On Friday 31 January, Spatula&Barcode launched a series of dinner conversations on the theme of Generosity at the Chazen Museum of Art on the UW-Madison campus.
As part of our ongoing research into this theme, this series follows on the publication of our co-edited volume “On Generosity” of the journal Performance Research.
We moved the dining room table from our home into the museum and invited small groups of stakeholders to join us for conversations over dinner on the sub-themes of Care, Hospitality, Philanthropy, and Refuge.
The Chazen curators (Kathryn Alcauskas, James Wehn & Maria Saffioti Dale) selected relevant works which would remain on view throughout the run of the show. They included The Last Supper by Fasial Abdu’Allah (pictured above) as well as the works linked at the bottom of this post.
Bespoke ceramics for the project were created by Hannah Schelb.
On opening night, we held a “drop in” version of Lois Weaver’s Long Table, a way of structuring conversations among large groups; those who sit at the table take part in the discussion, and listeners can move in and out of the conversation.
At the suggestion of Chazen staff, audience members were encouraged to contribute canned or packaged foods which were subsequently donated to our neighborhood food pantry.
We especially want to recognize and thank Kate Wanberg, Exhibition and Collections Project Manager at the Chazen, for all the work that she did to coordinate the logistics and communications that make this unusual format possible.
We are also grateful to Orion Risk for supporting our work in numerous ways in the studio and in the museum.
Curators choose particular works for each of the four themed discussions that followed the opening. The works below, along with Faisal’s Last Supper, remained on display throughout the exhibition (click image to view on the Chazen online catalog).
Chazen curator Maria Saffioti Dale wrote this statement to accompany the three dimensional selections:
Dining is a ritual of generosity and hospitality: sharing the riches of one’s table, welcoming guests, feeding them, providing them with refuge. Featured in this case are a number of plates from the Chazen Museum of Art’s collection that would have been found on historic tables. While in their function as place settings they may reinforce the theme of generosity, an alternative narrative that challenges this interpretation is present by reference to the international trade in luxury goods such as porcelain, tea, and coffee (along with other goods that would have been served on such dishes) and the concurrent transatlantic slave trade. At the far left of the case are two pieces of porcelain from U.S. President James Polk’s White House service. Polk was himself a slave owner who purchased slaves while in office. In such instances, we must think not only about the guests at the table who were served on these plates, but we must also consider the identities of the individuals who did the serving.