From dusk until dawn on one night in June, FEED/FEED opened an enchanting “digital commensal portal.” Participants were invited to sit down at our table, eat strawberry shortcake and drink coffee, and enjoy a moment of quiet conversation during the rush and excitement of Northern Spark Festival 2012. Life-sized video projection and sound streaming between these two sites created a half-real, half-virtual group of dining companions at our table.
Through a real-time video stream, FEED/FEED connected festival-goers in Minneapolis to a group of neighbors gathered in a private home in St Paul at Northern Spark. Later that year FEED/FEED connected a group of gallery visitors in Minneapolis to a group of artists assembled in a studio in Seattle for an exhibition of participatory art I co-curated called “Rework.”
In both installations, people responded to each other with questions, jokes, stories and songs, proving how deep our desire for communion reaches, and how much we all appreciate a simple invitation to connect. FEED/FEED’s table offers a space to think about the connections we make when we eat together, when we bring art into the public sphere, and when we collapse the physical and metaphysical distances across the table and reveal ourselves to ourselves.
“Creativity arises out of the tension between spontaneity and limitations, the latter (like the river banks) forcing the spontaneity into the various forms which are essential to the work of art or poem.” – Rollo May
The intimate rules and rituals that guide our lives are nowhere else as visible, and nowhere more often practiced, as when we eat with other people. These rules are the banks through which the rivers of our identities flow. The group of people with whom we regularly share these rules, with whom we eat our meals, is called our commensal group, and it can be made up of our families and friends, our roommates and coworkers. Over the course of our lives, our commensal groups expand and contract, can remain constant or can change radically.
The rituals we practice with our commensal groups are the deep performances of our home cultures. When we eat together, our home cultures are in conversation with each other. We’re talking to each other about where we are coming from, and sharing intimacy. In FEED/FEED, you are invited to dine at a table that straddles time and space, exaggerating the distance we must close when we try to understand our companions, and making visible the deep communication we perform through eating.