With society favouring an individualist, consumerist and capitalist model of living, behaving and interacting, how can design pose as an antidote to create more meaningful connections and promote the importance of the collective?
This body of work begins to explore the idea of putting knowledge and education into the ceremonial context of an aesthetic and design driven experience. Can more authentic and fruitful conversations begin to emerge and take the place of material consumption and promote collective action within rural communities?
An ongoing project of meals, conversations, performance, rituals and embodied memory.
This project will explore how design can be used to socially engage and interact within rural communities in a space that is free of institutionalised demands and expectations. It will guide the creation of a space that will combine knowledge, education and conversation with the ceremonial and symbolic context of an aesthetic experience. The participants will be able to communicate ‘outside the rhetorical demands’ of their expected role within society to encourage them ‘to look beyond their respective assumptions about each other’ (Kester, G 2004). The model intends to create new understandings of each other, strengthen community relationships, mobilise knowledge within these areas and celebrate collectivism over individualism.
This project acknowledges the theory of collective action which adheres to the belief that if we are to have more information on those that we share our communities with, we are more likely to agree to cooperate in an increasing number of situations. Participatory City is an ongoing project in Barking and Dagenham that aims to ‘co-create the first large scale, fully inclusive, practical participatory ecosystem’ (Participatory City, 2020). Their research and programmes investigate ideas of collective action and involvement in the community and the corresponding outcomes. After considering the ‘emergence of networked effects of more people knowing each other’, they concluded that the benefits to the community included safety, social cohesion, the generation of new ideas and a higher engagement in the neighbourhood and its decision making. This project, titled The Meal of Non-material Consumption, hopes to encourage more cohesive, creative and effective means of understanding one another by developing a ‘necessary condition for experiencing compassion for others’ (Piper, 1991).
Society has endlessly been wrestling with divisions of inequality and institutional issues. The purpose of socially engaged art and dialogical art practice is to provide a space aside from this that focusses on ‘the creative facilitation of dialogue and exchange….without dividing its audience into philistines and cognoscenti’ (Grant, 2004). By taking this design and model into the public sphere and giving the people within rural communities direction over the work, the rules and traditions that would normally apply within a gallery or institutionalised space become abandoned. For community and communication driven work, questions of how to form collective and communal identities begin to arise. A shift from the individual to the collective begins to take place and ‘a set of positive practices directed toward the world beyond the gallery walls, linking new forms of intersubjective experience with social or political activism’ begin to form (Grant, 2004). Adrian Piper, a conceptual artist and philosopher, talks of an ‘empathetic identification’ within dialogical art practice where there is a ‘feedback loop in which we observe the other’s responses to our statements and actions.’ Through providing ‘a way to decentre a fixed identity through interaction with others’ (Piper, 1991), socially engaged art and community art goes further to prioritise the group over the self. This work aims to explore the possibilities and capacity for shared experiences and understandings when knowledge and education is put within the ceremonial and social context of an aesthetic experience.
The implication of consumption that is associated with the notion of a having a meal creates the frame within which to begin to question the understanding of what it means to consume when all that is being served is conversation and non-material consumption. This will challenge the current perceptions of what we consume and what the most meaningful ways of consuming are or could be. Rejecting the idea of consuming a meal within a restaurant which is often bounded by ideas of class and inaccessibility, The Meal of Non-material Consumption is designed to be portable and accessible for all. It will adopt ideas of sharing and togetherness which are synonymous with the experience of having a meal. It will explore ways in which new shared understandings can emerge and be created. Through mobilising the meal and the conversations that will follow, this work will also begin to mobilise education, knowledge and learning within rural communities. The importance of this can be reinforced by Hannah Arendt’s belief that education should exist separately from government or politics (Arendt 1964).
At its best, socially engaged art has the capacity to coax new shared understandings out of the darkness and confusion we’re facing at the moment. It operates alongside and within other networks, most obviously grassroots activism.
The performance of a meal is being used to prompt conversations and bring people together within a ubiquitous and ritualistic context. It is socially engaging by nature and challenges our perception of what we consume when all that is being served is conversation. A meal also asks the guests to consider different ways of eating and provides room to explore the relationship between conversations, communication and rituals.
The Meal of Non-material Consumption calls for more meaningful and authentic ways of consuming to take the place of the current model where consumption permeates western society. ‘The capitalist order implies that the ultimate objective of citizens is to become consumers’ (Kavaliauskas, T 2008) and if we are to work towards sustainability and a more sustainable way of living, we must break free of our consumerist obsession. Professor Tim Jackson explains that we must begin to recognise that ‘any measure of the health of our society must include the ability to give and receive love, to contribute usefully to society and have a sense of belonging and trust in the community.’
Consumption takes the place of all truly relevant activities.
In “Acts of Transfer”, Diana Taylor describes the functions of performances “as vital acts of transfer, transmitting social knowledge, memory and a sense of identity, through reiterated behaviour”. Performance theorist Richard Schechner also referred to this as “twice-behaved behaviour”. Through embodied practice, Taylor suggests that new ways of knowing are offered. For anthropologist Victor Turner, “populations could grow to understand each other through their performances” (Taylor, D 2003). Performance within art and design engages in the continuity and transfer of knowledge and learning. The Meal of Non-material Consumption will adopt performance and re-enactment within its design, aiming to transfer understanding and social knowledge amongst its participants.
One of the final ideas presents the guests with a portable picnic blanket/table mat that encourages them to perform The Meal of Non-material Consumption. The picnic blanket/table mat will come with a set of guidelines and space for reflection after the conversations have taken place. The model aims to promote social cohesion and collective action within rural communities with the intent to encourage the participants to work together. Resisting the dominant culture of neo-liberalism and individualism within much of western society, this body of work advocates for the collective over the individual. By asking the guests to perform a conversation meal, embodied memory and new knowledge is expected to be developed. This design has been placed outside of the institutionalised gallery walls and into the public domain. This allows for the guests to step outside of their expected rhetoric and role within society and to instead learn from each other in a non-traditional and non-conforming way. The model intends to strengthen communication, collaboration and the mobilisation of knowledge within rural communities. The participants will be challenged to consider all of these things both during and after the conversations. It will be engaging these communities in a design that highlights the link between social and environmental issues and how these issues are best tackled collectively.
The model is portable and the design is active. The Meal of Non-material Consumption allows the performance to be enacted anywhere and everywhere. It is most effective when it engages with a mixed demographic, designing for democracy and promoting cross community and cross class communication and collaboration.
This work will continue to explore rituals, performance, conversations and meals as it develops and evolves within the second year of this masters. It will be split into three different projects:
the performance of meals and conversations
the conversation picnic blanket
a chain of embodiment: re-enacting daily routines and rituals