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This fall, the annual Hyundai Commission will take over Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern, this time created by artist Tania Bruguera. On view from October 2, 2018, to February 24, 2019, the public work can only be “seen” through collective engagement, so the artist will invite viewers to be active participants.
Whitewaller spoke with Bruguera ahead of the opening about trying to get people to see migrants as neighbors in this monumental piece.
WHITEWALLER: For such a large-scale public commission, where did you begin?
TANIA BRUGUERA: I started by thinking on this as a public art project instead of a museum one. The material of my work is the emotional relationship one has with politics, so I originally focused on Brexit. At that point, one unresolved result was how English nationals could become illegal in Europe. It seemed extremely ironic that those who discriminate (the U.K. immigration system is one of the world’s hardest) would be put in the same category as the people they have discriminated against. But the timing and negotiations of political agreements are not the same as that of an art opening, so I abandoned this subject for this project.
Then, I spent months trying to imagine what each user of the space was coming for. The main question I gave myself or the beginning of the project was: How could we transform migrants into neighbors?
WW: How did the location of the Turbine Hall influence what you wanted to create?
TB: The Turbine Hall is categorized as a street by the city, and it is a free-of-charge space and one where people feel quite free, creative, and protected. Most of the visitors are tourists, which means that there is no long-term commitment or relationship with local subjects. This may be why specificity is hard in this space and, instead, there is a tendency to the spectacular or generic- universal that can suit all.
There is also a long history of public art commissions that are located in the imagination of people one cannot ignore. Public art projects are mostly trying to please a large amount of people who are very diverse. My work was done just for one person, instead. I wanted to bring the question of why public-engaged art has to be done for masses and not just for the benefit of one person.
WW: How are you hoping the public will engage with the piece?
TB: I have long said that I want my work to transform the audience into active citizens. The piece can be completely missed. You can only “see” it if you make the effort and behave collectively.
WW: Are you working with any new materials or techniques for this project?
TB: I’m trying a new technical avenue in my work, one I hope to continue after this project, is all I can say…
WW: What, so far, has been the most challenging aspect of this commission?
TB: How we can make people care and commit to their own neighborhoods. We are presenting a project that makes it harder to be prejudicial toward immigrants.