I recently read the New York Times article Taryn Simon’s Varieties of Mourning by Emily Witt as well as listened to the WNYC News recording by John Schaefer. We have also recently been talking about how to create a successful memorial and how to emotionally engage your audience. Taryn Simon uses sound in her piece as a large aspect of doing just this. The echoed eerie sounds that encompass The Armory evoke a sense of pain, suffering, loss, and fear. You can get a sense of this when listening to the WNYC News recording. I find this piece to be very successful. It does not focus on one event but instead one several, brought by the 30 professional mourners.
Many of these mourners practiced techniques that predate any traditional religion today. The mourning itself was a very personal act. During the thirty minute ritual, the audience could walk around the armory, enter the concrete tubes that the performers were mourning inside of, and experience first hand how these individuals suffered. This piece works to create a sense of pain and loss, it evokes emotion, and I wish that I could have seen it in person to understand what Simon was presenting to the world entirely.
An Occupation of Loss also deals with the idea of borders and the restrictions that are put on individuals from certain nationalities. As a result of this, a few of Simon’s professional mourners were not granted visas and could not attend the event. The ones who did had a painstaking mountain of paperwork for them to be able to enter the United States. I saw a comparison between this work and Emily Jacir’s Crossing Surda. In this work, she wears a hidden camera and shows the struggle that Palestinians must face just to cross one road to get to school or work. Both artists are making a comment on a huge issue that is facing the world today. We need more of this, and I feel as if this is the direction that memorials should take.