-based artist Tino Sehgal is on display. Sehgal, born in London 1976, grew up in Düsseldorf and Paris, and has his background in dancing, which is quite obvious if you consider his works, they are based on human interaction, performance, theatre and physical movement. Usually there are no physical objects or traces in his exhibitions.
When we step in, we meet a young boy that politely shakes our hands, introduces himself and asks the question: “What does progress mean to you?” Since I am a well-behaved person, I jump into the conversation. We walk slowly forward through the exhibition halls until a girl shows up, slightly older than the boy, and she continues the conversation. After a while a grown-up man emerges, and then an older man.
In another hall, in another constructed situation, a crowd of people are singing, dancing and humming, relaxed and low-voiced. Another room is completely black, we do not see anything when we enter it, but we hear voices. After a while in the darkness, my eyes have adapted, and the silhouettes and shadows of people moving occur.
In his older works, Sehgal used to perform by himself, but today, after years of success, he hires a staff of “interpreters”. He gives them instructions, like a musical director or choreographer, in how to speak, move, and so on, and every constructed situation is an art work. If you compare his work, you will definitely find that they differ, but there is one common trait – they engage the visitor.
The works of Sehgal do not suit a theatre, they are built up on another kind of aesthetic or way of thought. And the conversations would never work in real life, since they are too artificial and designed. The situations, low in intensity, are made for the art world and belongs to the field of exhibitions.
After the exhibition, nothing is left. No documentation, no objects, nothing. If you want to buy his works, you can do it, but you will get no written contract, just a verbal agreement, and it costs you about 100 000 Euros.