Tate Modern hopes to get visitors crying with its new Turbine Hall installation tackling migration – with a tear-inducing organic compound.
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, Cuban artist and activist Tania Bruguera wanted to create work around the migration crisis.
In the 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 room, a contained organic compound is released into the space to induce tears and provoke “forced empathy”.
Curator Catherine Wood said the work is also “an antidote to selfie culture”.
Asked what the organic compound contained, Wood told the Press Association: “I’m not sure I’m allowed to tell you that. 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.
The Hyundai Commission opens at Tate Modern on Tuesday and runs until February 24 2019.