London Exhibit Spotlights Migration Agony Through Tear-Inducing Gas

Published October 2nd, 2018 - 12:00 GMT
Tania Bruguera, centre, and guests stand after lying on her artwork, a heat-sensitive floor, in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern (Twitter)
Tania Bruguera, centre, and guests stand after lying on her artwork, a heat-sensitive floor, in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern (Twitter)

Tate Modern hopes to get visitors crying with its new Turbine Hall installation tackling migration – with a tear-inducing chemical.

The menthol-based gas, which the museum insists is safe for the general public, will be pumped into a small white room that fits around five people.

Cuban artist and activist Tania Bruguera, who created the new exhibition, says the box will provoke 'forced empathy' in visitors.



The Hyundai Commission's main attraction is a large hall in which visitors are played an 'unsettling sound' while they try to uncover the face of a young Syrian man.

The annual commission is one of the museum's most popular events – artists have previously responded by creating 100 million 'sunflower seeds', spiralling slides and a dazzling sun.

This year, controversial artist Bruguera, 50, wanted to create work around the migration crisis.

In the London museum's cavernous Turbine Hall, visitors will hear a 'low-frequency sound' , creating an 'unsettling energy'.

People can use the heat from their bodies to uncover, under the floor, a large portrait of a young man who was homeless in London after leaving Syria in 2011 but is now working for the NHS.

Curators say that uncovering the image is 'an almost impossible task' and admit 'the warmer parts of your body do show up' on the floor – leading to some potentially embarrassing moments.

Tate Modern director Frances Morris said of needing 'collective action' to make the portrait appear: 'If 300 hot bodies came and lay down we'd be very pleased.'

In an adjoining empty white room, a contained organic compound is released into the space to induce tears and provoke 'forced empathy'.

A museum spokesperson told MailOnline that the organic chemical dries out the eyes 'like a menthol steam'.

They said that while the exhibit can't force emotions, the small room - which fits around five people - can trigger a physical reaction which may help people react to the rest of the exhibit.

The room warns visitors of the gas with a sign outside, and a member of staff will be on hand at all times to assist should visitors become distressed, they said.

Curator Catherine Wood said: 'It's very safe. Barry, our health and safety officer, has not let us get away with anything.'

Curators say the name of the installation changes in reference to 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 – currently 10,142,926.

Artist Bruguera described the piece as a 'risk', saying: 'This is the kind of commission an artist wants but, as soon as you get, you panic.'

The work also is about making Tate Modern a 'local museum' for neighbours who had never set foot in the world-famous gallery, with its north building renamed for a year in honour of local activist Natalie Bell.


This article has been adapted from its original source.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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