Cuban Artist Tania Bruguera ‘A Changing Number’ – migration at the Tate Modern

Artist Bruguera Tate Modern

Papers please, a stamp on the wrist, enter the Turbine Hall. Was this the entry did that give you passage or the title of the journey? A Personal Journey Journal – Artist Tania Bruguera impressively large art Installation at the Tate Modern titled ‘A Changing Number’ a Hyundai Commission from early 2019.

For what you do not know in advance, or if you do not speak to anyone whilst at the Gallery, it would not be obvious that room even existed. It is possible to just migrate into the massive open space of the Turbine Hall, at the Tate Modern. The Gallery its tower its basement width beckons you in from the Thames path like a magnet.

There is no art there being displayed, no sculptures. One gets to think the exhibition must be over, despite reading the fact the artist Bruguera is back in town.

As there are some sound installations perhaps it is Audio art that will enlighten?  Around the Turbine Hall, intermittent low-frequency sounds. I saw people laying on the floor in a purpose, in a pattern.

It describes the sound in the gallery as unsettling; I did not find much sound there or it being overwhelming.

What is Migration actions of individual and action of neighbours

Suddenly more of the text comes into focus and the meaning of this art project is about. Finally, a piece of text on the wall that bears the artist’s name to confirm the space and its antics are a part of-the-art project.  The act of heat sensing vibrations when in touch with the floor reveals an image, not sure where, or who of.

 Migration actions of individuals,

actions of neighbours.


Now I can compare my journey I just took to what it might be for a migrating person to land somewhere new, confusing sounds and images without meaning.

So now my mind goes back to the wrist stamp, like a passport entry

Stamping people with a mark in adulthood associates to positive times when people attend festivals music arenas, events where a mass of people congregate. In childhood a sense of achievement in a variety of shapes and colours. Throughout history, diverse cultures used tattooing marking people for various reasons. A tribal mark pattern, decoration for marriage war, identification of slaves, criminals, refugees. A mark of solidarity like the CND symbol, fashion, expression spirituality.

Stamping out a Faith

They tattooed British Pilgrims in the 17th C with the Jerusalem cross to mark and celebrate their journeys. Symbols badges stamps tattoos to identify a faith, to shame, humiliate punish segregate isolate concentrate. The Jewish faith is one such historic example.  As far back as the middle ages, 1215 Jews were being instructed to use a symbol to identify, even into the early 1930s.  Wearing the Star of David with pride migrated into a requirement of wearing yellow patches with the star of David on or else suffer heavy consequences. To the barbaric use of stamping prisoners of concentration camps.

Migration actions of individuals, actions of neighbours.

The Art Project is looking at the number of people who migrated in the last year, towards the number of migrant deaths. The artist features looking at the actions of individual people and how they interact. A group of people from the local area is taking part in this project from the SE1 area of the gallery.

North part of the building which was the Boiler-house is an area now dedicated to honouring Natalie Bell. Bell is a local community action leader. Bell made positive actions towards people in the local SE1 area of the Gallery. A Single mother who set up support for people.

Log into the Tate’s WiFi network

Bruguera with others from this community project has written a manifesto and this will appear on people’s phones for those who log into the WiFi of the Tate Gallery.

Contact with the floor activates heat-sensitive touch receptors and therefore reveals an art image of a young migrant male Yousef. The charity Natalie Bell helped him became involved with. The success of this story is that Yousef worked for the NHS after studying biomedical science.

A collection of their shoes.

Then there is a bit of text on the wall that bears the artist’s name to confirm the space and its antics is part of-the-art project. It means vibrations heat sensing or being in touch with the floor to reveal an image, not sure where.

Visitors Beware

On the Website of the gallery seems to suggest that if you visit a small room nearby there is an organic compound in the air of that room that provokes tears and induce empathy? Not sure what that is about.  I was not aware of this at the time but then did not go to random rooms without caution. It makes you think twice about walking somewhere off the street at random.

Meaning of tear substance

I later found out the name of the menthol smelling substance was not disclosed.  According to the Guardian it “Move people to tears”. It had to pass health and safety checks to be used at the Tate.

A social experiment with the tattoo stamp comprised a number when you visit the empathy “tear”  room.  “A Changing Number” the title fits in here, perhaps.  People use emojis to express emotions or shortcut words, via gadgets and the artist was looking at ways for people to interact with her art presentation and feel these emotions directly and react.

The Artists journey

So I was interested to look into the artist’s journey, obviously, this is more than just someone’s arrival at a demonstration painting a few political slogans. Quite a few awards for art and recognitions internationally not to mention personal risks.

Daughter of a Diplomat and Politician the artist’s projects can run into a few years where she worked with the issues that immigrant families would face. Founder of a Behaviour art school in Havana Catédra Arte de Conducta were diverse styles of art along with its connection to alternative theories around ideology flow. Assistant professor at the University of Chicago in its Visual Arts department.

The Artist is Cuban who makes political statements in her artwork. Self-described as a revolutionist. Bruguera no stranger to interrogation, being detained in Cuba for her views, activism, perceived actions. Resulting in the artist herself migrating to work in many countries. The message I understand, free speech artistic expression in some places on earth is not democratic or liberated as it is in other countries. Perhaps this theme is about how art migrates a message and how people migrate and interact with that. On Bruguera’s website the Aristotle inspiration, “All Human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion and desire.”

Tate Modern Gallery view from Millenium Bridge
Tate Modern Gallery view from Millennium Bridge


It was pleasant to see the open space and catch perceptions. No matter the weather, the journey over Millennium Bridge to the gallery is so worth it, a tonic.

Where is it

Bankside way, London Borough of Lambeth, England, United Kingdom


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