Leura, Blue Mountains Silent Dinner

Leura SDP

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.

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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

Adelaide Silent Dining 2013

4 Adelaide Australia 2013_Silent_Dinner_HoniRyan_web

Some moments from the events in March this year in Adelaide. It was wonderfully animated. Very theatrical, with silent performances and heaps of mime over the four nights. Could it be that we had a clown in our midst? Yes, the fabulous Mr. Bravo Child brought his refined sense of embodiment to the table for us all, with intricately detailed moments woven through every situation and imagined objects outlined in our attention, and offered for us to share. It was epic.

There was the Silent Band, complete with guitar smashing solo, an orchestra being conducted in the round with strings and wind, keys and more, an electro dance party with a DJ. complete with podium dancing.  Whoda thunkit – all that music without sound?! The romantic couple in a slow dance topped off the last hour on the last night – who needs music, let’s dance to the beat of our hearts x We had a few rounds of musical chairs, and I must say that the night the peeps from the fringe festival crew were in attendance it got rather competitive.. pouncing for that final chair! We had an award ceremony to commemorate that moment. 3 winners on one chair.. hoorah!

I really enjoyed the run. 30 people a night, 4 nights, aaahhhhmazing food – hard to top the love stack (see pictured below). Made for a great round of charades to the tune of the song ‘love shack, baby love shack’ which was also hummed on numerous occasions around the kitchen. But what a wonder when we decided to prep it in the greater outdoors on the first night. It was such an art to put together, the visual feast got a well deserved spectatorship.

The SDPs will see ya all in Europe soon xx

Melbourne Silent Dinners

 

I muse on memories of the Melbourne Silent Dinner Parties, which all panned out to be incredibly romantic affairs – each night with it’s own bent, but all with an air of the amorous. The free flowing connections that formed on the first night have proven to become lasting friendships. Many of them stay in touch, and the group that formed around the couple who got engaged that night attended the engagement party. The couple, Joel and Karen, also plan to have a period of silence at their upcoming wedding embracing the energy in which they promised to get hitched. The evening had a subtle atmosphere, with much underlying the unspoken. Quite a calm group, with a lot of heart connection.

The second night of the festival was a much younger crowd than the first night, and got a little out of control. It was quite rowdy and heaps of fun, and it was no time before you couldn’t tell who came with who as the group merged into a mash-up. Peeps who certainly didn’t arrive together left together. One participant, Simon Eales left all his belongings behind, and when he showed up to collect them the next day I discovered he was a street press reviewer who subsequently wrote an article on the piece, the column called ‘Bangs? no Fringe’ for Front Row Arts in Inpress. His words may give you an idea of what the group were like. They physically connected by wrapping each other up in masking tape. At one point the whole table was tied together this way. Bonding! The group decided to break the silence around the table after about 3.5 hours. It’s the first time a group that has come in from a fringe festival has broken the Silence while still on the premises. Normally I find that when they are festival events, the participants approach the space as holding the silence, and feel free to talk if they are outside of it, but not before. Many a sidewalk debrief has occurred this way. This group ran down the sidewalk and ended up at the pub down the road and dissolved into the evening.

The third night it rained. No big deal, we had undercover, however it did mean that I had to break the tables up to make sure no-one got wet. This changes the dynamic as the groups are smaller and often curious about what it’s like ‘over there’ at the other table. With the help of one of the guests, we collected everyones car keys and played musical chairs with key pairs. Nice to break things up. One lady brought her partner along for his birthday, not telling him anything about the event until they got to the door and she quickly briefed him as I let them in. Wowswers, what a gift. We had a birthday cake, and sung the ol song in sign. Very sweet.

Behind the scenes it was one of the smoothest runs yet. Most of the crew came from my crazy extended family, as they are nearly all in Melbourne I seized the opportunity to collaborate with them in some Art&Life :: and loved every minute. What an incredible difference having all that support makes. And loads of them came along as guests too, which was about time! My particular thanks to the following for giving their time, resources, and wonderful selves to the events: Elizabeth Leticia Grace Cowin, Augustus Viola, Aviva Beecher Kelk, Emma James, Mary Kearney, Rob Krikori, Celia Ryan, Marg Welch, Mag Kearney, Frank Viola, Jack Viola, Susie Rourke, Danny James.

So now we head from one fringe festival to the other, as I prepare for Adelaide Fringe in March. The crew is coming together down there, and we have a few repeat offenders behind the scenes – we can expect to portion out potions on the plates with the fantastic Antonietta as our chef again, wonderful! The dates for that one are March 7, 8 & 9, so get your tix now at the festival website, or buzz me of you’d like to come help instead of buy a ticket, and see ya there in Mad March. Can’t wait to see some shows at AFF as well, and if you want my recommendation for something to see, check out Sketch The Rhyme!

A Silent Proposal

My most sincere and heartfelt congratulations to Joel and Karen, who got engaged last night at the first SDP for the Melbourne Fringe when Joel, completely in the moment and without pre-planning it, got down on one knee with a ring, custom made at the table, and proposed to his partner Karen. Karen couldn’t exactly say yes, but she certainly accepted. It was a very emotional experience for everyone there with tears and standing ovations of the silent kind. Truly an example of expressing that to which words do not do justice. As the pair said today, there was such an overwhelming feeling of warmth in the evening, and the group of strangers quickly became a close community.

