An Occupation of Loss, 2016
In An Occupation of Loss, professional mourners simultaneously broadcast their lamentations, enacting rituals of grief. Their sonic mourning is performed in recitations that include northern Albanian laments, which seek to excavate “uncried words”; Wayuu laments, which safeguard the soul’s passage to the Milky Way; Greek Epirotic laments, which bind the story of a life with its afterlife; and Yezidi laments, which map a topography of displacement and exile. Simon’s installation considers the anatomy of grief and the intricate systems we use to manage contingencies of fate and the uncertain universe.
In the act of lament, discontent is publicly performed. The status of the lamenters as professionals—performing away and apart from their usual contexts—underscores the tension between authentic and staged emotion, memory and invention, spontaneity and script. An Occupation of Loss investigates the intangible authority of these performers in negotiating the boundaries of grief: between the living and the dead, the past and the present, the performer and the viewer.
The abstract space that grief generates is often marked by an absence of language. Individuals and communities pass through the unspeakable consequences of loss and can emerge transformed, redefined, reprogrammed. Results are unpredictable; the void opened up by loss can be filled by religion, nihilism, militancy, benevolence—or anything. An Occupation of Loss observes the contradictory potential of this space and the mourners who guide it. The bereaved solicit the authority of professional mourners to occupy, negotiate, and shape their loss. The mourners control a psychological experience by directing and embodying the emotion of others. Despite this authority, the women and men who command this abstract terrain have often been marginalized by governments, economic systems, and orthodoxy.
In consultation with linguists, musicologists, anthropologists, and historians, Simon systematically researched surviving practices of lament, many of which trace their origins to pre-Christian and pre-Islamic eras. Petitions were filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and local consulates to seek authorization for P-3 visas for all invited performers. P-3 classification is reserved for artists considered “culturally unique.” Simon documents the routes of the application process to reveal the underlying structures governing global exchange, the movement of bodies, and the hierarchies of art and culture. Excerpts from FORM I-129 Supporting Documents (“Affidavits, Testimonials, or Letters from Recognized Experts”) in the P-3 Visa Petition (“Artist or Entertainer Coming to Be Part of a Culturally Unique Program”) will be provided upon exiting the installation.