But now there's a new Unilever exhibition in the Turbine Hall (running concurrently). By Tino Sehgal, it's all about....
Strange zombie-like people, walking slowly, silently.
And they're heading my way!
It is not often that we get to hear the tales of strangers, but Tino Sehgal plunges us briefly into the intimate thoughts of a cluster of people in the Turbine Hall.
As I walked in, there were at the end of the space, a wave of figures slowly walking forwards. Gradually they drew level with me and a young woman approached, telling me about the surprise party she had organised for a friend and the great feelings of love she felt as they gathered for the celebration. Then she was off.
The pace quickened and more of the group broke off to tell me about everything from a visit to a sister in South Korea, to their feelings at being the lone man in a marmalade-making class. We never know if these are real or imagined tales.
Soon the group was swarming around the hall. And then, darkness. They began chanting words like "electric" before mournfully singing "Even in the technological age".
And that is the key to this work, for me — it seems to be about human interaction in an age steeped in BlackBerrys and iPads — the alienating results of our attachment to commodities.
Sehgal's work is life-affirming, thrillingly enjoyable, and strangely melancholy — a lament for community and human interaction. It is an absolute must-see.
Sadly, apart from that brief hello, nobody stopped to engage me in intimate conversation. I was certainly ready for it. I'd done my homework, brushed up on social etiquette and the tricky ins and outs of inter-persoanl communication; even had a few comments ready which I hoped might be appropriate in situations like this: "Do you come here often?"; "Fancy coming back to my place?". But the situation never arose. I hung around awhile, adopting what I hoped was an approachable mien.....but nothing. Perhaps they were intimidated by my powerful personal charisma. Not, to be honest, that I was all that disappointed:
These are not actors but their stories feel genuine, and one girl appeared to be close to tears when recalling the death of her mentor earlier this year. These intimate conversations create bonds with the viewer and they can last for up to 20 minutes before they pass you on to one of their ‘friends’ and a new story begins. The stories do feel a little rehearsed so we encourage you to be impolite and break their stride with probing questions because only then does the conversation flow more freely and feel natural.
It sounds more like a heavy therapy session. Artoholics Anonymous: "My name's Sebastian, and I can't stop coming to these absurdly pretentious art events. I always think that just because it's taking place in an art gallery it's going to be terribly meaningful and significant, and I'm going to have a wonderful life-changing experience. But I always go away thinking I've been cheated. Oh God, it's all so empty, so artificial! I keep telling myself it's my fault - I'm not smart enough, not sufficiently sensitive. So I come again. The reviews are so positive - 'an absolute must-see', 'one of the shows of the year', 'extraordinary'. And it's just the same old rubbish." Yes Sebastian, we feel your pain.
From a distance ‘These Associations’ may seem bizarre but if British reserve is cast aside and you embrace talking to strangers, this is a riveting experience.
Talking to strangers? Friendly bright-eyed young people keen to engage you in conversation? What does that remind you of? It reminds me, old cynic that I am, of those bloody chuggers.