Liz Glynn, All the Arms We Need…A Dinner Party in Three Acts (Part III of Loving You Is Like Fucking the Dead), Engagement Party residency, The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, December 1, 2011

All the Arms We Need…A Dinner Party in Three Acts, following close on the heels of the controversial Marina Abramović gala dinner at MOCA, was a fitting end to Liz Glynn’s Engagement Party residency in a few different ways. A celebratory affair, it invited favorable comparisons to the ostentatious Abramović event: the food and wine were exquisite, probably comparable to what was served at the gala, and yet this dinner was entirely free of charge to guests. More importantly, the concepts at work in Glynn’s piece were subtle and unfolding instead of over-ripe and overdone; the work offered an ironic, yet generous, conclusion to Glynn’s inquiries into the functions of the museum.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about the Abramović debacle, and I’ve listened to a lot of comments from people who were there. After cycling through a variety of possible responses, I’ve settled on the conclusion that Abramović was basically continuing her depressing trajectory of self-canonization and complicity with establishment forces at the expense of her own work, which was at one time daring and thrilling. The New York Times, while obeying the unspoken dictum of focusing on the glittery, gossipy aspects of the evening, did let out a brief critical comment: “…at times the whole event seemed like an involuntarily comedic medley of the greatest hits of her own life as a performance artist.” That pretty much summed it all up for me.

In contrast to Abramović, Glynn is a long way from jumping the shark, thank god. While you can’t ignore the fact that big, fancy, sit-down dinners are inherently about consumption, spectacle, and a degree of privilege, the experience of it can be modulated into more thoughtful realms—and it was this that Glynn accomplished with a large degree of success. Her trademark bookish, introverted approach turned out to be the perfect antidote to the fancy dinner trap.

The first thing we were asked to do before sitting down to the meal was to answer three questions: What do you have? What do you desire? What do you need? We wrote our answers down on individual cards and placed them into the designated jars. During the course of the evening, as food and drink were served, readers would get up in front of us and read aloud all of our answers. These made for a lovely psychological accompaniment to the physical act of feeding and nourishing oneself, as well as putting a deeply personal touch on a large-scale event involving a lot of strangers.

“What do you have?” elicited a range of responses from the ridiculous “I have a towel” to the flippant “I have a free dinner” to more typical meditations on family, jobs, and happiness. “What do you need?” brought a laundry list of items like change, water, cookies, cash, a long healthy life, success, security, and car keys. “What do you desire?” was probably the question that opened people up the most—answers ranged from the shallow (“I want that girl at the coffee shop”) to the clever (“I want more of what I need”) to the mysteriously ambitious (“I want to advise worldwide…”).

In place of a head table where the bride and groom would normally sit at a wedding reception, Glynn set up a butcher’s table with a large mirror overhead. In place of ceremony, this kept the path from farm to table in full view of diners. A fresh, skinned lamb was brought out and an expert butcher proceeded to take it apart, explaining what parts of the lamb went into certain dishes. This was followed by a delicious course of lamb’s heart pastrami, and the presentation of the lamb’s raw, skinned head on a platter, which was passed around for everyone to look at and take pictures with. At every turn, Glynn countered spectacle and hierarchy with close reflections on the actions before us.

Lamb's heart pastrami is served.

Midway through the meal, a woman dressed in a medieval knight’s costume got up and walked on top of the banquet tables, doing a strip tease as she went, taking off the plastic pieces of her costume and passing them to guests. I wound up with red wine spilled on my companion and an epaulet in my lap. I’m still fairly mystified as to what the presence of this knight was supposed to signify. Perhaps it was a humorous reference to Medieval Times? At any rate, the fake knight’s stampede across our dining surface served to tamp down any reverential banquet mood that might have inadvertently arisen.

The evening ended with a great anti-flourish when frequent Glynn collaborator Corey Fogel got up on the tables and pulled the tablecloths up with him as he walked down their entire length, with a sheepish look on his face the whole time. Plates, glasses, and the remnants of any food went flying to the ground as guests scrambled to get up and avoid being splattered. Everyone kind of broke into relaxed laughter when he was done, and many got into the spirit and broke even more plates on the ground. It was funny, festive, and a perfect cancellation of high-brow pretension, merrily crashing the evening’s whole armature to the ground.

2 Responses to “Liz Glynn, All the Arms We Need…A Dinner Party in Three Acts (Part III of Loving You Is Like Fucking the Dead), Engagement Party residency, The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, December 1, 2011”

  1. Megan Hoetger Says:

    I am wondering who the RSVP-only invites were sent to though. Was it a public invitation? ….because I don’t remember getting the email.

  2. It was not a private RSVP, however, it was poorly publicized. I read in the very first Liz Glynn announcement that you had to RSVP for the final dinner, and I did, but was then told that they would only take RSVPs beginning on November 7. I marked it on my calendar so I wouldn’t forget. I then didn’t see any public announcements about RSVPing until the day before, on ForYourArt and LAWeekly, but by then it was already full.

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