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Havana Biennial 2019: Constructing the Possible Ocula Report Havana Biennial 2019: Constructing the Possible 17 Apr 2019 : Federica Bueti for Ocula

I first visited Havana in November 2016, a few days after Fidel Castro died, and just under a year before Hurricane Irma hit Cuba in September 2017. Since then, much has changed, including the hand-painted signs that punctuate the journey from the airport to the city centre, which today do not celebrate the revolution so much as the 'Unidad y...

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Andrew Stahl and Guo Xiaohui Ocula Conversation Andrew Stahl and Guo Xiaohui

The exhibition Beyond Boundaries at Somerset House in London (12 March–2 April 2019) marked the historic contributions of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (CAFA) and the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, on the occasion of their 100th and 150th anniversaries, respectively. Spread across several rooms of Somerset House's...

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The National 2019: New Australian Art Ocula Report The National 2019: New Australian Art 13 Apr 2019 : Elyse Goldfinch for Ocula

The National 2019: New Australian Art features work by 70 contemporary Australia-based artists split across three venues: the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Carriageworks, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) (29 March–21 July 2019), as curated by Isobel Parker Philip, curator of photographs at AGNSW; Daniel Mudie Cunningham,...

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Taryn Simon

b. 1975, USA

Taryn Simon is a multidisciplinary artist who works in photography, text, sculpture and performance. She was born and raised in New York, where she has been working since her graduation from Brown University in 1997. Informed by extensive research, Simon’s work investigates the implications of power and cultural infrastructures in the modern world.

Simon’s work shows a trajectory of her interest in documentary, as evidenced by her photographic projects from the 2000s. In 2002, The Innocence Project supported her to travel across the US to photograph and interview individuals who had been wrongly convicted. Titled ‘The Innocents’, the collection of portraits appeared as a book alongside the interviews and commentary from civil rights attorneys Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck. Simon then earned critical acclaim for An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, published in 2007: a catalogue of images of sites that are inaccessible or unknown to the public. Through her large-format photographs of nuclear waste capsules in the southeast of Washington, a Scientology screening room, and the headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan, Simon has compelled the audience to face the dark realities beneath the surface of America: realities they are oblivious to or simply choose to ignore.

By organising her photographs through a laborious process of classification and categorisation that resembles archiving, Simon highlights the insignificant and the overlooked. In Birds of the West Indies (2013–14) (Part 2)—named after the taxonomy of the American ornithologist James Bond—Simon followed Bond’s taxonomical footsteps in documenting and identifying all the birds in the 24 James Bond franchise movies. Working meticulously from screenshots taken of the birds’ split-second appearances, Simon ended up with 331 identifications. Image after image of birds force the viewer’s gaze away from the flamboyance of the films to focus on the forgotten avians. Like the sheer number of birds in James Bond films (and despite the dominating presence of the franchise), the entities overshadowed by the mainstream—be they human lives, plants or animals—must be innumerable.

Simon’s photographic investigation of cultures extends outside the US. A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII (2008–11) traces 18 family bloodlines, each with an unusual narrative. Ranging from the bloodline of a living Indian man who was declared dead in official records to that of Hans Frank—the personal legal advisor to Adolf Hitler—the series weaves complex narratives together with Simon’s characteristic archiving system. 

Similarly, An Occupation of Loss—a performance piece inaugurated in September 2016 at the Park Avenue Armory, New York—invited more than 30 professional mourners from different parts of the world to perform grieving rituals inside 11 concrete towers. Represented cultures included Cambodia, China, Greece and Ghana. The performance paid respect to the differences ways in which cultures cope with life and death, and to humankind’s universal concern for proper farewells. Alongside the performance, Simon also compiled into a catalogue the petitions sent to the US government to obtain each mourner’s visa. Many were denied, prompting The New York Times to comment, ‘It might be easier to get a soul to heaven than to get a professional mourner to New York City.’ The US government had unknowingly played an active role in the creation of the work. An Occupation of Loss also took on a sociopolitical meaning when, following the 2016 presidential election a few months later, the country’s immigration laws began to shift drastically. 

One of the most important photographers of her generation, Simon has exhibited in the US, Europe and China. In 2015, she exhibited in the 56th Venice Biennale. Permanent collections include The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Tate Modern, Whitney Museum of American Art, Centre Pompidou and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. She is a Guggenheim Fellow and a recipient of the 2017 Photo London Master of Photography, which is awarded to a leading contemporary photographer.

Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2017
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Featured Artworks

Chapter V Censored, Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I – XVIII Censored Edition by Taryn Simon contemporary artwork Taryn SimonChapter V Censored, Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I – XVIII Censored Edition Matte Black Paint on wall, 3 rectangles matching exact size of physical work
213.4 x 301.7 cm
Duddell's
Honey Ryder (Nikki van der Zyl) by Taryn Simon contemporary artwork Taryn SimonHoney Ryder (Nikki van der Zyl), 1962, 2013 Single Channel Video (8 minutes, loop) and Letraset on wall
Variable dimensions
Almine Rech
Azerbaijan by Taryn Simon contemporary artwork Taryn SimonAzerbaijan, 2014 4 black & white images
50.2 x 93.3 cm
Almine Rech
Crab Key by Taryn Simon contemporary artwork Taryn SimonCrab Key, 2014 2 black & white images
50.2 x 66.4 cm
Almine Rech
Switzerland by Taryn Simon contemporary artwork Taryn SimonSwitzerland, 2014 21 black & white images
101.3 x 201.8 cm
Almine Rech

Recent Exhibitions

Contemporary art exhibition, Taryn Simon, Paperwork and the Will of Capital at Almine Rech, Brussels
Closed
8 September–5 November 2016 Taryn Simon Paperwork and the Will of Capital Almine Rech, Brussels
Contemporary art exhibition, Taryn Simon, Birds of the West Indies at Almine Rech, Paris
Closed
21 February–14 March 2015 Taryn Simon Birds of the West Indies Almine Rech, Paris

Represented By

In Ocula Magazine

Gregor Muir, Princess Alia Al-Senussi and Abdullah AlTurki Ocula Conversation Gregor Muir, Princess Alia Al-Senussi and Abdullah AlTurki Co-curators, 'Duddell's presents: ICA Off-Site: Hong Kongese

Duddell’s, the restaurant and bar which has also become one of Hong Kong’s most important art spaces, recently collaborated with London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) to present the exhibition, Duddell’s Presents: ICA Off-Site: Hong Kongese. The exhibition, which opened earlier this year to coincide with Art Basel...

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Yokohama Triennale 2014 'Art Fahrenheit 451: Sailing Into The Sea Of Oblivion' Ocula Report Yokohama Triennale 2014 'Art Fahrenheit 451: Sailing Into The Sea Of Oblivion' 16 Sep 2014 : Becca Voelcker for Ocula

At the height of McCarthyism, American writer Ray Bradbury published his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 which describes life in a near future where all books are burned on the orders of the state. Extrapolating from the situation of censorship that he felt pervaded 1950s America, Bradbury imagined a fleet of ‘firemen’ who ignite all...

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In Related Press

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The art of the beautiful game: football moves off pitch and into the museum Related Press The art of the beautiful game: football moves off pitch and into the museum Wallpaper* : 16 June 2018

Football has many guises. It is a pastime where schoolboys scrape knees in a courtyard; a tear-jerking symbol of national pride; a multi-billion dollar industry with corporate interest.

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Mass Moca takes the plunge with Taryn Simon's ice-water installation Related Press Mass Moca takes the plunge with Taryn Simon's ice-water installation The Art Newspaper : 24 May 2018

Enthusiasm, delight and 'how are you going to do that?': these are common reactions to Taryn Simon's planned commission at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass Moca) in North Adams, says its curator, Allie Foradas.

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A Virtual Tour of a Larger-Than-Life Art Installation Related Press A Virtual Tour of a Larger-Than-Life Art Installation The New York Times Style Magazine : 20 April 2017

Taryn Simon's An Occupation of Loss is a somber meditation on grief, exile and recovery. When the piece debuted last year at the Park Avenue Armory, it took the form of a row of 11 concrete towers, each inhabited by professional mourners, each enacting a grieving ritual from a different region of the world. Two Venezuelan women covered their faces...

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An Exhibition Inspired by Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Arcades Project’ Related Press An Exhibition Inspired by Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Arcades Project’ Hyperallergic : 20 March 2017

If I had to bet on it, I'd guess that the most commonly cited text by Walter Benjamin is his 1936 essay 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.' But more dogged devotees of the 20th-century cultural critic would no doubt direct you to The Arcades Project, the published version of an unfinished work that Benjamin left behind when he...

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In Related Video

Taryn Simon on the art of mourning and how social media is shaping grief Related Video & Audio Taryn Simon on the art of mourning and how social media is shaping grief Wallpaper* : 17 April 2018

Having gathered professional mourners from around the world to perform their laments in New York in 2016, artist and erstwhile Wallpaper* Guest Editor Taryn Simon is now bringing her groundbreaking artwork to London, opening this evening. We caught up with Simon in midst of rehearsals to talk about grief, performance and ephemerality.

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