A Humble Utopia: Liliana Dirks-Goodman’s Dinner Party 1960-2000s with chef Kristin Worrall at New York Live Arts, March 10th 2019

Photo courtesy of New York Live Arts

Architecture is not only about concrete structures and monuments, but questions of how we are inhibited, and invited to inhabit space. If philosopher Elizabeth Grosz insists that there is not a feminist architecture, Liliana Dirks-Goodman, an architect and designer, quietly disagrees. With her second conceptually curated dinner party, after Judy Chicago’s iconic 1970s piece, she creates a participatory installation and artist talk designed for guests to embody the tensions and legacies of second wave feminism. It’s an earnest investigation into the crossings of art, design and feminism.

Pre-show, as relatives, friends, and strangers found spots at the long table, anthem-like songs from Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” to Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman,” Salt-N-Pepa’s “None of Your Business” and Beyonce “Run the World” softly played. We let the warm rolls sit in baskets, as Dirks-Goodman, our unassuming emcee, opened the dinner by acknowledging the indigenous Lenape inhabitants of Mannahatta, and then invited us to introduce ourselves to someone next to us by sharing our preferred pronouns and something that brings us pleasure. She then punctuated the dinner by conversationally reading off notecards that offered close readings of her design choices, and highlighted the feminist voices and sources that inspired the project. (The program came with a full bibliography of 23 sources ranging from Octavia Butler to Drucilla Cornell).

While slurping up Worrall’s delicious homemade spaghettiOs with a handcrafted “spordo” (part spork, part dildo) we were invited to reflect upon the gains and losses brought with industrialized foods as well as the stigmatization of sex when it comes to women’s labor. One of the few laughs in the affable, if awkward ‘party’ came when she assured us that no one had previously used our sensually shaped utensil as a sex toy.  

The softly diverse floral patterns of the table linens, Dirks-Goodman explained, are meant to evoke, like a quilt, the contrasting points that nonetheless comprise a whole— a visual metaphor for a unified feminism comprised of disparate perspectives. Without a political agenda or controversial stake, Dirks-Goodman brought them all, literally, to the table: one set for 16 or so, and covered with a delicate light blue and peach tablecloth, vases of blue and yellow roses, and napkins embroidered with quotes by Doris Davenport, Adrienne Rich, Grace Lee Boggs, Luce Irigaray, and Candida Royale, among others. A few of us were chosen to read our napkins aloud.  

Our spaghettiOs arrived in organic, irregularly shaped shell-like white bowls, with little feet (made at Mostrecklessly Pottery Studio in Bushwick) that Dirks-Goodman made by filling some found packets of condoms from an event with plaster, a process she referred to as the “queerness of being an artist,” or, in other words, how the artist may see past the initial functions of things in order to reimagine and repurpose them, layering and catalyzing different significations into the object itself.

In Architecture from the Outside, feminist philosopher Grosz asks: “How can we understand space differently, in order to organize, inhabit, and structure our living arrangements differently?” Dirks-Goodman takes this as provocation for her homespun meal and her other, more intangible, offerings.

Part of the evening included a brief guided meditation with Regina Rocke, a healer who invited us to attend to our breath and our bodies. In a low-pressure way, she encouraged us to consider the possibility of leaving the dinner in a more elevated place than we had arrived. Our generous host reminded us that everyone — from the chef and server, to the advisors and potters — may have something to offer us.

As meticulously constructed as it was, Dirks-Goodman’s utopic vision isn’t about perfection, but the necessity, even if momentarily, to dream one up. Rather than re-thinking architectural space in the macro, she seeks to work on the micro, design level. On the navy blue and white lace-patterned wrapper that she designed to enclose our warm apple pie pocket, a gourmet riff on the McDonald’s version, appeared the Audre Lorde quote, “Our visions begin with our desires.”

A delicious primer on the live feminist questions and dilemmas that we must find a way to live with, or reimagine, Dirks-Goodman asks: What brings us pleasure? What do we want? And then, how might we build new spaces, or think about new ways to inhabit the old.

Her next gathering, she said, may leap from the second-wave into the idea of a feminist futurity.

Consider getting a seat at her table.

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