“An otherworldly, unforgettable experience”

By Paul Cardwell

Great art comes from great pain. It is our most ancient instinct to transform incoherent grief into something beautiful: a painting or a poem, a sculpture or a song. That is the subject of an enthralling experience set in a cavernous space beneath Islington Green in London.

How do we deal with death? How do we talk about the sense of loss?

The answer is we don’t. We can’t. Words are too specific, too literal, too mundane. Their bandwidth is too narrow and their echoes too shallow to deal with something so huge, so overwhelming, so final. When it matters most, words will fail us. Always, every time.

Professional mourners Haji Rahila Jafarova and Lala Ismayilova. Taryn Simon, An Occupation of Loss, London, 2018. Photo: Hugo Glendinning. Courtesy Artangel

What we are a left with is music. Inside every one of us there is a huge emotional cavern. Words fall away to silence in this space. Only music can fill it.

Of course, we like to think we know the music of sadness – blues, opera, the Smiths. The playlist of our teenage years.

But this is sadness given familiar form, shape. Turned into art. Dressed up for the funeral.

Real grief is raw. Undisciplined. Unkempt. Beyond consolation. Too personal. Too painful.

But there are a handful of very specialist artists who occupy the narrow dark alley between art and pain. The professional mourners. The singers of songs without words.

Zamfira Ludovica Muresan. Taryn Simon, An Occupation of Loss, London, 2018. Photo: Hugo Glendinning. Courtesy Artangel

The artist Taryn Simon has curated an ensemble of professional mourners from Kyrgyzstan, Venezuela, Romania, India, Greece, Ghana, Ecuador, China, Cambodia, Burkina Faso, Bhutan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Albania.

They are performing in a vast, galleried subterranean vault. It is an otherworldly, unforgettable experience. You should hear this.

You must. Because when they sing for you, you won’t be able to.

(This is an Artangel event. See everything they do. Don’t ask questions, just go.)

An Occupation of Loss by Taryn Simon is on until April 28, entrance on Essex Road at the corner of Islington Green, London N1 8AA. More details here

Paul Cardwell is Creative Partner at brand agency Superunion

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