If Manus x Machina was a diaphanous delight, An Occupation of Loss, Shohei Shigematsu’s latest design for an artistic installation, represents the extreme opposite end of the spectrum. Somber and heavy in a pitch-black space, the monumental sculpture is a collaboration with artist Taryn Simon. Best known for her photographic work, Simon here considers the anatomy of grief in her first ever directed performance.
Inside the vast Wade Thompson Drill Hall at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory, 11 self-supporting concrete towers, each 45 feet tall, are arranged in an ellipse. Resembling an organ, each pipe is intended to produce its own distinct sound as a total of 30 or so professional mourners seated within them let out their wails, laments, and songs. Shigematsu and his team at OMA New York considered other materials, but decided early on that concrete was most appropriate for its acoustic properties and its monolithic nature. In fact, the entire installation weighs 165,000 pounds and is raised 9 inches off the ground on a concrete plinth to distribute the structural load of the pipes.
While Manus x Machina was a quiet blockbuster, attracting more people to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute than even Alexander McQueen to become the Met’s seventh most visited exhibit ever by the time it closed earlier this month, An Occupation of Loss will reach a much more limited audience. On view through September 25, groups of 50 at a time enter—somewhat ritualistically by descending a single staircase dimly lit by two 40-foot LED strips—during several 50-minute performances a night.
For Shigematsu, designing this temporary installation—free of the more complex functional demands of a building—forced his office to focus on the effects of sound, light, and scale. “The level to which those aspects are enhanced and pushed on a project of this scope helps inform our larger works.”
An Occupation of Loss will also be open to the public during the daytime on Tuesday through Sunday from 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm, when visitors will be invited to activate the sculptures with their own sounds and performances.