How would you feel if you were out for a day at Blenheim Palace and a random stranger accosted you and started telling you a story? Would you embrace it or would it upset all sense of British sensibility where it’s just not a done thing?
Tino Sehgal wants you to find out by scheduling random encounters with visitors to force them out of their usual passive observance as they wander the halls and beautifully landscaped gardens of the palace.
I was accosted by a few of the hired participants who told me stories about social media trends, the kindness of strangers and life-changing moments as they moved countries. They were generally uplifting and nowhere near as intense as my experience at his Tate Modern show where I was met with the opening line of ‘last year my grandmother died and it hit me really hard’. The Tate show felt more challenging and raw, and it feels like this version is tamer to recognise the hard year we’ve all had and the different audience that’s likely to visit Blenheim.
It’s easy to forget that I’m one of those expecting these encounters and the reactions of those who aren’t is far more genuine – I recall one of Tino’s team approaching a woman carrying a baby and the mother naturally turned her shoulder out of instinct to protect her baby from the smiling encroacher.
This exhibition is far larger than his Tate intervention so we also get to stumble across people singing in the Secret Garden – though it’s not really a secret when it’s clearly signposted. There’s also a couple who will kiss and embrace passionately on the floor in one of the main halls, making us all squeamish as we feel we shouldn’t be watching. Though it does feel staged when it’s the centre of the room and clearly a performance, it may have been more effective if it was around a corner so visitors could naturally stumble across it and feel embarrassed to have done so.
The strongest elements are those that erupt spontaneously such as a singing performance in a courtyard that feels like those flash mobs that appear and disappear in stations, or an a cappella take on Beethoven around a fountain that on my visit appeared to be an accompaniment to the semi-tame ducks on the grounds who often wallow in the water of the fountain itself.
The artist has insisted on no photos to keep it a suprise, hence why there aren’t any of the performances in the review, Besides, any photos would never be able to capture what the experience feels like. Though there’s nothing stopping visitors taking them and several have popped up on Instagram under the Tino Sehgal hashtag.
What’s best about Tino Sehgal’s work is it disrupts your day, challenges your sensibilities and makes you engage with art spontaneously. It’s what makes his work so effective and memorable, and anyone who visits this show will likely never forget the experience that will be unique to every visitor.
Tino Sehgal is on at Blenheim Park and Gardens until 15th August. Entrance to the Park and Gardens is ticketed.