Art ‘Sex’ by Anne Imhof at Tate Modern

The choreographed performances by Anne Imhof are about creating an atmosphere that bring up associations. Thierry Somers finds out what the atmosphere of Imhof’s latest performance ‘Sex’ at Tate Modern is like.

The four hour live performance is hosted in Tate Modern’s Tanks which consists of two large circular tanks (the South and East tank), two smaller rectangular tanks Transformer I & II, and the Drum Gallery.
In the circular tanks Imhof plays with the dynamics between the performers and the audience.

In the South tank the audience stands on a raised platform watching from a distance the performers’ choreographed sequences of gestures and movements. In the East tank there is also a distance as the performers stand, sit or walk on a raised pier with the audience on the ground, but they can mingle with the audience as well.

The first time they perform in the East Tank, the room is filled with an electrifying energy. Sascha Eusebe enters the room with a scary zombie look in his eyes as if he had just come of the set from the Michael Jackson video ‘Thriller’. They start with a choreography that is somewhere in between a dance and a rugby scrum which is followed by a majestic sequence in which two performers are carried around a room as if on portable thrones accompanied with epic ‘Game of Thrones’ like music. It felt like a procession was taking place. As they moved across the room the audience created space for them as in the biblical story in which God parted the Red Sea.

I counted 15 performers with Eliza Douglas as the charismatic leader of the pack. Just like in Imhof’s ‘Angst and ‘Faust’, she is the key-performer in ‘Sex’ and features on the exhibition poster. Douglas is tall, androgynous with long black hair wearing oversized glasses and she is mesmerizing to watch. She is an artist, musician, a catwalk model (Balenciaga, Helmut Lang), stylist and costume designer, and has ‘Anne’ tattooed on her chest (Imhof is her life partner). In ‘Sex’ she sings and performs one of her guitar compositions reminiscent to the drone music of Sunn 0))).

Douglas also designed and styled the clothes for the performers. They wear a mixture of casual and unisex clothes such as T-shirts with prints of fantasy dragons, scary clowns or the words Love ACHINE, HK Army paintball shirts or Manchester City and Juventus shirts combined with hoodies, faded jeans, camouflage pants, motorcycle helmets, Vans shoes and sneakers with bold colours.

One of the sequences even felt like a Vetements fashion show. Douglas started to play a raw metal guitar riff and the performers walked like expressionless fashion models back and forth on the raised pier that became a catwalk.

I watched a few sequences that were performed in The Transformer II. In the middle of the space stood an object reminiscent of a bunk bed with a ladder and a diving board. Nomi Ruiz sang a dreamy song on top of the object that was as peaceful and soothing as a mother singing a night-time lullaby to her child. In another scene a female performer was lying on the bed opening a bag of sugar. When she poured the sugar slowly through her fingers on the floor another female performer crawled underneath it to take a sugar shower.

The ‘shower’ scene went over my head, but audience was captivated by it. They watched in earnest without a trace of irony. Just like Tino Sehgal’s performances – which he prefers to describe as ‘constructed situations’ – Imhof attracts a primarily young and diverse audience. Part of the excitement is that the audience becomes part of the art and mingles with the performers. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish the audience from the performers as they dress the same.

The tanks are in the basement of Tate Modern and Imhof brings up associations with things that cannot bear the light of day. In the Transformer II tank you can find links with the title of the performance ‘Sex’. Not necessarily in terms of intercourse or erotics, but to sex and violence. There are SM props displayed on the floor such as a stainless steel neck-to-wrist cuff and a leather whip, making the tank feel like a sex dungeon. There are also unnerving associations with drugs; performers lying on grubby mattresses next to a bong – making the tank feel like a crack house. For Imhof the titles of her works are not literally about ‘Angst’ or ‘Sex’ but more about the associations they bring up. ‘Sex’ brings up a roller coaster of associations.

Anne Imhof, Sex, Tate Modern, until 31 March.

Read our reviews of Tino Sehgal, ‘A Year at Stedelijk Museum’ here