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Artist Taryn Simon premiered earlier this week a monumental installation that explores rituals of grief and mourning through sculpture, sound, architecture, and performance. The large-scale structure of inverted wells functioning as a discordant instrument, will be on view till September 25.
Entitled An Occupation of Loss, this new work made for the Park Avenue Armory’s Wade Thompson Drill Hall was co-commissioned by the Armory and Artangel, London. A conceptual artist working primarily with image and text, Simon is breaking form with her first-ever directed performance with a monumental sculptural setting, in which she considers the anatomy of grief and the intricate systems that we devise to contend with the irrationality of the universe.
“The abstract space that grief generates is marked by an absence of language. Individuals and communities can be transformed, redefined, reprogrammed. Results are unpredictable—the void that loss creates can be filled by religion, nihilism, militancy, benevolence. (…) Visually and sonically, I kept gravitating toward the form of a well, but I wanted it to be super-terrestrial and have height instead of depth while retaining the echo, the reflection, and the vertigo,” Simon said.
Each evening, more than 30 professional mourners from many parts of the globe activate the installation of 11 concrete pipes, each measuring 48 feet in height, designed by the artist in collaboration with architecture firm OMA/ Shohei Shigematsu.
Like Zoroastrian “towers of silence,” the installation makes explicit the never-ending human need to give structure to death in order to understand it. Within each towering structure, the mourners enact rituals of grief that resound throughout the vast drill hall. These rituals are orchestrated by the collective presence, absence, and movement of the audience within the installation. Each performance unfolds from a convergence of unique and unrepeatable factors. The mourners’ recitations of tuneful, textual weeping include: Albanian laments, excavating “uncried words;” Venezuelan laments, safeguarding the soul’s passage to the Milky Way; Greek laments, binding the story of life with afterlife in polyphonic poetics; and Yezidi laments, mapping a topography of exile. The professional status of these mourners—performing away and apart from their usual contexts—underscores the tension between authentic and staged emotion, spontaneity and script.
An Occupation of Loss will be followingly presented by Artangel in London next year.