I’m sitting on the cold, hard, and uncomfortable floor of the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern opposite a woman a few years older than me. She’s Italian, with big round glasses and an arty style that makes me jealous of her. There are tears in her eyes that are at risk of toppling over and I’m doing all I can to comfort her. We met minutes earlier. We’re strangers. She’s telling me a story that she says she’s never told anyone, and it’s intimate and it’s sad and it’s a story that’s bonded her and I together very suddenly and very strongly. Then, as I tell her she’ll be okay, she gets up and leaves without saying goodbye.
She doesn’t say goodbye. Or hello. There are no salutations at all, just stories and leavings. So many stories. As people run up and down the hall, and weave between one another like a childhood game, a woman leaves the group to tell me to trust people. Like she knows I find it hard trusting people. How does she know? Why did she choose me? And why is she LEAVING, for GOD’S sake? They always leave and it doesn’t feel nice, because it doesn’t feel right. You can’t just run away after telling me to trust people. You can’t just not say goodbye.
It’s part of the piece by Tino Sehgal. You can’t say hello or goodbye in These Associations. That’s the rule. I think. I’m guessing. No one really knows what the hell is going on, but it still ends up meaning a lot to the public. You can’t leave. I’ve been five times and spent at least two hours just sitting and watching and listening each time. I want to hear all the stories and stay in this world of it being okay to pour your heart out to strangers and leave. There’s no commitment and no build up. No getting attached. No salutations is like having a rule of not saying, “I love you”. As soon as you say, “I love you.”, that’s it. You’re screwed. No going back now. You’re in this for the long run. These Associations is like a sudden lust, where you’re drawn in and doused in memories and epiphanies before being left agog.
You can follow them, if you like. Children do. Children run around with them and sit together in the middle of the hall until someone comes over and gives them a story. They lie on their fronts with their chin in their hands, and mouths open and eyes fixated. When the storyteller leaves, they go with them. And they run and they laugh and shout for more stories. When their parents come over to say they have to leave now, they strop and moan and cry for more.
After a few have told you stories, you can’t help but look around at the hundreds of people in that hall and wonder what stories they hold. Because everyone’s got stories. Only a few share them. The lights go out and the throng starts chanting. It’s one big story. They know something you don’t and you try to work it out, like you’re inferior beings to them. But as soon as someone comes over and chooses you to talk to, you feel wanted and a sense of belonging. You’re part of their story. And it’s weird and so odd, but it’s no different to talking online. I’ve told my darkest secrets to those on Twitter, and I have passing conversations about nothing that significant with others. There are no hellos or goodbyes, just moments of thoughts and stories. Moments of words on a screen. But here, it feels different. So typically British of us to stiffen up, gulp a lot, and frantically think, “Why is he talking to me what’s he doing I don’t know his person leave me alone oh god.” when it means words made by voices and instant reactions and the truth shown through your face. Because you can’t bite your lip or fold your arms or cry online. There’s little naked truth in online communication. And that reveal and reality within These Associations is what makes it so brilliant and addictive. Just one of these conversations or stories can change your perspective on even just a tiny part of life, but it makes such a difference being told in “real life”, and not online. It’s right there, from someone else. Not a screen with printed words. There’s bravery and confidence and trust in this vocal communication. You’re their best friend. When the lights go out and you’re talking into darkness, it’s like a childhood confessions time sleepover or talking into your own conscience. It’s intense. Anything could be said.
So they don’t say hello, and they don’t say goodbye, but for those few moments you’re the one person in the world who they trust. And I wish I spoke more to the girl who told me to trust people, and I wish I told my story to the man who had a dark childhood. I wish I had the confidence to talk to the girl with the gorgeous coat on the tube, and I wish I told the man on the beach that I loved his choice of book. Your life is a series of long and complicated interactions which make up one story. Let people into your story. Let them read it at These Associations, and read everyone else’s. Everyone has a story.
These Associations runs in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern, London until 28th October. Go!