Magic does happen, and the more we create space for it, the more it multiplies.

It’s a love story!

Nominated for AFF Award for Innovation!!

Fantastic news! The Silent Dinner Parties were shortlisted in the three events nominated for the Adelaide Fringe Festival award for Innovation! I’m honoured to receive the nomination, especially in the category of innovation.  I love seeing hybrid arts concepts being presented in unexpected environments. Participatory and performative arts take some crazy directions, and it’s good to see unlikely audiences embrace them so wholeheartedly. So, once again Adelaide, thank you for such an overwhelming experience!  Maybe see ya next year..

Adelaide Fringe SDPs

Well well Adelaide, there’s nothing like a fringe festival run to spice up this project. Let’s see what kind of antics we saw: One guy showed up with his arm in a sling, the cause of many a gesture, and after the dinner party on the street just took it off…  We had a blind date! Self fulfilling prophecy at work here: the crew and I were talking that night about how funny it would be to take someone on a date to a silent dinner, like “babe, I’m really into you, I just don’t want to talk to you!” and sure enough that night we got a couple who weren’t just on a date, but had never met before. They didn’t arrive together so had to work out who each other were at the table. As luck had it they were seated opposite each other, and apparently picked each other out straight away.  I’ve gotta admit, when I talked to them on the street afterwards, I wasn’t sure if there would be a second date, the lady didn’t seem convinced. I wonder if talking changed their opinions of each other. As a rule I find people much more agreeable without words, but that’s definitely a variable. The guy in this duo had stitches in his forehead, and since I had sliced my finger to the bone the night before, granting me an episode in emergency and six stitches along my knuckle, I had pretended throughout the night that I had punched him in the head, resulting in both our wounds. Love a bitta charades. There were people equipped with photos of their pets, grandchildren and favourite flowers – that’s prepared! Podium dancing around the swimming pool, the neighbour hanging his washing out on the line, only to gaze over the fence and see 25 people sitting around a dinner table together in silence! ha! He must have thought we were mad. We had a group of talkers. 4 women who came as a group for one of their birthdays. They hit the juice pretty hard, and were mouthing words from the start, which quickly became a whisper. Mouthing words to me goes against the request: Please do not use words – however I don’t like to police things too much. These events are for me more about creating an environment for people to play in. However, when the mouthing became a mumble, I did intervene. I wasn’t sure how to do it, so I got on my knees and begged them to zippit! The unfortunate thing here was that this made them feel a sense of defiance and they preceded to ignore me and continue talking, even though I repeated this action a few times. I guess this is ok, sometimes it’s good to rebel right? And I guess if willingly participating in an event gives you the opportunity to go against the grain, then I guess I’m happy to have provided that opportunity too. The only problem is that the people sitting around them didn’t really get to play fair. Ah, it’s kinda like disturbing class in primary school!

Overall it was an amazing experience. The run was sold out, so we had full tables each night. Opening was touch and go at the start, with a sudden storm crashing our outdoor setting an hour before the guests arrived, and blowing the marquee ‘smoking area’ into the pool! Wow, I wasn’t sure we’d get it together but sure enough by the first knock on the door, we were set to go.

My biggest thanks go to all who helped make it happen, Antonietta and Ayesha for the love that poured out of the kitchen, that was one seriously amazing menu!  I will have the recipe section of this site up soon, and desperate to share some of that food with you. It was a middle eastern influenced menu, and the desert was a certified love potion… To Rod and Coomba for their splendiferous service and all four of you for some [ineffable] kitchen antics – olive oil will never look the same again!  To Marg and Jahan for being such gracious hosts and adding so much personality to the events. To my mum, Trish, for showing up to one event, realising how much help I needed and staying and working on the whole run, thank you x To the Adelaide Fringe Festival for completely supporting a project that didn’t fit in the box, and helping me to realise it my way at every stage of the game. You guys really are supporting new and different ideas, and hybrid art forms, it’s amazing and I’m proud to be a part of it. And most of all, to every single participant, each and every one of whom became the work, embodying it, and filling the silent space with themselves and their interactions, thoughts, responses and (sometimes outloud) laughter.  Cheers guys, that run was a truly amazing experience for me.

Cameras were banned so I have no pics of the madness to show you, but oh how lovely to attend an event where you know you won’t be captured and posted online in the morning doing that certain something after two bottles of wine…

I did however sneak a few in the hours around the events, so here’s a bit of behind the scenes for ya:

Margaret and Jahan’s amazing back yard, on a night when it didn’t rain!
Antonietta at her incredible Moroccan pumpkin soup
Ayesha and the ‘erbs
Coomba and Rodney prepping zataar bread .. quite a spectacle.
desert was truly a love potion : pistachio halva, cardamom icecream, persian fairy floss, rose water toffee and rose petals. Quite out of this world.

Adelaide in the making

Adelaide Fringe has been a blast the past coupla weeks, and the dinners are now approaching! The wonderful possie getting this bonanza together have come together in force, and we’re stirring it up.  Menus are in the making with Middle Eastern tunes. Seasonal and cooking by colour, it’s kinda like paint by numbers! And… go!

vege boot
Happiness is …