Park of the Laments

Artist: Alfredo Jaar
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
Year of completion: 2010
Researcher: Laine Bergeson

An architect who makes art, Alfredo Jaar created Park of the Laments to serve as an outdoor museum—though the piece, while straightforward in structure, defies easy categorization. It is a self-contained room, yet it has no walls. It is a type of gallery space, yet it contains no additional art. It is located in the city, yet, once inside, visitors can only see the sky. Silence is the only intentional sound in the space.

Designed as a park within a park and situated adjacent to the Indianapolis Museum of Art in Indianapolis, Indiana, Park of the Laments is a square area enclosed by millions of rocks in metal cages and accessible only by an underground tunnel. Once visitors pass through the tunnel and enter the outdoor room, they are surrounded by the towering stone walls, vegetation, and sky. The space is intended as a retreat to nature—the rocks, vegetation, and sky—that helps people cope with the man-made horrors of the world.

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Jaar has said that the stone walls represent the atrocities and victims of the 20th and 21st century. “Visitors, who must cross the darkness of a tunnel directly below these cages before reaching the park, are invited to use this haven of peace in order to reflect, ponder, and meditate about all the tragedies that are now ingrained in our existence and in our planet,” says Jaar. “Park of the Laments carves out a space for retreat and for healing, where hope and life is literally sprouting from the rubble.”

The project has impacted the community by allowing visitors to feel removed from the world while simultaneously engaging with it. “By creating a park within a park and employing breathing, living borders made of nature, Park of the Laments tightened the ambiguous but essential link between the self and the collective, removal and involvement, contemplation and action,” says Jaar.

The project is a space for silence and meditation in a world where opportunities to pause and reflect in the public sphere are becoming scarce—and where people often find themselves retreating into the private realm to seek peace and healing. This, says Jaar, “has created dangerous correlations in contemporary society, assimilating private with peace, and public with chaos.”

Park of the Laments specifically defies this trend and proposes that the opposite is possible: that we can find peace and collective healing in the public sphere. It also serves to remind visitors of the power public art more generally. Thoughtfully designed public spaces like Park of the Laments can reach out to the public, make amends for past tragedies, and promote harmony.

“I hope the audience leaves with the notion that there are other ways of thinking about situations,” says Jaar. “For me, the space of art is a space of freedom. It is a very privileged space.”

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency