The blind man played the accordion and sang a song that was neither sad nor happy, but piercingly beautiful. It was like a scene out of an Almodóvar film, like a crucial moment in a heroine’s life. The blind man, singing of his madre and his alma, sat on a ledge inside a tower, and looking up, saw only darkness. People passed in and out, some stopped and listened, and some stepped out, moving on to the next tower and the next—and in each, there were laments and dirges, elegies and requiems.
This was a performance of An Occupation of Loss
, the conceptual artist
’s commission at the Park Avenue Armory
, which includes a spectacular set she collaborated on with the architecture firm OMA’s Shohei Shigematsu. (Occupation
will travel to London next year, to be staged by the nonprofit arts organization Artangel, which co-commissioned the piece.) It’s a show built around the idea of loss, one that brings together a group of more than 30 professional mourners—referred to in the program as “collaborating artists”—who, ensconced in 11 concrete towers, deliver simultaneous lamentations, accompanied, depending on culture and custom, by musical instruments, hand-wringing, and/or tears.
The performances begin at sundown or after. Visitors ascend to a platform overlooking the drill hall and wait as the mourners emerge, walk up the ramps that lead to the tower entrances, and stoop to enter. When we spoke, Shigematsu described the low entrances as evoking ceremonies, of the implicit commitment that must be made in entering. The towers are monuments, monoliths, mausoleums. And the Armory’s Wade Thompson Drill Hall, the vastness of which is emphasized by the installation’s minimal lightning, is less cemetery than cathedral, the towers forming a kind of organ that amplifies the lamentations of the mourners who enter them. There is a brief sound like a gong, and then the visitors descend and the wailing starts. One may choose to wander, to enter individual towers, to look at the faces performing grief, or listen to solitary laments.