Contemporary art in London is full of childish glee these days. If Carsten Höller‘s slides (at the Tate Modern until April 15) sound too scary, how about a game of “Squeak Piggie Squeak” with the kids at Tino Sehgal’s latest interactive performance work, down at the ICA?
Anyone familiar with Sehgal’s work will enter the exhibition with a bit of trepidation. This is the third solo show that the artist has held at the ICA in the same number of years – a remarkable act of commitment and generosity by curator Jens Hoffmann. The first two set the tone for this one – as an audience member you were required to interact with the performers, ask them questions, engage in philosophical or nonsensical debate. This time Sehgal has dropped the philosophy, outwardly at least, and instead you are greeted upon entering by a group of excited school children, who falteringly announce that “the exhibition is a success”. Before having the chance to ponder the truth of this statement, the kids invite you to join in with the others in the space and play games. When I visited this involved “Duck/Duck/Goose”, “Squeak Piggie Squeak” and a game involving murder and some anonymous thumb pinching.
It turns out that the children are instructed by Sehgal to pronounce the exhibition a success or alternatively a failure to visitors depending on their mood. When I visited it was all about success, despite one girl being briefly in tears at the end of the space for a short while, and it would have been interesting to see what it did to the mood of the gallery if one of them decided it was, in fact, a failure.
It’s easy to criticise Sehgal’s work – Is it all overblown conceptual nonsense? Is running around wildly in a gallery really art? Etc etc. But he does a good job at making us think about these questions, and think about our role as an audience member in an art exhibition. There is no passive participation here: those that are intimidated or shy quickly scuttle out, but many, of all ages, stay and quickly get into the swing of it. And the kids are quick to make you feel part of a strange gang: half school children, half over-dressed art fans. I defy anyone to leave without a smile.