Art has done a lot for the world over the years, but it’s never cured the common cold. Until now, because political Cuban artist Tania Bruguera has filled a room at the Tate with menthol and it’s the best thing my sinuses have experienced in months. Apparently it’s not about de-phlegming the everyday art punter though, it’s an ‘organic crying compound’ that’s meant to make you weep for the international migration crisis. Sniff.
Bruguera’s whole thing here for her Turbine Hall installation is about migration and communities. She’s got together a group of people who live and work nearby to come up with a program of institutional changes that will last beyond the commission itself, to create a manifesto you see when you sign up to the Tate’s wifi and rename one of the Tate’s buildings after local hero Natalie Bell.
But in the actual Turbine Hall, she’s done… very little. There’s a loud throbbing rumble echoing through the space like you’re in the world’s most minimal techno club. The floor’s been coated in black tiles except for a portion covered with heat sensitive paint. Your body warms it up, changes it from grey to white; like a Global Hypercolor tshirt but, you know, art. Apparently, if everyone bands together and warms it up it reveals a portrait. Adorable.
Off to the side, you enter the Vicks Vaporub weeping room by having your hand stamped with a number which signifies constantly increasing migrant deaths. I get the idea, but anyone from a Jewish family like myself is going to feel a little queasy at the prospect of an artist stamping your skin with numbers… and is forcing a viewer to cry the same thing as making them feel an emotion? Not convinced, especially when it’s actually really pleasant to breathe in there.
The installation doesn’t need the Turbine Hall's space, it doesn’t use the space, and it’s dwarfed by the space. And while Bruguera’s ideas and intentions are positive, it’s just not a successful work of art. Are the parents and babies and groups of giggling German school kids really being affected by the plight of migrants when they’re in here or are they just lolling at how they can leave a little heat map of their butts on the floor? Bruguera wants her work to combat apathy, but she’s creating it.
There’s nothing unified here, it doesn’t communicate and it doesn’t give you anything as an experience or a concept. Look, Bruguera is clearly very sincere and that’s laudable. But sincerity doesn’t mean the work is any good. I could be sincere in the belief that I have a full head of hair but I’d still look like a pound shop Bruce Willis.
It’s not a good Turbine Hall installation, but at least it’ll sort your sinuses out in time for flu season.