The courage to connect

Tania Ahsan finds a new perspective on being one of the crowd, at an interactive art installation at the Tate Modern

The turbine hall of the Tate Modern is a gargantuan space, which has played host to a number of cutting edge installations in the past. But it has never been used for a performance art commission, until now, that is.

Berlin-based artist Tino Sehgal has filled the turbine hall with performers, all looking like ‘normal’ tourists and Londoners. Entering at a point where they are supremely blended in so that I have no idea who is a performer and who is a visitor, I walk to the darkened back of the hall. Suddenly disparate voices in the dark chant “we have created this” in unison, and the huge lights high up in the hall respond in time to their chants.

Part of The Unilever Series, the work is called These Associations and perhaps the part that will be most intriguing to visitors is that each of these performers has an intimacy to share and, without preamble, they come up to you and start speaking.

A woman tells me of an unrequited love affair, another speaks about her mother who left school too young. Initially I just listen but then I ask questions and they answer. This is a conversation, not something passive. I find it difficult; I’m analysing whether the stories are true. I’m wondering why they chose me to speak to, whether it took courage to approach me – as it does to stay in this hall where people approach you, unbidden and unexpectedly.

My mind is whirring and I begin to walk back out. A man falls in step with me and begins to tell me about his time as a monk. I stop and listen. The story isn’t important – suddenly I realise that it is courage, on a vast scale in modern life, to walk alongside someone and tell your story with no clue as to whether they will stop or keep going.

Some, flashing their phone cameras at the people in the hall below, will only take this to be another spectacle but others will find life-changing questions about how etiquette can disconnect us – and how we can reconnect. We have created this.

Until Oct 28, Sun-Thurs 10am to 6pm, Fri & Sat 10am to 10pm, Tate Modern, London.