Tears, Body Heat And Booming Sounds Leave Us Confused At Tate Modern

Tania Bruguera, Tate Modern. ★★☆☆☆

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Tears, Body Heat And Booming Sounds Leave Us Confused At Tate Modern Tania Bruguera, Tate Modern. 2
Tania Bruguera with her work and imprints from volunteers. Copyright Tate Photography, Andrew Dunkley.

Tate Modern's turbine hall looks darker than usual and that's because the floor is all black and shiny, coated in a heat sensitive material.

A low rumbling sounds draws us in and by the time we get to the far end of the hall it's so powerful that the bones in our ear feel like they're vibrating. It's a very unsettling experience and feels a tad like the white noise used to torture prisoners.

This is all part of the latest turbine hall commission by artist Tania Bruguera, dealing with the highly topical theme of migration.

A very dark looking turbine hall. Copyright Tate Photography, Andrew Dunkley.

There's a light grey section of the floor that's heat sensitive and applying our palms and our bodies to it makes a small section turn white. Apparently there's an image of a face under it all but that would require a concerted effort by 100 or so individuals all huddled up to one another to make that work. Without some serious planning that's not happening so you just have to trust there's an image under there.

We're not sure what Bruguera is trying to say here — that if we all work together we can reveal the extent of the migration crisis? We're doomed to never know how bad the migration crisis is? It's unclear and this lack of clarity sticks with us as we walk around this commission.

This isn't all, as there's a side room that continues the exhibition. As we enter our hand is stamped with 000010142926 as if we're an inmate at a new Tate prison. In reality the number supposedly symbolises the number of migrants who've died — we're not entirely convinced of its correlation with the true number given it goes up one per visitor.

Heat imprints turning the floor white and yet the whole picture remains concealed. Copyright Tate Photography, Andrew Dunkley.

Inside the small room is where it gets weird as straight away our eyes start to well with tears as we get a whiff of what we can only describe as industrial strength Vicks VapoRub. The stuff clears our sinuses and tears start to roll down our cheeks, it's a powerful effect. But note it doesn't work for everyone, someone in there with us had been inside for 15 minutes and was still dry eyed.

The whole point is to make visitors feel uncomfortable but again the message feels heavy handed and muddled. Yes, we know we should be shedding more tears for those who've died — but it's not that we don't feel the pain, it's that the news cycle is full of so many horrible things that we'd break down if we didn't have an inner wall to stop the emotional outpouring. Forcing us to cry suggests that most people just don't care, which feels unfair and cold given it's not triggered by genuine emotions.

This turbine hall commission is definitely an inventive and memorable one, but not one that we enjoyed or got a lot out of. The migration crisis is a serious and current issue but this artwork doesn't do it justice.

Hyundai Commission: Tania Bruguera - 10, 142, 938 is on at Tate Modern Turbine Hall until 24 February. Entrance is free.

Last Updated 02 October 2018