24 August 2012

12 Rooms and Understanding Art

Santiago Sierra: Veterans of the wars of Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and Iraq facing the corner, 2011
(c) Santiago Sierra, Manchester International Festival 2011, Foto: Alan Seabright.

We've had a lot of attention from the media here. TV crews, radio reporters, and print journalists have all hovered around the jury, some spending hours with us before, during and after the show. After they've spent time talking to the young people, they'll often have a chat with me and one of the common things they tell me is that the children do not understand the art. They tell me this with a bit of triumph, like they've discovered some flaw in the project. Yesterday I got fed up with this and turned the tables on the television journalist and, on camera, asked her if she had understood Tino Seghal
's contribution to 12 Rooms. Luckily she had an out: she hadn't been listening to the performer, so she couldn't comment. Then I said what I always say when reporters confront me with this information, which is the obvious (to me) point that, for the most part and particularly with much of the work we're seeing, understanding doesn't occur in the positivist sense. It's not like there's a plot where you either understand that Jimmy cheated on Chloe to get the bag of cocaine or you don't. Which isn't to say that there is nothing to understand, just that, for the most part, understanding is not going to be linguistic. It might be emotional, or intellectual, it might be feelings or it might be concepts but to distill it down into a bunch of words we can all agree on is just not going to happen. The young people understand what they understand. It seems silly to say that yet again, but there you go.

The 12 Rooms project is a perfect project for young people. You can walk around, you can leave a performance when you've had enough, you can often interact with the performers, you can score stuff and (though they were not allowed in) there is nudity. The nudity was particularly fun because, though the kids were banned, that didn't stop them from convincing one of the drivers and coordinators, Meike, to go in, so they could watch her reaction from the door. That's some serious post modern appreciation of the work happening there.