Tear-inducing Exhibition at the Tate Modern Forces Empathy Towards Migrants

Tear-inducing Exhibition at the Tate Modern Forces Empathy Towards Migrants
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The title of Tate Modern’s newest exhibition by Cuban artist Tania Bruguera will be changing everyday for the next six months. Today, it’s 10,144,472. But tomorrow, the number will likely increase. This is because the number reflects the ever-increasing number of displaced migrants and recorded migrant deaths in 2018.

Bruguera has taken over Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall for the annual Hyundai Commission piece, and has created what she calls “a series of stealth interventions” as a response to the ongoing migration crisis. Upon entering Turbine Hall, visitors are exposed to a low-frequency sound purposely playing to disturb and unsettle. The floor of the hall is equipped with heat-sensitive technology that conceals a large image of a young man who left Syria and found aid with a local British charity. His portrait can only be revealed if visitors worked together and interacted with the heat sensitive materials collectively. Further into the exhibition, Bruguera has designed a tear-inducing room which is basically a room with an intense menthol scent that evokes tears.

Combining the collaboration to reveal the portrait with the tear-inducing chemicals and unsettling sounds, Bruguera aims to “break down our emotional barriers to combat apathy”. This is what Bruguera calls “forced empathy”, or using physical effects to illicit a controlled emotional response.

Frances Morris, Tate Modern’s Director, said that Bruguera’s work is “less about the space itself than any other previous project”. It was a chance for people “to really think about the contemporary migration crisis, taking it from an anonymous and media-filtered narrative around statistics to a more palpable and deeply emotional understanding”.

A senior curator at the Tate, Catherine Wood, said that the series of emotion-inducing works were a result of Bruguera’s way to battle “emoji empathy” – the idea that if people are upset they might emoji react a sad face and then simply move on. Ensuring that people cry was “a kind of social experiment in actual empathy. The physical effect does remind you of real feelings and you see other people cry and it makes you want to cry with them.”

Tania Bruguera’s exhibition will be running until February 24, 2019.