The Dining Room, casually viewed from a distance, is pleasant and unremarkable. A diorama of domesticity, perhaps as you might see in showrooms or through windows in so many neighborhoods. The viewer approaches a window hanging in midair. Across from her is a vintage mirror, placing her in the room. The dining table with four chairs and settings. White plates. Upon closer examination, the plates were cracked and broken ages ago, and glued back together—carefully yet imperfectly. Once broken, never made whole again. Beneath the table and chair is a large shag rug. But it’s not shag, it’s shattered crockery piled ankle deep.
Each time the Dining Room is installed, it is co-created through the action, energy, grief and all the emotion the public brings to the moment.
The night before the installation, I invite the public to an interactive event where they are invited to break plates. One by one, attendees wearing safety masks, step up to a pit and hurl plates. They may participate as many times as they wish. I use the enormous pile of broken tableware to complete the Dining Room carefully.
It may take several weeks to gather all the plates and crockery needed. I also ask people to bring their own dishes to the event. On one occasion, a woman arrived with all the wedding china from her mother’s disastrous first marriage. She said she found relief in unloading the bad memory, and to create truthful art from the wreckage.
The attendees of the Shatter Party experience come away exhilarated, wild-eyed, and energetic. They begin to talk freely with friends and strangers. A very interesting effect.
At the installation, I open conversations with the guests. Unsolicited, many often share deeply personal stories of their families of origin. One day I would like to collect these stories for the next layer in this emotional archeological site.
I’ve noticed something interesting and unexpected in the making of The Dining Room. The day after the first time I held the Shatter Party, I woke up feeling tired, drained, and lethargic. Felt like I was hit by a truck. Sad, even. Almost like a hangover. I checked in on the two other volunteers who helped hold space and facilitate the attendee experience. We were all feeling the same way. Yet none of us had consumed anything that would cause such an after-effect. We realized that in some way we had received, accepted, and absorbed the catharsis and emotional outpouring of the attendees. We were pretty awed by this.
The next times I created the Dining Room I knew what to expect for the Shatter Party. I briefed the volunteers on what to expect, how to prepare, and make arrangements for self-care and maintaining or regaining equilibrium.
- 2011 San Francisco, CA. “Dining Room” for the group show Building Our Own Picket Fences – Queer Community Arts Project. Michelle O’Connor Gallery in San Francisco, California presented by Femina Potens Art Gallery
- 2013 San Francisco, CA. “Dining Room” Installation and interactive experience at SoMArts Cultural Center for All Good Things… group show. https://www.flickr.com/photos/somarts/11828700475/
- 2016 San Francisco, CA. “Dining Room” Installation and interactive experience at Root Division for MFA Never group show. Opening reception February 13, 2016
- I want to do this one again! I love creating this piece