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Benedict Johnson

Tania Bruguera: 10,143,319

10 October 2018 Isobelle Smith

The Tate Modern has just unveiled a fascinating interactive installation in the Turbine Hall by Cuban artist Tania Bruguera. From lying down with strangers to involuntary crying, the Hyundai Commission forces us to get physical and confront our relationship with issues of migration.

You could easily miss the installation amongst the immensity of the Turbine Hall. That is, until you see several pairs of shoes lining the edge of a vast matte grey rectangle. Visitors walk across it, leaving fleeting imprints on the heat sensitive material as they go, while low frequency sounds fill the space with an unnerving energy. As you walk, underneath the matte surface, glimpses of a larger image are revealed; each footprint a symbolic action.
 
Image Credit: Benedict Johnson

Hidden underneath the floor is a portrait of Yousef, a young man from Syria who migrated to London. The image was chosen by Natalie Bell, who worked with Yousef as part of work as a community activist in the SE1 area. Bruguera’s collaboration with Bell and other local artists (as part of the Tate Neighbours project) allows the space to be communal in creation as well as display.
 
The portrait is only made visible by the collective action of visitors - an art form which Bruguera has dubbed arte utíl, where people engage as ‘users’ rather than ‘spectators’. As a 'user' of the piece, you are forced to stand, sit or lie down in one location of the surface for a few minutes in order for the image underneath to emerge. This allows visitors to reflect on the position of a migrant who is continually bound to different locations, and it's very thought-provoking to have to work with strangers to be able to see a piece of art.

Image Credit: Benedict Johnson

The title of the work changes daily: it is representative of the number of people who migrated from one country to another last year plus the number of migrant deaths recorded from the start of the project to today, emphasising the sheer scale of mass migration and the risks involved.

Bruguera doesn’t just stop there, for in the small gallery, there is an organic compound that makes you cry. There is no choice but to stand in the confined space and shed tears with people you don’t know. Here, the artist engages with ‘the role of emotions in politics’, and asks us to think about displays of ‘forced empathy’ towards migrants. Notably, the name of the piece is stamped on to your wrist as you enter the room, the statistic literally existing alongside insincere emotion. All of these interactions are very typical of Bruguera's art style and make for a unique and interesting way of experiencing art.

Image Credit: Benedict Johnson

This is Bruguera’s second installation housed at the Tate Modern, having already held her ongoing project Immigrant Movement International here in 2012. In her previous installation, visitors had to line up and pass a lie detector test based on UK immigration questions before being given access to the gallery’s Tanks space. This 2018 commission, therefore, sees the continuation of Bruguera’s attempts to highlight issues of institutional power, borders and migration.

The final part of the installation comes as a manifesto drawn up by the artist and the Tate Neighbours, accessed by connecting to the gallery’s Wi-Fi. The document not only details the issues explored in the piece but also hopes to incite change on a local and international level.

Bruguera's work is designed not just to make you think but to directly confront and discuss the issues she presents. This means it is an extremely effective way of getting people to engage with both the art world and the human side of the political issue of migration - this is a very affecting installation that will stay with you no matter what else you see at the Tate or anywhere else that day.
 
Tania Bruguera’s Hyundai Commission will be at the Tate Modern until 24 February 2019. 
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