A man and woman walk briskly past a fully clothed couple who are engaged in foreplay on the pavement outside the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, despite the freezing cold. “That’s unusual,” the woman says. “Don’t they have motels here? What do you think it’s about?” the man replies. This is Kiss, a live project by the artist Tino Sehgal, first staged in Nantes in 2002 and now taking over Leeds city centre.
The public’s perplexed reactions as they stumble across Kiss are almost as riveting as watching the participating couples, who segue from pose to pose in a looping tangle of languid movements. They are dancers from the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, and this erotically charged choreography is inspired by artists from Rodin to Klimt.
Unlike some of Sehgal’s more recent works, like his 2012 Tate Turbine Hall piece These associations, in which participants shared intimate stories with visitors, Kiss does not require audience engagement. Occasionally, one of the dancers will meet a spectator’s gaze and hold it, or say the name of the artist, the date and the title of the piece, as well as the institution staging it.
Kiss counts among Sehgal’s most sculptural works, so it is no surprise he chose this piece to be part of The Event Sculpture series at the Henry Moore Institute. Conceived by the institute’s head Lisa Le Feuvre with curator Pavel Pyś, this series of nine sculptural events – which has so far featured a flying chair by Roman Signer and Simone Fort’s Slant Board, a giant ramp performers moved across using ropes – is intended to “challenge assumptions of sculpture as immovable, stable and fixed”. Overlooking the scene, Henry Charles Fehr’s monumental Leeds War Memorial and one of Joseph Beuys’s 7000 Oaks are reminders that Sehgal’s kissing couples are not sculpture in the traditional sense.
The Event Sculpture has reached a turning point with this, the seventh part of the series. Until now, all the works had been made on the institute’s exterior, using the building’s black granite facade as a backdrop. But Sehgal was interested in the delicate moment of transition when the events would move inside the gallery.
Kiss’s Leeds incarnation began on 2 February at 6pm and ran through the night until 11am on 3 February, when two of the dancers were lifted by the other couples into the largest of the institute’s three galleries through the goods’ entrance. The couple rolled inside, continually locked in an embrace, to lead the way for visitors.