At Dinner

The second part of this week’s Culture Digest looking at performative meals: an evening of operatics with Grace Schwindt

Curator Rose Lejeune opened Gallery Lejeune in the spare room of her South London apartment in 2015, as a innovative way of thinking about new ways to exhibit, collect and commission ephemeral and performance-based works.

One Thursday evening at the end of October, I arrived at the gallery in the dark – literally and figuratively – for At Dinner, an intriguing-sounding event hosted by Lejeune with the artist Grace Schwindt, which promised to involve food, text, language and sound. Inside, a small gathering of collectors, curators, artists and friends hovered in the hallway, shuffling past one another in search of the source of the haunting notes that filled the apartment. In the gallery space at the end of the corridor, the opera singer Lisa Cassidy stood immobile in a long, hooded Lady Guinevere-style robe, angled slightly towards a metal bird perched on the windowsill. The dress, made by Schwindt, had been overprinted with text – the words of a script by the artist that guests were later invited to recite out loud, by turns, as we gathered around the dinner table.

This additional participatory requirement is significant in the context of Schwindt’s long-standing interest in group dynamics and individual agency. Her best-known work to date, the film Only a Free Individual Can Create a Free Society (2015), explores the potential of the collective to both enable and circumscribe individual action. (It was hard, here, not to read Cassidy’s performance, motionless in her text-wrapped dress and singing to a bird, as relating to cages.) At Dinner was, on a micro-level, an experiment in community building – of the kind that happens all the time in daily life and which, in another context or another industry, might be called networking. Here, though, Schwindt’s intervention made me acutely sensitive of the extent to which we invariably perform ourselves socially, according to cultural norms of which we may or may not always be aware.

Amy Sherlock is deputy editor of frieze and is based in London.

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