“Family” Dinner in Bastion Square

Public Performance: March 17, 2016
Exhibition: April 7-24, 2016  (New Extreme: Artists Mentoring Youth)

Explanation: “Family“ Dinner in Bastion Square was an elaborate candle-lit staged dinner in a public square in Victoria, B.C. The event was open to the public and to all who were willing to join our table and our discussion about the concept of family.

Myself and another local artist, Nicholas Vandergugten, were commissioned by the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (AGGV) and the Youth Empowerment Society to co-create a community focused social practice project with a group of local youth. Before carrying out this piece, Vandergugten and I hosted regular meetings, and facilitated workshops and discussions about social practice and public performance art. “Family“ Dinner in Bastion Square was the result of our collaborative process. Documentary footage of the performance (shown above) was involved in an exhibition at the AGGV titled New Extreme: Artists Mentoring Youth which went from April 7–24, 2016.  During the art opening on Friday April 8th, we had another dinner table set up in the art gallery and invited gallery visitors to sit down with us and enjoy a meal.

Artist statement (as shown in art exhibition):
“Family” Dinner in Bastion Square

Discussions about the breakdown of family cohesion lead to the realization that we often create surrogate families when our biological ones fail us. As the saying goes, “you can’t choose your blood, but you can choose your family”. In honour of the unconventional family, we decided to create our own “family” dinner by setting a traditional dinner table in a public space and inviting anyone passing by to break bread with us. The table set included  yam fries, chana masala, salad, bread, fruit and sparkling water. At first we were not sure if we would be laughed at or asked to leave, but the response was overwhelmingly positive. As soon as a pedestrian sat down to join us, they became a part of the work and co-instigators, helping us to welcome others. Our performance allowed people to break free from the assumed anonymity of public space and join an intimate gathering in which feelings of joy, disbelief and instant trust were felt. During our time with the fourteen participants we discussed our different configurations of “family”, and mused on the beauty of a dinner table filled with people laughing and eating, who only moments ago, had been complete strangers.

Artist Instructors:  Nicholas Vandergugten & Harold Hejazi

Laina Marie McPhee
Cain Simpson