Although we will all experience grief at some point in our lives, how we grieve is determined by various factors and is very different, not only from person to person but from culture to culture. With the help of historians, linguists, and anthropologists, Taryn Simon has extensively researched the abstract yet collective experience of grief which forms the basis for An Occupation of Loss (2016).
Co-commissioned by Artangel and New York’s Park Avenue Armory, the performance explores the different rituals of grief and loss from the perspective of professional mourners from 11 countries including Azerbaijan, China, Russia and Venezuela.
‘Loss yields an emotional space and a vulnerability in which individuals seem to operate without artifice,’ says Simon.
‘I wanted to look at the potential of this space, and the mechanics of it – even the ways it can be programmed or performed. I started thinking about how we mourn individually, nationally, globally – how organised religion, government or civic leadership guides and shapes mourning and how citizens are mobilised in those moments of loss.’
Often marginalised today, professional mourning is rooted in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern traditions to honour and commemorate the deceased.
Within Simon’s performance you’ll experience a number of simultaneous lamentations, from the Native American ritual of the Wayuu in Venezuela that protects the passage of a soul to the Milky Way, to Yezidi laments that chart exile and displacement.
The exact location and format of the performance is currently shrouded in secrecy so as not to ruin the experience for the audience. For the New York iteration, OMA designed concrete pipes for the professional mourners to perform in (as seen in the images here); for London, Simon is creating a different format that will take the form of sculptures.
Known for their remarkable reuse of existing London space for major art projects such as this one, Michael Morris and James Lingwood, co-directors of Artangel, hint at how the unknown location is an imperative aspect of Simon’s work: ‘The enactment of mourning in this ambitious new work for London sees Simon transcend photography and text, turning a found site into a sonic instrument for the performance of grief, measuring losses beyond language.’
An Occupation of Loss by Taryn Simon runs from April 17 to April 28, 2018. Entrance on Essex Road at the corner of Islington Green, London N1 8AA. Monday–Thursday: 6pm, 7pm, 8pm, 9pm, 10pm; Friday –Saturday: 5pm, 6pm, 7pm, 8pm, 9pm, 10pm. Running time: 50 mins. Booking essential: £20, £15 concs.
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