Creating Something that Disappears at the Moment It is Produced

From “Making Art Out of an Encounter,” by Arthur Lubow, New York Times, January 15, 2010:

Tino Sehgal As a youth, [Tino] Sehgal was attracted to the study of dance (how people move) and political economy (how society works). His father, now retired, was an I.B.M. manager from India, his mother a German native and homemaker. Sehgal was born in London and raised primarily in Dusseldorf, Paris and a town close to Stuttgart; he has a younger sister, who grew up to become a philosopher specializing in Alfred North Whitehead. Their father talked with them in English, their mother in German. Sehgal speaks fluent English with a faint German inflection.

When he was an adolescent, Sehgal says, a direct encounter with the political process disenchanted him permanently from parliamentary politics. Friends asked him to speak at a hearing in favor of a transportation initiative in Stuttgart. “I remember seeing the minister of transportation dive and dodge,” he says. “All he could do was administer what the public opinion was, or else he would be voted out in the next election.” If electoral politics could not produce fundamental change, why bother with it? “It’s much more interesting to change the values,” he says. “I was never interested again in parliamentary politics. I became interested in culture.”

This political awakening strengthened his attraction to dance. Aside from its physical appeal, dance, in his eyes, had the virtue of creating something that disappeared at the moment it was produced. “My work comes out of my experiment with myself,” he says. “As a person in the first world, you’re quite heavy as a person in what you use up. Can I actually solve this for myself? Can I have something to do, keep myself interested and not be somebody who is situated outside society, and can I do this without transforming lots of material?”