A Progress: Or, One Foot in Front of the Other

School_of_Athens_0.img_assist_customMarco Roth on Tino Sehgal's piece at the Guggenheim in n+1:

As much as Tino Sehgal has managed to stage a classically harmonious meditation on the various senses of progress, his work also produces situations like these, for as much as it is a work of highly “conceptual art,” it is also theater and so comes under the psychological conventions of theater.

It’s unclear, in fact, whether the performance succeeds more as theater than as intellectual discussion. The accidental questions and observations that came to mind as we walked through mattered as much the enframing “theme” of enlightenment, or progress. “The blocking is great!” I thought, when Finn hopped up onto the impromptu proscenium, while also wondering how I talk to children, teens, equal grownups, and older adults. What would have happened if a few of the grownups were not as well-dressed as the others? What if some actually looked like homeless people? What if some had disturbing scars? What do all those French tourists make of it? Do they recognize the gallery of New Yorker types each of these ages also represent: the precocious child, the “know-it-all” teen, the busy, successful career woman, the witty and wise elders of the tribe? This catalog of “urbane” types is unchanged since Plato first began to blur the distinctions between theater, philosophy, and art, dialogue and dialectic.

A problem for Tino Sehgal as much as it was a problem for Plato is that performed conversation is still performance as much as it’s conversation. It’s one thing to perceive the stark whiteness and vertiginous openness of the Guggenheim as an ideal contemporary representation of the Athenian “agora,” and another to allow “the art of conversation” to take place unimpeded. Socrates and friends had the world all before them, at least until the master’s trial and death. The outcome of the historical Socrates’s actual dialogues were uncertain, but Plato’s readers are always being driven, guided, taken in hand, “You are quite right, Socrates!”