Visitors to Tate Modern could, literally, be left weeping when they visit the gallery over the next five months as part of a series of “stealth interventions” by the Cuban artist and activist Tania Bruguera.
Bruguera is the latest artist to be asked to fill the vast Turbine Hall space as part of the annual Hyundai Commission.
Her theme is the crisis in migration. If that does not make people cry with anger and frustration then a room where an organic compound induces tears will do. The idea, Bruguera said, is to provoke a forced empathy … a physical reaction that she hopes will trigger “a shared emotional response”.
Other interventions include renaming the Boiler House building, the main galleries closest to the River Thames in central London, after a local activist, Natalie Bell. She was chosen, the gallery said, “for her positive contribution to the lives of others in SE1”.
Most of the Turbine Hall has been covered in shiny black material that is heat-sensitive. Underneath, at the far end, is a hidden portrait of a young man who left Syria in 2011 and found emotional and practical support through SE1 United, the charity Bell helps run. The portrait can only be revealed by people collectively touching the floor.
Sound also plays a part in Bruguera’s work, with unsettling, low-frequency noises designed to make visitors feel queasy, or give a sense that something is changing. The sounds are a collaboration with the sound artist and founder of Hyperdub records, Steve Goodman, known as Kode9.
The work’s title changes daily and is an ever-increasing figure in that it will be 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 idea is to highlight the sheer scale of mass migration and the risks involved. The number will be stamped on visitors’ hands. On Monday, the figure was 000010142926.
Bruguera is world-renowned for art that addresses big political issues. She considers herself a revolutionary and has become a thorn in the side of the Cuban authorities, detained on a number of occasions, interrogated and denounced in newspapers as a CIA operative.
Her work at Tate Modern has included a performance piece where visitors were herded around by police officers on horses using crowd control techniques.
• Hyundai Commission, Tania Bruguera will run from 2 October-24 February 2019.