Come to the Table (guest author Orion Lee Risk)

Come to the Table; or, Spatula&Barcode put a dinner table in an art gallery and curate conversations with invited dinner guests.

A dining table and 8 chairs below two very large photo tapestries.

This is a performance of a dinner table conversation
Anyone seated at the table is a guest performer
Talk is the only course
No one will moderate
But a host may assist you
It is a democracy
To participate, simply take an empty seat at the table
If the table is full you can request a seat
If you leave the table you can come back again and again
There can be silence
There might be awkwardness
There could always be laughter
There is an end, but no conclusion.

Laurie Beth gesturing in conversation with guests at the table

On February 1, 2020, we welcomed folks to Spatula&Barcode’s first performance of Come to the Table. To participate, museum visitors took a seat at the kitchen table in the Rowland Gallery and joined a metamorphosing conversation about generosity (a format adapted from Lois Weaver’s “Long Table”). As talk filled the aural space and bodies went in and out of the chairs at the table’s edges, all were invited to fill the physical space of the table’s center with donations for a local food bank.

canned goods stacked on the table

Visitors witnessed this first performance of Come to the Table during the opening reception of the 2020 faculty exhibition at the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Every four years, the Chazen showcases work by university faculty — this year’s exhibition asked artists to explore the relationship between their own work and the museum’s collection and/or public spaces. Chazen curators filled the walls around the Come to the Table dining table with works from the Chazen permanent collection that complemented the theme of generosity.

a guest's hand making notes on brown paper covering the table

From the opening reception, Come to the Table continues with a series of four further performances on the sub-themes of Care, Hospitality, Philanthropy, and Refuge.

view from above of the table covered with ceramic plates and bowls and various dishes

The first two performances took place at the Chazen: Care on February 16 and Hospitality on March 8. We served our guests — specially invited stakeholders and experts on the evening’s topic — at our kitchen table in the Rowland Gallery. Conversation started before the first course and continued as dishes passed around the table and forks scraped plates — part of a set of dishes and servingware created for this performance by ceramic artist Hannah Shelb.

Hannah smiling as she unpacks ceramic bowls

Museum visitors walked down the gallery and past the table, some stopping to listen as “invited eavesdroppers.” Some folks pulled a chair or a bench up and sat for 30 minutes or more, while others lingered close by. Hosts in Spatula&Barcode aprons welcomed gallery visitors, passing out informational fliers and fielding questions: “What is this?,” “Tell me what’s happening here,” and “Are these the people from MMoCA?”

a long view of participants at the table surrounded by visitors

Orion is a Master’s student in Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where they explore how making theatre relates to trans/feminist causes. Orion arrived in graduate school from the hyper-local original theatre world, where they spent seven years professionally assistant directing and stage managing original musical and movement works. In summer 2020, Orion is leading GenderTalks, a documentary theatre project supported by the UW Center for the Humanities.


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