Cuban artist and activist Tania Bruguera has been tapped for the most recent commission project at Tate Modern, which opened this past October during Frieze Week. The piece, which unifies disparate social threads under the museum roof, is a striking moment for the artist under the shadow of the nation’s Brexit negotiations.
The show presents a wide-ranging series of elements and pieces that unify around a perception of space as both social and political. There’s a massive sound system blasting deep, low-frequency rumbles across the Turbine Hall, orchestrated by producer and label-owner Steve Goodman (aka Kode9), an overwhelming soundscape that presents as both sonic and physical, as one feels their body rumbling from its raw force. In another room, Bruguera has filled the space with a chemical compound that elicits tears from visitors, creating a surreal sense of shared pathos that seems to have emerged both from the show’s material as well as from the each viewer’s sense of empathy. Bruguera has turned the spaces of the museum into a site where emotion is elicited, or perhaps presented, without concrete causes, a zone where the act of emoting is under investigation as much as the subject matter or subjects that may be doing or causing such outpourings.
Unifying these works is the floor itself, a shiny material that leaves the imprints of bodies laying or walking across it, rendering traces and implications of human form even after the bodies themselves have departed. Bruguera’s work here deals in particular with absence and presence, dualities that are once again brought to the fore by the show concept. Titled after the number of people who migrated from one country to another last year added to the number of migrant deaths recorded so far this year. the show both indicates the sheer scale of mass migration and the risks involved, as well as underscores the psychological abstractions that the average viewer performs every day to remove themselves from the burden and responsibility for these lives.
A similar sense of responsibility and shared space comes from Brugera’s use of “Tate Neighbors,” residents of the areas around the museum that the artist has recruited to pass through the galleries, interact with the museums, and with the museum guests, both inside and outside the gallery. “Our Neighbors asks visitors to Tate Modern to actively engage with the lives of our neighbors and to commit to a neighborly action wherever they have come from or where they live now,” a text reads when visitors sign into the museum Wi-Fi, prompting one to reconsider the spaces occupied and those around them. The result is a show that welcomes visitors into the space, but only allows them to leave after being prompted to consider the roles, relationships and networks that snake out from the museum and into the world around them. Bound together by the show, Brugera’s work makes the effort to prompt all visitors into a shared sense of humanity. Whether the work is a success is a question for the years to come.
The exhibition closes February 24th.
— D. Creahan