Grief Is a Beast That Will Never Be Tamed

A public meditation on loss that invites passersby to share the rituals, beliefs, and texts which have provided solace.

Displays of mourning and the contemplation of death were once critical components of public life, yet much of modern society has swept these elements from view. Today fewer people belong to a particular faith and many of us are left to confront death alone without the rituals and reassurances of community. How can our public spaces better address our relationship with grief, which is the most universal yet also most isolating of emotions?

Grief Is a Beast That Will Never Be Tamed is a mural that offers a meditation on loss and invites passersby to share rituals, beliefs, and texts which have provided solace. Inspired by the myth of the Minotaur, the first installation was created in Heraklion, Greece. The presentation of the mural included a discussion on grief and rituals with the community. This work is part of an ongoing collaboration between Candy Chang and James A. Reeves.

A Meditation on Loss

Grief is a beast that will never be tamed, a creature born from broken promises and mistakes. We will always be together. I will never leave you. Everything will be okay. No matter how heartfelt these vows might be, one day they will collapse and leave us pacing the floors in shock, half-thinking we might enter a room to find the departed returned, sitting in a favorite chair. Instead we discover a new companion, a shadow in the corner.

Although experienced by everyone, grief remains fiercely private. Only we know the textures missing from our lives. The sound of a loved one’s feet padding down the hall, the heat and history pulsing beneath the way they said good morning—a voice never to be heard again. The shadow howls for answers. Infected by phrases like moving on and overcoming, we push this creature back into the darkness where it grows deformed, torturing us with dreams of running through unfamiliar rooms.

Our psyches are such elaborate labyrinths of defensive architecture, cluttered with alleys and walls that prevent grief from baring its teeth. But cracks always emerge. Grief might arrive on a gust of wind or a glimpse at a calendar, but it seems to prefer the night when silence allows it to be heard most clearly. Nails skitter across memories and regret burns like a fever. We try to fight but there is no battle here, no prize to be won. This creature cannot be buried or slain by a hero. One night it comes to you on its knees, asking for mercy, demanding to be seen. Perhaps grief cannot be tamed, but it can be loved.

We invite you to visit the the project site and share your experience with loss and ritual.

2017, Heraklion, Greece. The mural is located at Giannikou 37 near Kafeneion O Lakkos. Acrylic, paper. 5.5 m wide x 3 m tall (18 ft wide x 10 ft tall). With support from the Lakkos Artist Residency. Greek translation by Antonis Tsirikoudis.
The collage for Grief Is a Beast That Will Never Be Tamed was built from pieces of several Renaissance and Baroque paintings, including The Entombment by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1656); Salome with the Head of John the Baptist by Caravaggio (1609); Christ and the Adulteress by Valentin de Boulogne (1620); and Michelangelo’s Pietà (1499).
Some personal notes on the project.
Other Public Works

The Atlas of Tomorrow

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Inspired by the mountains and fires of the I Ching, I wrote sixty-four fables for a mural conceived by the artist Candy Chang that invites passersby to consider a dilemma in their lives.

She Dreamed of a Place Called Fat City

New Orleans, Louisiana

A collaboration with Candy Chang that explores the possibilities of deeper storytelling in public space.

Love Destroys Time

New Orleans, Louisiana

A public art installation in an abandoned apartment complex. Inspired by the true story of a blind woman who once lived here, Candy Chang and I developed a cinematic fable about lost love.