Tania Bruguera

Tatlin’s Whisper #5

2008

Artist
Tania Bruguera born 1968
Original title
El susurro de Tatlin #5
Medium
Performance, 2 people and 2 horses
Dimensions
None
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by Alin Ryan von Buch 2009
Reference
T12989

On loan to: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (San Francisco, USA)

Exhibition: Tania Bruguera: Talking to Power

Summary

Tatlin’s Whisper #5 is a performance work by the Cuban artist Tania Bruguera. During the performance, two mounted policemen in uniform (one on a white horse and one on a black horse) are brought into the museum or exhibition space. They patrol the space, guiding and controlling the audience by using a minimum of six crowd control techniques. These include actions such as closing off the gallery entrance or entrances, pushing the audience forward with lateral movements of the horses, manipulating the audience into a single group and encircling it to tighten the group, frontal confrontation with the horse, and breaking up the audience into two distinct groups.

The techniques used by the mounted police are common at major public events. However, the artist is keenly aware that the experience of such forms of control changes radically according to the context in which they are encountered; a sporting event staged in a Western liberal democracy, for instance, is quite different from an unauthorised political demonstration under a more authoritarian regime. In the context of its performance at Tate Modern, the action has revealed certain particular characteristics, including the use of jocular humour by the British police as an additional method of keeping the crowd and situation under control. This was interspersed with more direct commands, with the crowd playing along or becoming more wary accordingly. Examining choreographed performance and experiences embedded within reality, the work reflects on the complex relationship between agents of authority and the people they aim to control.

Bruguera was born in Cuba in 1968 and lives and works in Chicago, Paris and Havana. She makes performances and installations that use silence and self-censorship as a means both to impose and resist power, addressing the relationship between art, politics and everyday life. Bruguera uses performance to create direct experiences of, and commentaries on, political structures, appropriating the tools used by systems of power themselves. She does not simply represent political situations but creates them by putting into motion some of the same strategies used by political authority. Her work frequently addresses Cuba’s social, political and economic history and expresses the resulting experiences of alienation and disorientation through the body in action.

Tatlin’s Whisper #5 is part of a series of works in which images familiar from the news ‘become real life experiences … by [their] placement inside a museum or a centre intended for art exhibitions’ (Tania Bruguera, ‘Certificate of Authenticity and Ownership Conditions’, Tatlin’s Whisper #5, 2008, Tate Acquisition File, Tania Bruguera). The series references the Soviet modernist artist Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International (1919–20), which was conceived as the working monument for the Communist International but never built. Bruguera’s project produces unconventional monuments through the experience of live events, using memory as the means through which the monument survives.

Further reading
Roberto Pinto (ed.), Tania Bruguera: Esercizio di resistenza, exhibition catalogue, Franco Soffiantino Arte Contemporanea, Turin 2004.
Stephanie Schwartz, ‘Tania Bruguera: Between Histories’, Oxford Art Journal, vol.35, no.2, June 2012, pp.215–32.
Jonathan Wallis and Tania Bruguera, ‘Interview with Tania Bruguera’, Art & the Public Sphere, vol.4, nos.1–2, December 2015, pp.31–8.

Tanya Barson
June 2008

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