This past fall Taryn Simon brought professional mourners from around the world for her piece at the Armory in New York. The piece titled An Impossibility of Knowing What’s Actually Going to Happen is a performance piece that is performed in 11 tall cement cylinders. The cylinders are 48 feet tall and open at the top, together they resemble a large pipe organ. The cylinders were created in conjunction with OMA architect Shohei Shigematsu who described the piece by saying, “People don’t understand how to scale or physically manifest the issue of loss. It could vary from a tombstone to the World Trade Center memorial. We were careful to not make it too monumental, or too personal.”
The mourners are brought to help Americans confront loss and mourning, and see the way that other cultures express mourning. In American culture mourning is allowed the acceptable period of a month off of work, but needs to be quickly concealed after that. Mourning is also extremely private in the US, and public bouts of crying are met with concern. However by breaking the stereotypes of mourning in America, Simon allows freedom to express loss. Especially because in today’s political climate, Americans need to relearn how to mourn.
Simon’s variety of cultures serve as a reminder that while mourning is essential, it can take many forms. “In one tower, Haji Rahila Jafarova and Lala Ismayilova, from Azerbaijan, dressed in black, slapped their chests and knees as they cried, an anguished response to the suffering of Shia Muslim heroes and martyrs, which they mix with stories of the deceased.” While in another tower “carnival music hit the ear, like a distant radio station tuning itself in late at night. Festive, with a choppy, dance-hall sway, it was Aníbal González, a mourner from Ecuador, introducing his “yaravi,” a song that speaks of the dead.”
The combination of different cultures in a neutral space creates a space that is almost like another dimension. A place where death and life are allowed to blur, and where people can find solace from loss without judgement. The unusual concrete structures and performances reminded me of the possibilities of art to radically alter a space to create something impactful. And also a reminder of the boundless ideas of creation, and how art can serve as a bridge for people to come to terms with things far our of their control or understanding.