Place/Setting collapses a DINNER PARTY, a PODCAST, and STAGE SET into an open civic space. Guests might wonder: is this a conference without hierarchy, a dinner with a program, or an accidental public speaking gig? It’s everything.
“The feeling like you were in a box or a pedestal and the fourth wall kept being broken was both fantastic and great, like when friends would come up and hug you and then you would pull out and remember, oh I’m in this space, who am I to be on show and on display” - Sabrina Dorsainvil, Civic Designer and Program Director, Boston Mayors Office of New Urban Mechanics, and dinner guest at Place/Setting @ HUBweek
As citizens, we observe that conversations that affect the civic realm are often inaccessible to the public; shared in principle, but rarely felt in practice. As academics, we challenge that events like conferences and panels favor produced idea presentation over new idea production. As architects, we speculate that environments that house current formats for knowledge sharing need to be mined and reassembled to reboot their potential for productive exchange. As activists, we have created Place/Setting, to collapse a DINNER PARTY, a PODCAST, and STAGE SET into an open civic space.
Place/Setting is not a symposium; It’s not a board meeting, and it isn’t a private party. Place/Setting is a warm but weird environment designed to host intimate dinner parties that are also open and transparent in a civic space. If you want to help the public understand how ideas are shared within and amongst organizations and experts in the city, there’s nothing like a little sanctioned eavesdropping. Place/Setting works because the space is a little strange, and the one-off dinner party format encourages candor. Guests might wonder: is this a conference without hierarchy, a dinner with a program, or an accidental public speaking gig? The first iteration of Place/Setting took place over four days on Boston City Hall Plaza during HUBweek 2017. The installation housed four public meals with guests from a mix of grassroots and legacy institutions with themes revolving around the growing disparity in income in greater Boston, and how inequalities are addressed in urban agriculture, civic engagement and design, cooperative economic models, and housing, communities, and media.
Each meal experimented with a different arrangement of tables and chairs. When the party breached the installation box, or the table legs grew and shrank across elevation changes like mountain goats, or loosely implied perimeters allowed passersby to be inches from dinner guests, we watched as the conversations got more or less formal, broke up, came back together and touched on revolution (a General Strike! for the US was called for an hour into the Civic Engagement dinner). The meals were loosely structured around a menu of conversation topics, but diners quickly defined their own lines of discourse, supported by a general warm sense of exchange that was helped by the shared informal meal.
The party lives on because we don’t clean up at Place/Setting. All the plates with notes and provocations stay on the table for the next round. Audio of the conversations is accessible through multimedia representations, which underscore the effect of the formal organization of the dinners on the dynamics of the conversation. More parties are in the works…
Project Team: Anda French and Jenny French, French 2D with Gabriel Mugar, Emerson College Engagement Lab