Guest blogger Karen Bower has been a docent at the IMA since 2008.
The entrance beckons. What is up there? After the walls of cobbly rocks caged in wire you see a dark tunnel. What is this place?
Park of the Laments is the largest public, permanent monument, or “intervention,” by Alfredo Jaar in the United States. The form of the park is a square within a square. One square is rigid and made of limestone-filled gabion baskets. Jaar has said the rough, crumbled limestone is a beautiful metaphor for people who have suffered in the past. The second square, soft and organic, is made of indigenous trees and plants. With walls of green and a ceiling of blue sky this center square becomes a relational art project – a place to escape to and meditate.
As an IMA docent who took many children to the Park of the Laments, I came to expect the squeals of the children’s voices testing the space as we walked through the dark tunnel approaching the light. Preparing the children for the tunnel was important to the tour. We approached an opening with dense shrubs on both sides and a staircase to climb. What will we see next? What is this place? I can see the sky and trees and hear the birds and sit on the wooden bench going all around.
On that hot day in June 2010 when the IMA opened the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres, I was lucky enough to meet the artist. “Oh, Mr. Jaar, you are here today! You get to see our visitors experience your new work!” Jaar approached me and said, “My work – it is too depressing,” referring to his intent of remembering those who have suffered in our world: refugees, victims of genocide. But I reassured the artist. A place to meditate and purge our thoughts of atrocities is necessary.
But how did this Park within the Park begin? Eight works were selected from 60 international artists in a formal bid proposal process to bring new site-responsive works to the new park. Alfredo Jaar was the last to bring his design proposal to the IMA. He had walked around in 100 Acres. It seemed immense to him. How could he respond? The final result is a space of human scale and proportion within the larger landscape. The cobble or rocks can represent lost souls, or not. The vine-covered walls can seem ruin-like or constructed with the idea of porosity – rain water trickling through. Your experience of the space and entering it will be your own. It is intimate and public at the same time. Many visitors feel a hush upon reaching the top of the stairs. Children run and play. Docents invite visitors to use their senses, to become mindful of what they hear and smell, to feel the air. We ask you to describe what you see or what you would name the space.
This is considered one of Jaar’s public “interventions” that memorializes military conflicts, political corruption and imbalances of power between industrialized and developing nations. Hence, the artist’s concern about the public’s reaction to his work on that opening day.
Jaar describes Park of the Laments as a refuge, a place where we can think and dream of what could be. Here in Indianapolis visitors definitely do not find it too depressing.