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This paper considers how two recent works by artist Tino Sehgal require us to ask again Goodman’s question, ‘when is art?’ No documentation of any sort is provided of these works, which consist of little more than performances repeated for the duration of an exhibition and whatever commentary is made upon these in various formats and media (reviews, press listings, word-of-mouth, and so on). Consisting of the transformation of actions rather than materials, these works are clearly not things, in the ordinary sense of the word.
However, in answering the question ‘when?’ with regard to these works, it will be necessary to take into account something dismissed by Goodman—namely, self-reference. A crucial aspect of what these works do as art is to make self-reference productive, or more precisely, recursive. Arguably, Goodman’s account of the referential properties of art works requires further development because of the quasi-theatrical and expanded status of works such as Sehgal’s and the problems of construction and temporality raised by them in the absence of conventional specifications of medium. I will demonstrate that an understanding of recursive form derived from second-order cybernetics allows us to describe what distinguishes such works in time.
Stott, T.: Recursion and the Question: 'When is Art?' The Case of Tino Sehgal. Graduate paper presented at the 2011 British Society of Aesthetics Annual Conference at the Old College, University of Edinburgh, 16th to 18th September.