'we know more than we think'
A recurring theme in the devising work of the Staging Diversity project is family and food. I use "family and food" here as a collective noun. During the early phase of this project, way back last fall before we had even joined the ABRS network, I invited the group participants to write on cue cards anything that came to them during rehearsals: images they witnessed that were particularly resonant, words spoken for their or other mouths, ideas they would like to explore in the future. When we gathered in the studio for our first session after the winter holidays, we took all of these cards out of the box in which they were stored and attempted to create titles under which we could classify them. Some of the themes/categories that emerged included "Myths", "Feminism", "God", "Colonialism" - wildly broad, yet succinct one-word titles. However, try as we did, we could not extricate "Food" and "Family" from one another. In January, as we began our character-creation process rooted in the stories of our real ancestors, the theme of Food and Family only became more pronounced. Indeed, these elements were so strongly part of the material reality of our great-grandmother's lives.
A few weeks ago, on an evening when there was a previous booking in the ABRS space, I decided to neither cancel the rehearsal or finding nor find a different space to work in, but rather to invite the group to convene for a potluck in my apartment. I tasked each participant, and myself, to bring forth a "source" that inspired them. The source could be anything - a song, an image, a video, a scene from a play, a piece of clothing - and there was no pressure for the source to directly relate to our creation process. The given source could evoke a similar (or completely opposite!) visceral reaction to that which we would like our final ABRS residency presentation to evoke.
I brought the first act of Caryl Churchill's play Top Girls, which features a marvelous cohort of women who come from throughout European history (plus one character, Nijo, from Japan) who gather for a dinner party at the home of the protagonist from Act 2 and Act 3, a contemporary British women. I love how the play thwarts the logic of time and space to bring together these otherwise isolated women to share experiences in a way they would not have been able to in their lived lives, and I was (and am) intrigued with seeing what might happen if this concept is adapted to feature women from subaltern cultures.
Coincidentally, another member of the group brought pictures of The Dinner Party, an instillation piece by artist-educator Judy Chicago. The piece is a large dinner table outfitted with placards, plates and trimmings that celebrates that which is traditionally considered "female" art, as well as female artisans.
In carving out final cue card category, we were unknowingly tapping into a long history of using mealtime as an artistic platform for exploring female solidarity. If you will allow me to equate "family" with the notion of a community that seeks to support, inspire, and create with one another, then it indeed seems that our project is following a tradition of feminist art that finds grounding in the interlocking spheres of food and family.
Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party: