Serenading the soul in face of loss and tragedy through a diversity of cultures
What makes a life grievable? When it can be lost in an instant, without warning or without cause, we are forced to comprehend the vulnerability of our existence. Judith Butler wrote about the precariousness of life in her book, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence; without which, a life’s worth cannot be understood. A life is cherished because it is precarious; it is precarious because it is grievable. This precariousness gives life its very significance. But does this grievability lend itself weight within the consciousness of our everyday? Where death might be more palpable and frequent in other conflict-torn countries, majority of us hardly brush close to a grave sense of finality until the actual end of our lives. American multi-disciplinary artist Taryn Simon unpacks the gravitas surrounding this solemn notion and how life is grieved in different parts of the world in her latest performance. Commissioned by Artangel, An Occupation of Loss is anhour-long journey to understand the human condition.
A cluster of us wait around an amphitheatre before being led like curious sheep two floors down to a basement that revealed an entirely new world to us. A near dystopian landscape laid before our eyes – four levels of concrete land resembling a multi-storey carpark is stripped bare to become a vessel for the mourning that was about to begin and silence us all. As we gather around the spherical stage, mourners in pairs or trios, some as individuals, made their entrance, each passing through two light beams streaming down from the high ceilings – quite like the gates of hell. We find out later in the publication that they hail all of the world: Yemen, China, Mexico, to name a few. After the rite of passage, the space transformed into a maze that we were allowed to wander through and meet each group of mourners in a more intimate encounter as they delivered their unique song of grief to ease the dead and comfort the living.
There was not a moment articulated in English, but that allowed the power of music and human emotion to shine through, transcending the illusory barriers of language. Even as one wonders what each of them were singing and sobbing so profusely, it does not stop us from being ineffably stirred. Enthralling, sublime and ghostly all at once, An Occupation of Loss forces us to keep in touch with our sentience while positing another question on borderlands altogether. In creating this performance over the last 6 years, Simon has accumulated 12-foot tower of paperwork she had to complete for each individual mourner, which was fully documented in the publication; the work and time devoted to the execution of this performance only sheds light and probes more question on the bureaucratic inhibitions towards creative practice and expression. That aside, the assemble that Simon has orchestrated tonight more than leaves us with an aching tenderness about our very precarious lives.
Taryn Simon: An Occupation of Loss
17 April – 28 April 2018
Corner of Islington Green, Essex Road
Presented by Artangel