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Awkwardness and Conviviality was an event held at Free Range Gallery on the 31st of March, 2016. It featured a short film (24 Hour Dinner Party) and a performance (Opening Night Speech). Both works approached their respective social customs as situations of uncomfortable endurance, where an unusually graceless individual manages to dissipate the veneer of conviviality through a deliberate or accidental interruption of social harmony; a gesture that seems to say less about the awkward individual and more about how inherently alienating these customs can be for all those involved.
24 Hour Dinner Party was a fictional portrayal of a relational artwork I had previously joked about forcing my friends to endure. Featuring a recurring image of wilting flowers - an indication of the hours gone by, as well as a representation of the deteriorating conviviality between the Host and her Guests - the film shows a “normal” interaction between friends that begins to sour as time goes on. The increasingly resentful Guests never express their disdain out of politeness; instead they withdraw and quietly avoid the Host as she earnestly struggles to keep the atmosphere convivial.
Towards the end of the film, the Host finds herself surrounded by aggressively hospitable dopplegängers in place of her friends: an implied dream where the hostility felt by the Guests is finally expressed through their sinister parody of the Host.
The film was shown on a loop without sound; the audience sat in a similarly strange and uncomfortable silence as they watched the awkwardness unfold.
Opening Night Speech was a “surprise” performance that highlighted its own inherent awkwardness. Opening night speeches are often an unnecessary interruption of the convivial atmosphere of an exhibition opening, and an uncomfortable circumstance for both speaker and audience. So halfway through the night I left my conversation, turned on a vulgar disco light, put on my sunglasses and sat down to nervously deliver a 15-minute speech, fumbling with my palm cards and microphone as I spoke in a breathless monotone.
I covered the usual topics of “housekeeping” and acknowledgements, before delving into the events of the previous Easter weekend, conversations I’d had with my uncle, union politics, the Raffles hotel on the Swan River, and what I thought of my ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend. Eventually I mentioned a speech that was made at my great-grandmother’s 90th birthday party, a long but brilliant limerick delivered by an unknown family friend about the “Communist” behaviour of one of my Narney’s chickens. I confessed that I never told this stranger how much I enjoyed his speech, as I wasn’t quite sure what to say, so my family went home and it was never mentioned again.
The speech concluded with a broader suggestion of the social, political and economic potential of awkwardness, as a fleeting breach of the accepted order of things and therefore a form of temporary resistance for the powerless.
An excerpt of the speech can be found in the Text section.
All opening night photos by Paul Sutherland unless otherwise stated.
Thank you to Graham, Paul, Cecilia, Matt and Shaun for their contribution to 24 Hour Dinner Party. Thank you to Free Range for hosting the event.