Hyundai Commission 2018: Tania Bruguera at the Tate
Cuban activist and artist Tania Bruguera has been creating art concerned with the issues of the world for more than a decade. Her latest site-specific exhibit, commissioned by Hyundai Motor, attempts to generate a conversation surrounding the current migration crises, borders and displacement.
Upon entering the Turbine Hall across the shiny black floor – reminiscent of an oil spill – booming and unsettling bass reverberates, created by sound designer Steve Goodman. On the grey expanse, made using heat-sensitive paint, visitors are invited to lay down to produce a picture through body warmth. The image is that of a Syrian migrant who fled the country in 2011 with no money to his name, but who – with the help of local South London resident Natalie Bell – has gone on to become an NHS doctor. Bell’s name was chosen to replace The Boiler House building for the next year, honouring her work and positive impact on the community. Bruguera collaborated with 21 Tate Neighbours, all of whom work or live in the local area, in order to incorporate ideas of inclusivity at the gallery and manifest institutional changes through a series of stealth installations.
The title of Bruguera’s new piece is a cumulative statistic, 10, 142, 942, taken from IOM (International Organisation for Migration) depicting the number of migrants moving for work, combined with those who have died migrating – a sombre reminder which you are stamped with before stepping into the second part of her work. The room contains “an organic compound that makes you cry” – the strong smell hitting you with its menthol and minty sharpness, clearing out the sinuses – but the experience is not emotion-driven; Bruguera’s intention is rather to make us comfort one another with a “forced empathy”, becoming lost as we strive to stifle the involuntary tears, an instinctive reflex if anything.
The activist’s use of metaphor symbolises what can be achieved when everyone works together. Bruguera’s stealth installations – discreet creations questioning the notion of community and the existence of the international museum in a residential area – does well to introduce topical discussions, but her main work would fare better in a space that is not as cold as the Turbine Hall, where the results are far from what the artist worked so hard to achieve.
Photo: Kirsty O’Connor/PA
Hyundai Commission 2018: Tania Bruguera is at the Tate from 2nd October until 24th February 2019. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here