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.