Leura Silent Dinner Party

On the tenth of May 2014 a Silent Dinner Party was held in Leura, in Australia’s Blue Mountains as a part of the performance schedule along side my solo exhibition at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre.

Although I have lived in these mountains for nearly 5 years, I had not held one up here before. Since I was having the exhibit it seemed a good time to offer a gallery audience the opportunity to participate in some of these social sculptures that were referenced in the white cube. Despite many requests for a SDP in this area I have not felt a pressing need to do it, precisely because gathering in silence is not such a foreign thing here.There are many yoga and meditation retreats on these mountains and indeed one guest noted that she was aware that many of the participants had most likely done a vipassana meditation which requires 10 days of silence. This didn’t seem to dampen the desire of folk to come and we quickly had bums on all available seats. The experience reminded me that it is not a meditative environment that is created at these parties (although some guest have wanted that and managed to maintain their own calm, private, mindful state during the meal). Rather, these dinners create a space that reflects on language and allows for the more subtle forms of communication to be forefront (in often very unsubtle ways). At spiritual retreats, silence often means a lack of communication. You keep to yourself and don’t engage in eye contact or overt body language, you certainly don’t have conversations in mime, desperately deciphering what it is your mute interlocutor is saying. Whereas at my Silent Dinners, that is the stuff that they are made of. The earnest attempts at understanding each other in silence breeds a recognition of the importance of communication and it’s intricacies. It points at the hierarchy of information we intake, how we rely on words to express and receive that information, then throws it to the wind (usually in a fit of laughter).

If linguistic communication is one of the things that defines human beings apart from other animals, then the deduction of it from a social environment can be seen to be a return to an animal or primal state, that can reveal base elements of this human animal. Base elements that transcend cultural difference, and can play a hand at breaking down prejudices.

The Blue Mountains dinner was lovely by all accounts. It was a relatively peaceful beginning, then there was a point after the main meal where, as if by general consensus, the group decided to get active. I missed the cue for it as I was in the kitchen but all of a sudden people stood up and started mingling. Did you guys orchestrate that? There were 26 of us around that huge table in the wonderfully eclectic environment of Hayley West’s house. There was more than enough to distract the eye from the need to talk! The Indian inspired vegetarian feast was dreamed up and prepared by Charmaine O’Brien who has done extensive travel and research into Indian cuisine, specialising in street food she has a written book on the topic and her delicious recipes will be available on the eaten section of this site in the next days. The chats in the kitchen before the guests came were most enjoyable. I love learning about people and food! And where would we have been without a waiter, and what a waiter we had that night, Micheal Lovett you did it in style! All round amazing help from my mum, Trish Ryan who has now worked on or attended countless SDPs and come to quite enjoy them it seems, although she still mouths words (mother!) My thanks are to these folks, and extend to all the guests, it was great fun. We danced to those universal beats, jumped around in the shape of hopscotch out on the back terrace, and had a decided penchant for napkin origami, that is when one wasn’t throwing the napkins at unwitting folk. One of the guests, Meg wrote an account of her experience, which is a great read. Check it out on the post below.

I will most definitely be hosting more Silent Dinner Parties in the Blue Mountains in future so drop me line any time if you would like to attend one.

Thanks Mountains, I’m off again soon for a time, as I do when the winds here get so cold that they simply move through you. But I will, as always, return to ya.

Meg’s Silent Experience

An experiential account written by Silent Dinner guest Meg Benson in the Blue Mountains, Australia in 2014:

I attended a Silent Dinner party orchestrated by Honi Ryan an artist specialising in social sculpture and hosted in Leura of the Blue Mountains this May, 2014.

It was an intriguing and challenging idea that immediately filled me with suspense.

I understood the possibility of the open slate of the experiences that may or may not unfold, apparent by the simplicity of the rules, which really allow for anything outside those rules.

Do not speak, do not write, try to make as little noise as possible, do not read and do not mouth words. That was all.

Prior to attending, I was asked such questions (by more than one friend) as… “does it need to be meditational, like vipassana?” another comment was… “it does not say that everyone can’t have group sex”… of course a joke, but it made me wonder how these rules are permissive if interpreted by a group or culture of people so inclined.

It occurred to me that people may have entered the silent dinner party space with such self-imposed concepts and expectations about how they should behave… pressure to abstain… to be transcendent or pressure to fill the space and perform.

Honi embraced us upon our welcome, and this dispelled any imagining that we should survive the dinner party of 2+ hours by avoiding touch, human interaction and eye contact, I already felt comfortable, welcome and equal.

Upon commencement across the evenings’ 5 star presentation of a 3 course meal, I soon realised that dinner was a perfect scenario to explore social rules of engagement and norms, permissions to connect, enjoy and communicate in silence. It’s something we have all done numerous times, and although many houses have many varied table manners, it is a familiar ritual to explore such unfamiliar conditions. I experienced the ritual of dinner as somewhat of a comfort blanket.

The silence did have a sound…it was the sound of gentleness and mindfulness. The sound of delicately handled utensils, of polite and unassuming presence, all embracing smiles, wine pouring from the bottle, creasing and crinkling of paper table cloths, of giggles and laughs that popped out accidentally or uncontrollably and of generous footsteps bearing lovingly presented food.

I observed an initial sense in the group of guests (including myself) of looking for cues for permission to interact or for direction, yet personally felt a delight in the unexpected of what would flow naturally. I noticed Honi was in the traffic flow of many gazes as if she herself would signal a green, red or amber light. This was what the group of guests at the early stage was looking for until bit by bit it found it’s freedom though the gradual accumulation of spontaneous independent interaction.

Without much to cling to, in sustained silence, amongst mostly unfamiliar people, I dug down into my values and framework for enjoying life to create a self-aware playing field to navigate self and others in this unpredictable TRIP (to me this experience had all the elements involved in a psychedelic trip except the trip itself). I prepared my self with a sense of respect, spontaneity, gratefulness, playfulness, non-rigidity, flow, interest in relational interacting, appreciation that nothing is in isolation and that themes of play can develop, maintaining compassion for self and others…. a self imposed rule that guides all my life,being non-serious yet also disinterested in shallow distracting, space filling frivolity.

Honi’s self-erecting social sculpture was a spectrum of changing moments ….as broad as the palette of the mind that moves like clouds in a changing landscape.

It appeared to me that people were at times looking to common dinner party norms for permission and guidelines for social behaviour and I saw this in many ways. At what point does someone settle into their being and trust their own motivation aside from the perceived expectation of compliance?

AM I ALLOWED TO START EATING WHILE THE FOOD IS HOT even though people are still being served?…. half a table had been served first and some were eating. My answer was tonight I make the meaning and the rules, I owe it to my sense of respect to the cook to consume it while it is hot, coz mere compliance to rules on a table of 20 or so is senseless compliance. I noticed some started eating and then looked around and stopped as if someone would perceive disrespect and perhaps because they would like themselves better that way.

Other contented folks continued on ….

How naked ! when the rules are all stripped away! except the non-negotiable container of silence that we all bravely arrived to encounter.

 

From Meg the Music Hunter

 

www.musichunterprojects.com