On invitation, thirty-odd guests, including myself, arrived at 7pm at Heffron Hall, where a long table had been decorated and prepared for a dinner. Some of us had dressed for the occasion, some didn't. We stood about and introduced ourselves with a glass of one's preferred beverage. There were a few people I knew, but, mostly were meeting for the first time. Conversation usually began shyly and gradually, mostly, became animated. Interesting and even provocatively hilarious. Sumugan Sivanesan provided subtle musical background to ease the nervousness of us all. Music, drink and goodwill permeated the atmosphere. We were finally bidden to take a place at the table and dinner began.
Victoria Spence, one of the co-convenors and hosts, welcomed us to a night which would engage us in conversation and discussion directed to some liminal, grey zones of our lives. We were re-introduced to the Rules of the Hunt, which we had been been sent to us on acceptance of our invitation, and the night moved forward.
The food was designed and presented by Nathan Stasi, a young, exciting chef, whose credentials include Neil Perry's ROCKPOOL, DINNER BY HESTON BLUMENTHAL (London) and now EST. The three courses were adventures in experimentation with mostly foraged food: a wild fennel seed tea aperitif, miniature root vegetables on thistle-renet curd with dandelion soil and wild nasturtium leaves, a Boletus pine mushroom consomme with ravioli, and 'make-your-own' dry-ice ice cream with roasted dandelion granules and honey. The ice cream course a gentle interactive frazzle where we were divided into groups of six, given utensils to whip the cream, adding the smoking dry ice and honey, to the desired constituency, served and sprinkled with the dandelion granules (tasted of coffee!) A light gastronomic escapade. Mr Stasi gave us verbal presentation to each of the courses as they were served and answered questions from the curious.
After we were seated - the first of five invited individuals gave a presentation: Karen Therese, one of the evening's creative producers and artist (THE RIOT ACT), spoke of her recent change of status after an impromptu wedding ceremony in New York, and the psychological effect of this gay marriage to her well being and social equilibrium. There followed between courses: Diego Bonetto, an explorer of our natural environment and investigating how nature about us can be put to use, specifically, tonight, as a source of forage for our food - some of what we were eating had been foraged during the week and prepared by the creative team; Matt Godfrey, a member of The Urban Neighbours of Hope (UNOH), who is living and working, along with his young family, with refugees and asylum seekers in the Mount Druitt and Bidwill area, mostly the Sudanese community; Barbara Campbell an Australian artist who at the moment is "researching how migratory birds direct human performance" (!?); and finally Victoria Spence, a former performance artist and now Celebrant, bereavement support worker, who is now especially committed to her on-going development of alternate ways to deal with Death, beyond the dominant corporates of the funeral industry . Ms Spence introduced to us one of two "cold beds" that she has imported to help communities to have the dead at home, working within legislated patterns of behavioural requirements, for the unique rites and rituals of those peoples who desire it.
Questions, discussion and answers, on and or about these topics happened.
THE HUNTING PARTY is a live art event encouraging curated presentations on ceremonial practices within art and culture. ... The initial concept of THE HUNTING PARTY has been developed from The Long Table , conceived by the New York artist Lois Weaver
In this format an interesting night of 'door opening' to the 'grey zones' of our world in Sydney, was opened. Direct contact, via this dinner installation, with the 'toilers' in these exceptional, and at the moment border territories of our living culture, may escalate other energies to assist and provoke action to facilitate the progress of these artists/artisans.
I felt privileged to be asked. In Alain De Botton's latest book, RELIGION FOR ATHEISTS, he hypothesises about ways the contemporary world can engage with what was once the provenance of organised religion. It is in this re-claiming of the ritual of the Agape Feast in a secular society, that it can happen. The strange will become a familiar: our fear of strangers and strange ideas may recede:
"The poor would eat with the rich, the black with the white, the orthodox with the secular, the bipolar with the balanced, workers with managers, scientists with artists", politicians with the voting constituents. The notion that we could attach extreme opposites peaceably to each other, or that we could amend some of the tatters in the modern social fabric through the (initiative of art events like THE HUNTING PARTY), this communal meal, seems to be a realistic enterprise. This event was a proof that they could " be a prior step taken to humanize one another in our imaginations, in order that we would then more naturally engage with our communities and, unbidden, cede some of our impulses towards egoism, racism, aggression, fear and guilt which lie at the root of so many of the issues, prejudices, with which traditional politic is concerned
Alain De Botton, RELIGION FOR ATHEISTS
THE HUNTING PARTY is an event that may help us rearrange the way we are taught. We know that we suffer from what the Greek philosophers termed AKRASIA, a perplexing tendency to know what we should do combined with a persistent reluctance actually to do it. This form of 'theatre' endorses Cicero's advice that public speaking should have "a threefold ability to prove (probare) , delight (delectare), and persuade (flectere)," that the communal dinner is partaken together, completes the formula essayed by our Greek masters, "that all lessons should appeal to both reason (logos) and emotion (pathos)". Food for the body and mind.
THE HUNTING PARTY, then, an innovative and necessary theater experience.
1. RELIGION FOR ATHEISTS by Alain De Botton - Hamish Hamiliton, 2012.