Taryn Simon

An Occupation of Loss

Corner of Islington Green, Essex Road
17 April 2018 - 28 April 2018
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “the soaring song of a Yezidi man is so devastatingly beautiful it’s like a blow to the solar plexus.” – Ben Luke, Evening Standard
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “Simon’s work is everything art should be, and it’s the best show of the year by far.”  Eddy Frankel, Time Out
⭐⭐⭐⭐ “The small spaces for the performers are beautifully austere. Freestanding walls are positioned in such a way to create different angles of approach and carefully orchestrated degrees of intimacy.” – Adrian Searle, the Guardian

The culmination of seven years' work with professional mourners, anthropologists, and historians, Taryn Simon's first major performance explored the relationship between life and death, grief and performance.

Each night audiences visiting An Occupation of Loss descended from the busy Essex Road into a half-built, subterranean, concrete opera-house where professional mourners simultaneously broadcast their lamentations, enacting rituals of grief from around the world.

Their sonic mourning is performed in recitations that include northern Albanian laments, which seek to excavate “uncried words”; Venezuelan 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.

Image: Chinese mourner in An Occupation of Loss, London, 2018. Photograph: Hugo Glendinning


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An audience clatters down a stairway down into a huge empty concrete space 3 levels deep. In darkness below, 20 or so performers stand ready to remember the dead. Michael Morris of Artangel said massive effort went into finding exactly the right space to celebrate an ancient art now often lost: powerful laments for those who are gone — Vincent Dowd, Today, BBC Radio 4

Image: People inside An Occupation of Loss, London, 2018. Photograph: Hugo Glendinning


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The combined force of the outpourings reached a sustained climax then fell away again to a single voice and, eventually, a deep silence worthy of Samuel Beckett. — Sean O'Hagan, Guardian


Selected Press

The work casts light on the ways in which western rituals of collective mourning have increasingly been stage-managed by governments and organised religion to exclude any visceral or disruptive expressions of grief. — Sean O' Hagan, Guardian

Simon’s work is everything art should be, and it’s the best show of the year by far. — Eddy Frankel, Time Out

The most ambitious international happening of all time...I'd like to send the PM a ticket to this event. — Waldemar Januszczak, The Times

Simon returns contemporary installation to art's oldest, timeless function of memorialising and confronting loss. — Jackie Wullschlager, The Financial Times

The research and bureaucracy behind An Occupation of Loss are formidable – there is no database of traditional mourning practices, or indeed of professional mourners. Simon found herself pursuing word of mouth links over years, between anthropologists, historians and musicologists. — Hetti Judah, i

The space seems both ancient and modern, a Piranesean vault....or some chapel of an unknown faith driven deep into the Earth – Adrian Searle, Guardian

The effect is enchanting, chaotic, mysterious - and at times frightening. — Vincent Dowd, BBC

Modernity has changed the way we mourn, but it has not removed any of the performance. Grief is visceral and Taryn Simon's piece aims to convey how it's beyond description, beyond words, and is a purely sonic experience. — Symeon Brown, Channel 4 News

Here is a thoughtful, even profound artwork. — Alistair Sooke, The Telegraph

Through the act of lamentation, we find ways to process grief and to better manage our understanding of death, both our own and of our loved ones, as something inevitable, certain. — Angie Kordic, Widewalls

Book: An Occupation of Loss

A detailed record of Simon's years spent researching professional mourning
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Book: An Occupation of Loss

€48.00 from Hatje Cantz

Available to buy via Artangel at the special price of £23 (UK) and £30 (Rest of Europe). Call to buy +44 (0)20 7713 1400.

In the publication, An Occupation of Loss artist Taryn Simon creates a detailed record of her years researching professional mourning, which culminated in a performance co-commissioned by the Park Avenue Armory and Artangel.

The book leads the reader through the complicated visa application process for the mourners invited to enter the United States, revealing the underlying structures governing global exchange, the movement of bodies, and the hierarchy of art and culture.

  • Published by Hatje Cantz
  • 220pp
  • Illustrations colour
  • Paperback
  • ISBN: 9783775743198

Production Credits

Producer – Michael Morris
Head of Production – Sam Collins
Production Co-ordinator – Marina Doritis
Lead Technician – 
Technicians –
Rigging –
Lighting Design –
Lighting supplied by Whitelight
Front of House Team –

With special thanks to

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Who made this possible?


Commissioned by Artangel and Park Avenue Armory. Generously supported by LUMA Foundation, Michael G. Wilson and Gagosian Gallery. The London Circle, An Occupation of Loss: The George Economou Collection, Outset Contemporary Art Fund, Alia Al-Senussi, Indoo Sella di Monteluce, Nicholas Warren and Catherine Graham-Harrison. London presentation generously supported by DoubleTree by Hilton London-Islington. With additional support from the Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte and Artangel’s Guardian Angels.

Artangel is generously supported using public funding by Arts Council England, and by the private patronage of The Artangel International CircleSpecial Angels and The Company of Angels.