Tatlin’s Whisper #5

Title: Tatlin’s Whisper #5

Year: 2008

Medium: Decontextualization of an action, Unannounced Performance, Behavior Art

Materials: Mounted police, crowd control techniques, audience

Dimensions: Variable


This is the fifth piece of the series Tatlin’s Whisper which examines the relationship between apathy and anaesthetization of the images in the mass media. This series intends to activate images, well-known because of having been repeatedly seen in the press, but are here decontextualized from the original event that gave way to the news and staged as realistically as possible in an art institution. The most important element in this series is the participation of spectators who may determine the course the piece will take. The idea is that next time spectators face a piece of news using similar images to those they experienced, they may feel an individual empathy with that distant event towards which they will normally have an attitude of emotional disconnection or informative saturation. The experience of the audience within the piece may allow them to understand information in a different way and appropriate it because of having lived through it.

On the other hand, the title of the series, Tatlin’s Whisper, evokes the present weakening of the impact a moment of Western history in which great transformations took place as the result of social revolutions originally had. A symbolic reference is made to Russian artist and architect Vladimir Tatlin, who created the Tower Monument, foreseen as the seat for the Third Communist International, an icon of the enthusiasm and grandiosity of the Bolshevik Revolution. The intensity, credibility and exaltation of socialist revolutions, just as Tatlin’s Tower, which was never built, were frustrated and utopia is rethought with the effort implied in a weak whisper. This series reevaluates the desire for moments of active citizenry commiment in the construction of a political reality, while ideologies transform and circulate today as pieces of news.

Tatlin’s Whisper # 5 was shown in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall Bridge in London. Two mounted policemen in their uniforms burst into the space while performing mass control techniques with the spectators in the Museum. Among other techniques used, one of the horses corners the audience that divides into two large groups and then are regrouped and compelled to crowd together while the size of circle made by the mounted police decreases making them stay within or without the space since entry is blocked by the horse’s body. Visitors generally answer by complying with the oral instructions of the officers and the imposing physical and historical presence of the horses used as repressive means.

The names of the piece and of the artist are not announced before the presentation to try to make the experience fresh for the spectators, which is linked to their media memory, rather than their artistic one. The piece activates a police situation exercising the limits of authority and power on civil society and where, through their behavior, the members of the audience turn into citizens.



Tania Bruguera: Talking to Power / Hablandole al Poder. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. San Francisco, United States. Curated by Lucia Sanroman and Susie Kantor. -DOCUMENTATION-

June 16 – October 29


Cavalli e Cavalieri. Museo d’arte della Provincia di Nuoro (MAN). Nuoro, Sardinia, Italy. Curated by Lorenzo Giusti and Alberto Salvadori. -DOCUMENTATION-

December 12 – February 23, 2013

Artes Mundi 5 exhibition. National Museum Wales. Cardiff, Wales, England.  Organized by Ben Borthwick.

November 26


The 29th Biennial of Graphic Arts.Dogodek, The Event. The Cankarjev dom Culture and Congress Centre.  Ljubljana, Slovenia. Curated by Beti Zerovc.

November 16


UBS Openings: Live living currency. Tate Modern. London, England. Curated by Pierre Bal-Blanc.

January 2

La Foule: Zero>Infini Chapitre 2 (Controle – Chaos). Espace D’Art Contemporain La Tolerie. Clermont-Ferrand, France. Curated by Guillaume Désanges. –DOCUMENTATION-

October 10 – November 30





Tania Bruguera:

What actually happens is that you arrive to the Museum to see art work, and you encounter two mounted police, dressed with their uniform, on their horses, and who are actually using all the techniques they learn in the Police Academy and through their experience as policemen to control the audience of the exhibition.

They have these police who are coming towards you and giving you directions of what to do, where to move, if you have to stand or you have to move somewhere. And they are using the horses to make this happen, like they usually do in their everyday job.

Mounted Policeman:

OK ladies and gentlemen, I’m just going to walk forward their, so if you could just stand one side or the other. Are these your children? Could they stand with Dad or with Mum? That’s it. Nice and close. Well done. The horse is now going to walk forwards. Stand aside please. Thank you very much.

Tania Bruguera:

The people do not have to know that it’s art. And for me this is very important, because once you know it’s art, then you can do other associations, that are not exactly what you would do in your everyday life. So the fact that they are using and having the same reaction they have in real life when they see the police controlling them, for me is very important. I am working in a way which I like people not to think it’s art, so they can really enjoy it as a lived event and not as a representation of a live event. And what I am actually doing is, each piece is like a little vignette where the audience can have a little piece of experience with power. In this case it is with the police.

In the next case, which I am going to do in Valencia, is going to be to feel that you are in power for one minute. So it’s all these different stages of power also, but through the image. So every piece I have done so far, let’s say it’s the quotation – the visual quotation – is an image I’ve seen on TV, in the News, on TV. And this is very important, because it’s how can you transform our main source of political education or bad education, which is the News, into something else? Mounted police is something you can see in the photos in ’68. You can see it in 1935, 1968 and 2000, you know, so it’s a kind of historically recurrent image of power. And always linked to a very specific political action in order – from the audience – I mean, from the people.

And I really like that people here were reacting with the same kind of a spirit like – you know – ‘Oh, is this about controlling people? Is this about terrorism?’ So I really like that people really have all this inside them, that they don’t want to think about, you know. It’s kind of a way to bring them back to this self-consciousness of the moment we are living at, right?



UBS Openings: Live The Living Currency, Tate Modern

London, England

Photos: Sheila Burnett

The Cankarjev dom Culture and Congress Centre

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Photos: Jaka Babnik

Artes Mundi 5 exhibition

Cardiff, Wales, England

Photos: Ben Pruchnie

©Getty Images Entertainement

Selected bibliography

(by alphabetical order)

Cippitelli, Lucrezia “To put an end to aesthetic judgements. Life, useful art, civil society and the diasporic gaze,” Tania Bruguera, On the occasion of the solo show “Giordano Bruno for Saint,” MLAC (Museo Laboratorio Di Arte Contemporanea), Roma, Italy. Ed. Postmedia Srl. Fiesola, Italy, November 2010, (cover y illust.) pp. 16-31. 

Griffin, Jonathan “Tania Bruguera: Cuba, performance and society’s relationship to its history,” Frieze, Issue 118, October 2008. (illust.) pp. 286-287. ISSN 9770962067014

Lambert-Beatty, Carrie. “Political People: Notes on Arte de Conducta,” Tania Bruguera:On the Political Imaginary, Ed. Charta, Milano, Italy, 2009, (cover and illust.) pp. 37-45. ISBN 9788881587643

Pérez-Rementería, Dinorah.Performance: An Open-Heart Operation On Selected Works by Tania Bruguera,” Art Nexus, No. 70, vol. 7, September-October, 2008, (illust.) pp. 94-99

Posner, Helaine.Introduction,” Tania Bruguera: On the political imaginary,” Ed Charta, Milano, Italy, January 28, 2009, (cover & illust.) pp.15-21

Sutej Adamic, Jelka. Mladi naklonjeni, nekateri so ostali nepoteseni,” Delo, Ed. Kasalo, Ljubljana, Slovenia, November 19, 2011 (illust.) pp.19

TateShotsCrowd control in force at Tate Modern“. February, 2008. TATE, Tate Channel: Tania Bruguera. United Kingdom.(Interview)