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Turbine Hall Hyundai Commission 2018: Tania Bruguera - Review

2 October 2018 – 24 February 2019



The Tate Modern Turbine hall is dramatic, unavoidable, and famous for its impressive commissioned installation pieces. This year, Tania Bruguera, a Cuban activist and artist, takes the stage with her commission, in a more interacting, emotionally loaded piece than ever before.

When walking inside the Tate modern back entrance, two sensations of sensorial disturbance greet the viewer: the realisation that the entire floor of the Turbine Hall is covered in black, shiny tiles, and an overwhelmingly deep bass sound that thrums through your entire body. As the viewer walks down towards the other side, the thrumming gets louder, and the seemingly wet tiles seem to derive directly from a street in a dystopian underworld. The first feeling that overcomes you is discomfort, the second is fascination.

On the other side of the Turbine Hall, a grey floor is visible. In it lay a circle of people: the Tate Neighbours, a collective set up by the artist, Tania Bruguera, who is laying in the middle. After a while, the circle of people stand up and form a line, with Bruguera in the front, putting up her spread hands, then her middle fingers, then two peace signs, and then a fist. A true activist is at work here.

Tania Bruguera, 10,142,926, Credit © Tate photography (Andrew Dunkley)

The grey floor works with body heat, and leaves a white imprint of one’s body if pressed against the floor long enough. However, this takes quite long and only works when someone is wearing clothes that their body heat can radiate through (coats do not work, which can be an issue with the cold London winter approaching.) Still, when the people in line stand in front of their own body shapes, that form a connected circle in the gazing room, accompanied by the thrumming bass in the background, a chill will run through your spine.

Bruguera states that her work is about creating neighbours, a feeling of community outside a shared ideology, and it deals with xenophobia, specifically towards immigrants. “Movement” is another key term in this work: the sentient grey floor is a metaphor to show that everyone can leave an impact on the world, whether they leave or arrive at a certain place.The title of Bruguera is not fixed, and changes everyday. It is a number: the number of people that move to a different place—immigration in all its forms—combined with the number of people who passed away trying to move.

Tania Bruguera, 10,142,926, Credit © Tate photography (Andrew Dunkley)

In order to create a new sense of community, Bruguera set up Tate Neighbours, an organisation that has been meeting twice a week for a couple of months already, and will continue to do so for the next two years. Its goal is to make the local neighbourhood around Tate feel more at home and welcome at the internationally famous museum.

Underneath the grey floor, invisible to the eye, is the portrait of a Syrian boy who, after being send away from the United States, found a place in London through the charity organisation of Natalie Bell, a Tate Neighbour who works vigorously for the SE1 community around Tate Modern. The Tate Neighbours unanimously decided to use a portrait of the boy as a symbol for the community and as a call for attention to the migration crisis, as well as a means to raise the question: “what makes a good neighbour?”

Another addition to Bruguera's work, one of the building in Tate have been named after Natalie Bell, the Tate neighbour who did so much community work. Even though Natalie Bell may not be internationally famous, the work she did for the community around Tate will be honoured through this change, and it is another example of Bruguera's unconventional ways of confronting the viewer with the reality: it provokes us to think less about fame, and more about worth and local bonds.

Tania Bruguera, 10,142,926, The Tate Neighbours in front of the Natalie Bell Building, Credit © Tate photography (Andrew Dunkley)

The solipsistic way of acquiring information through our phones is also being challenged by the physical and collective need of engagement by the public in order for this piece to work. The portrait of the boy is almost impossible to retrieve—at least 300 warm bodies would be needed — but the shapes and imprints of the viewers are enough to create a new sense of movement that is binding and evolving.

One might say that Bruguera’s goals of collective collaboration are too idealistic in our individualistic society, but it is extremely refreshing, especially in an environment like Tate, to see the vision of an artist displayed that strives towards social transformation in a local community. Taking the subject matter, the immigration crisis, into consideration, the chilling backdrop for this work somehow fits within Bruguera’s heartwarming concept. We will have to wait and see whether her radical vision will come to fruition. As she herself said: “I am not lost to the human ideals, but I firmly believe that change can only happen when a lot of us work together. Tirelessly.”

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