Artist Taryn Simon in collaboration with OMA/Shohei Shigematsu has designed An Occupation of Loss a major new performance work choreographed around an OMA-designed monumental sculptural setting consisting of 11 concrete wells. Located at Park Avenue Armory’s Wade Thompson Drill Hall, and co-commissioned by the Armory and Artangel, London, the performance piece focuses on “the anatomy of grief and the intricate systems that we devise to contend with the irrationality of the universe.”
Designed by OMA’s New York office, the 11 concrete wells, each measuring 45 feet in height, will be activated by the presence of 30 professional mourners from around the world each evening. The wells are constructed of eight stacked, industrial concrete rings, which distribute their structural load onto a continuous platform. Integrated lift holds allow for easy disassembly to facilitate their transportation to new venues.
“Like Zoroastrian “towers of silence,” the installation makes explicit the never-ending human need to give structure to death in order to understand it,” explain the architects in a press release.
“The design was sonically-motivated, focusing on the performative act of loss rather than its physical manifestation, which has been historically marked by multiple scales – from tombstones to the World Trade Center Memorial,” says Shohei Shigematsu. “The industrial wells were configured into a readymade ruin that responds to both personal and monumental dimensions.”
Each towering structure provides the setting for the orchestrated ritual of mourning, emphasized by the “collective presence, absence, and movement of the audience within the installation.” The wells have been designed to amplify and reverberate sound waves, functioning as a discordant instrument.
The performances will be inevitably unrepeatable, as the interaction between the mourners and the audience and set will create unique reactions and movements. The mourners’ recital will feature texts from a variety of sources, including: 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,” the architects add. “During the daytime, visitors are invited to activate the sculpture with their own sounds, as a subtle drone created from recordings of the mourners’ rituals provides echoes of the evening performances.”
An Occupation of Loss will be on view at the Armory from September 13 – 25, 2016, after which it will be packed up and transported to be presented by Artangel in London next year.