This past weekend I was in New York City offering a Most Good, Least Harm talk at the New York Open Center. Whenever I go to New York, I try to squeeze in a visit to at least one museum, and this time I went to the Guggenheim.
The Guggenheim Museum was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and is architecturally unique. The inside is essentially a long spiral ramp, surrounding a large open space, and topped with a dome to the sky. For the first time in its history, the rotunda was empty of art. Sort of.
On the floor of the rotunda lay a man and a woman, moving in slow motion, dance-like and without expression, in an endlessly evolving embrace.
As I walked up the ramp, a 10-year-old child introduced herself to me and asked if she could ask me a question. I said yes, and she queried, “What is progress?” We walked up the ramp for a bit as I answered her question as best I could, and she asked for an example, and then she stopped to tell a 20-something-year-old guy what I had said before departing. Then he began engaging me in conversation as well, and we moved quickly up the ramp talking about progress and various topics that evolved from that until he vanished suddenly behind a post and an older woman introduced herself and began talking about toys and then aliens. We walked slowly, pausing to just stop and talk, until we eventually reached the top where the “exhibit” ended.
This was the art. And the artist, Tino Sehgal titled it “This Progress.”
I decided to begin again. This time, another child met me and passed me on to another 20-something who disappeared and left me with another older person. Although I began hearing the same initial question, “What is progress?”, the conversations were unique.
The “exhibit” fascinated me, and I will be thinking about it for a long time. A museum and artist created a situation for conversation and connection and creativity. Observing the visitors, I noticed pairs and threes deeply engaged in discussion, all having begun with the question about progress, but all having gone in their own directions. I would have loved to eavesdrop on them all.
It was interesting to observe my own style as a visitor. As someone who writes and thinks about the broader topic of “progress” all the time, I found myself in a bit of a teaching mode with the child and 20-something. But with the older person, I shifted into an equal sharing of thoughts and ideas and basic human information exchange, learning and stretching through the interactions. This “exhibit” offered me a surprising mirror into myself.
When I left the museum, a woman from WNYC-FM was interviewing visitors. The Australian couple she was interviewing had met the child at the beginning, but somehow didn’t engage at the next level and so didn’t participate up the ramp. This made me realize that participation in the “exhibit” was entirely voluntary and required personal effort. No one would push you to engage in conversation if you didn’t respond initially. I wondered what this couple’s experience was like. Did they simply watch the writhing duo on the floor for awhile and leave?
The woman from the radio interviewed me next, and I enthusiastically described my experience. She said not everyone was so positive. One person she had interviewed described it as “bait and switch,” meaning you paid money for art but didn’t get art.
But for me, Tino Seghal offered me an opportunity to connect with others, explore ideas, self-reflect, and consider the concept of progress. I was a co-creator of the art, and the product wasn’t just the discussion but also the lingering aftermath of new ideas and questions and connection with people who had been strangers until we had taken the time, in this unstructured, yet structured way, to simply talk.
Perhaps progress begins when we genuinely engage in creative discussion with others of different ages and backgrounds, open to the experience of learning and being moved and challenged. That this took place in a museum is perfect. Don’t most of us go to museums to be moved and challenged and opened to new experiences?
How would you answer the question, “What is progress?” I welcome your thoughts.
Author of Most Good, Least Harm
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Filed under: creativity, MOGO (Most Good), third side thinking | Tagged: art, connection, conversation, creativity, exhibits, Most Good Least Harm, museums, New York, progress, self-reflection | 1 Comment »