Tuesday, September 27, 2016

SOL Tuesday: Grief Art

I should have posted this a week ago, but the experience was too overwhelming to assimilate quickly. Here’s what happened.

Taryn Simon, a multimedia artist, created an installation and performance piece titled “An Occupation of Loss,” about, partly, the ways grief is expressed in several cultures. The installation consists of 11 massive hollow concrete columns in a semicircle, with low ramps leading up to each one, with low entrances. They are in a very large room, dimly lighted. The performance is of professional mourners from 17 countries, including Ghana, Burkina Faso, Bhutan, Cambodia, Colombia, Greece, enacting their rituals of grief.

Both the installation and the performance are interactive. In the installation, viewable in the afternoon, viewers can walk into the columns, make sounds if they want, just sit if they want. With the performance, in the evening, viewers watch from a balcony while the mourners walk slowly around the columns, and then into the columns in groups of one, two, or three. After one mourner plays a high-pitched percussion instrument, viewers walk down to the columns, and then we could walk around the mourners, listen at the entrances, or even walk into the columns to experience the ritual closeup.

Some of the performances are purely instrumental, some are lamentations, some combine laments and music.

I found the experience emotionally overpowering and also comforting. The hollow columns felt like a structure that should be available for mourners in public places, perhaps like “churches” for atheists. As participants in the performance, we only had 35 minutes, and I could have spent at least 10 minutes in each of the 11 columns – going to each one for only a couple of minutes felt almost like window-shopping. I also wish the entire work had been available for more than 10 days.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

SOL Tuesday: A Blast of Memories

Putting away my new carry-on suitcase after my trip to Paris, I decided it was time to get rid of the small purple wheelie with the handle too short to be comfortable. As I pulled it out of the closet, I noticed there was stuff in it. The “stuff” turned out to be relics of my mother’s, her sister’s, and my sister’s after they died.
     There’s a Google map to Stratford, Connecticut, where several of the family stayed when we went to my sister’s memorial in Westport. Stratford was close to her home, and family and friends gathered there afterwards. There’s a printout of two kinds of meditation, with the hand and with light; my sister became an interfaith minister late in life and loved meditation. I must have thought I might try these, though I am not much of a meditation-person. There’s a letter my mother wrote to me in 1981, about a book of China photos, a Russell Baker column annoyed about the New York Times style book accepting pinyin spelling (stemming from my mother’s Sinophilia), and a hint to my parents’ divorce two years later, only clear to me now. There’s the program for my aunt’s memorial, as well as cards from her friends to my mother, along with two notes my aunt, who lived in Vermont, had written to my mother, revealing her interests in ballet (she’d seen Giselle in Montreal), cooking (she’d taken a class in low-cal French cookery at the nearby New England Culinary Institute), movies (she’d seen Babette’s Feast), and politics (it was right after the 1988 presidential primary).
     There’s a copy of my aunt’s will, now almost 20 years old. I know why my mother would have kept it (she kept almost everything), but why did I? Did I want her list of charitable bequests?
     There’s a journal my sister started two years after her third breast cancer diagnosis, which she titled “Morning Pages”; she kept it for five days. I know now that she had two more years, but she didn’t know. She writes about her bodily feelings, but also her spirit as different from her body, prayer, positive thinking, visualization – all areas I feel little connection with, but find interesting to read. I think I’ll see if her older daughter wants the notebook.
     Lots of photographs, family and otherwise. some I have, but others are of people I don’t know and don’t know why I took them. A clipping from the Miami News, December 19, 1975, is about my mother's talk at a local YWCA about her recent trip to China, one of the early visits organized by the U.S.-China People’s Friendship Association.
      Finally, the stash included recipes, two from my aunt, her Vermont baked beans and a Spicy Rice & Nuts from Montpelier’s Hunger Mountain Co-op. I can barely deciper my aunt’s handwriting for the baked beans, but the Spicy Rice & Nuts looks like something I will try out for my vegetarian days. There are also two recipes in my handwriting that I must have sent to my mother, one for Ghivetch, a Balkan vegetable stew, which I remember making, and another for poached bass with sweet peppers. I made this dish for dinner tonight, though I had to use cod since no striped bass was available. It was delicious. 
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