Describe your loss.
That is the simple prompt that will greet visitors to “After the End”, a new participatory art installation in Green-Wood Cemetery that opened on September 15.
Hosted inside the cemetery’s Historic Chapel, “After the End” is designed to give New Yorkers an opportunity to reflect on hardship and loss, especially since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic a year and a half ago.
“I don’t think mourning has become any easier as we move through the pandemic, which like grief, has no clear ending,” said James Reeves, who created the project with Candy Chang. “For me, this project began with the desire to create a space that provided some ritualized gesture for mourning my parents.
They say grief comes in waves, a cliché that sounds benign until you’re caught in its troughs,” he added. “We wanted to develop a space that allows us to engage in a few ways.”
Influenced by both religious ceremonies and science fiction, “After the End” invites visitors to anonymously share their experiences of loss on a scroll and place it on an altar. The scrolls are then illuminated by a bright light, giving them the appearance of candles.
Together, the many submissions will gradually form the visual component of the installation.
For Chang and Reeves, the process of sharing is a powerful way to come to terms with a loss of any kind.
“During some of my darkest times, my inner world felt like it didn’t belong outside at all,” Chang explained. “There are so many barriers to sharing our struggles out of fear of judgment. We wanted to make an anonymous space to commune around some of the most difficult experiences in our lives.”
The duo has previously exhibited work at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City and the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles. However, they are particularly excited to debut “After the End” at Green-Wood Cemetery, a unique and historic venue that enhances the message of the installation.
“I think the cemetery part is what we need today,” said Chang. “ It’s a unique public space that acknowledges death and sorrow, and it’s a fitting place to contemplate the many endings and beginnings and new realities throughout our lives.”
Although “After the End” is debuting during the COVID-19 pandemic, Chang and Reeves are hopeful that the installation will help Brooklynites come to terms with any other tragedy that they may have experienced.
They are particularly mindful of recent deaths caused by Hurricane Ida, as well as the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
“Like grief, there’s no preparing for this increasingly overheated and exhausted world,” Reeves said. “For myself, giving up on any idea of ‘normal’ seems like a critical psychological adjustment for surviving the 21st century.
“Yet we need to acknowledge what has been lost, and we wanted to create an open-ended space for mourning, both individually and collectively,” he added.
“After the End” will be open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Chang and Reeves will also host a free talk about the installation on Thursday, September 30, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
The installation is free to visit, but donations are welcome.