‘The Table’ is a modular dining table that was developed in collaboration with carpenter Haroon Ishaq and architect Jon Orlek, in July 2019. It has been built and designed to enable a different version to be made each time a new set of people gather and assemble it.
The desire to build a table came from our interest in informal infrastructures and the abundant history of woman, activists, collectivities and groups sharing informal knowledge and plotting around the kitchen table.
It draws functional cues from Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology: apposing the idea of the eurocentric-male philosopher’s table as the site for knowledge production, disconnected from the everyday and unaware of the invisible labour which supports it. This table attempts to occupy a queered, shifting and collective perspective:
with many parts facing many ways and crucially requires many people to construct it from the bottom up
It makes visible the labour of assembly/disassembly and its shape is informed by the many perspectives of those present. We are interested in what this act allows, invites or asks us to reflect on more widely and what ways this object could be used to discuss solidarities and alliances across places/practices.
Produced whilst artists in residence in Beeston throughout the summer of 2019 the images drawn on the table’s surface show observations and reflections of both top down and bottom up viewpoints or depictions of the area. From the ketchup pot found on the front door step on our first day to the census, shared toys left in the street to wikipedia data, and various neighbourhood plans and consultations. The table
weaves together the partial perspectives of both artist and ‘master planner’
It set the scene for 3 dinners we hosted in the basement kitchen at Artist House 45. Each night a range of folk came together to build and eat at the table, with a mixture of those local to Beeston and others from further afield with shared interests around social politics. Guests brought a range of experiences from different backgrounds and practices: organising, activism, art and academic work.
Each night they were joined by an invited speaker: Marsha Bradfield was invited to speak about the Artist Placement Group and Incidental Unit, Andrea Francke on infrastructure as art practice and their work on evaluation with Gasworks, and Sonia Boyce introduced her ongoing mural commision with 3 different neighbourhoods in London. Conversations flowed around the way places change, how and why people do things for their community or where they live, who the ‘players’ are and what makes us feel welcome and at home, or not in a globalised world.
Sounds of Garnet Terrace: a playlist Shazam’d from number 45 and our movements in Beeston (available on Spotify here).
With thanks to Huddersfield University, the Arts Council England, Leeds Inspired and East Street Arts.
Sophie + Kerri resist hierarchy through practicing for inclusivity but their process differs from the clarion call to dismantle power structures that echoes across the political spectrum. It seems to me that instead of ripping stuff apart, they believe in tickling for change. In this way, they disarm without harm. The creative duo challenge the status quo by catalysing projects that are playful by design, irreverent in their exuberance but not always user-friendly, albeit in the best possible ways. The Table is a case in point.
It was a fine evening in July 2019 that I found myself at Artist House 45, a live/work context based in a two-bedroom, back-to-back terrace in Beeston, South Leeds. I was there at the invitation of Sophie + Kerri and their collaborator Jon Orlek during their summer residency with East Street Arts, an artist-led charity that has been supporting the artists of Leeds and the wider community since 1993.
It has become fashionable to cook, dine and wash up together but this evening offered even more in common. We would assemble the support for our supper, a table, out of flat surfaces in undular shapes that made me think of plywood puddles. Co-developed with carpenter Haroon Ishaq, the structure involved poles that went through holes, so the surfaces could be stacked and reconfigured into something that looked a lot like a terrace field on stilts, but of the stools I have no recollection.
As we struggled to connect the unwieldy components in the tiny basement kitchen, the party goers got to know each other. We spoke about our 3D problem solving, our bad knees and big bums and our respective interpretations of the drawings that decorated the table’s surfaces. We learned they were top-down and bottom-up perspectives of the local area. There we were, dancing around the table. Exploring possibilities. Hoisting. Shifting. Switching. Banging. Moving. And then, all at once, it was up - the culinary equivalent of a barn raising.
After a dinner that featured what I’ll call ‘avant-garde falafel’, we moved into a roundtable discussion. I was the first of three artists to share at one of these sessions, with Andrea Franke (on behalf of Future of the Left) and Sonia Boyce facilitating conversations later that summer.
There were interesting connections to be made with the evening’s activities and Sophie + Kerri’s residency and the work of the Artist Placement Group (APG). Formed in the 1960s, the commitment to placing artists and their work in extra-artistic contexts gave the network radical appeal. I had been working with one of APG’s original co-founders Barbara Steveni and others to convene Incidental Unit as the network’s third iteration. Before the pandemic we regularly met around the kitchen table at Flat Time House. Tables and chairs have long enjoyed pride of place in APG’s practice.
Consider the intervention in a series of Between exhibitions at the Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf curated by German art historian Jürgen Harten in 1971. The Sculpture was an office-like space with a round table where the APG facilitated a series of discussions between British artists and industrialists and their German equivalents. Overidentifying with the aesthetics of administration and the language of bureaucracy is a signature of APG’s practice. I like to connect this to the verb to table. In British English it means to discuss something, as in tabling a proposal in Parliament. But in American English it means the exact opposite: to postpone a discussion. It seems this and/also logic applies to the way that Sophie + Kerri tickle us with their practice. They like to keep these absurdities in plain sight, to have them animal, vegetable and mineral in their artworks so that even when, like The Table, they are silent but expectant, always seem as though they could break into debate, or, indeed, come to feature as the heroes and heroines in the stories about public and other kinds of participation which so many of us working in social practice can relate to.