I Drank Wine, I Saw Art, But This Was No Opening

This was, rather, a wine and art tasting. As in: how would an earthy red from France taste if you drank it while an artist was feeding you instructions meant to foster social interaction with strangers? Or: would a bright Spanish rose taste even sunnier if it were sipped while listening to a musician play a harp? These were two of the pairings on the menu at Sally Szwed's inventive, multi-sensory evening, "5 Pairings."

The last two pairings were my favorites. Second-to-last was an "intervention" by artist and self-described public practitioner Chloe Bass, who got us out of our seats and facing strangers, while holding small plastic cups of a French red. (Specifically: Domaine de Fenouillet, Vin de Pays de Vaucluse, 2013, from Cotes du Rhone, France, described in the tasting notes as "TV and other electronics. Sex when you need it." ... among other creative evocations). We were also holding rose petal-scented cocktail napkins, on which Bass had hand-stamped her intervention's overarching organizing plan:

PLEASE STAND.

FACE A STRANGER.

RAISE YOUR CUP.

HOLD EYE CONTACT.

DRINK.

MOVE ON.

Overlaid onto these instructions were vignettes, or mini-narratives, which the artist read out to us assembled strangers as we stood eyeball-to-eyeball for as long as each narrative lasted, trying not to look away. As it turns out, this was not so easy to do. Sustained eye contact is intimate, and strangers are hardly intimates. But through her structured social scenario and unexpected little narratives, Bass managed to create an extremely compelling situation, shot through with awkwardness but also a kind of we're-all-in-this-together-so-why-not air of openness and experimentation. It was also a reminder of how fundamental it is to simply look at another person, and to have them look back at you, especially in our age of glowing screens.

We were back in our seats for the final pairing: a beautiful, black-and-white film by writer and artist Naeem Mohaiemen and a leathery, mouth-filling Italian red. (Specifically: Del Prete, Terre Nova Salice Saletino, 2010, from Puglia, Italy, described, in part, as "Long shadows."). To compose his film, Mohaiemen stitched together his father's old photographs of his family, taken in and around their house in Bangladesh. The artist had discovered his father's negatives tucked into boxes and neatly labeled, and decided to develop them. As the father's poetic snapshots flashed by slowly, the son, in a voiceover, told of finding the negatives, developing the photographs, and asking his father when and why he took them. But he had mostly forgotten. Wrapped up in this moving father-son narrative was a keen sense of time's passage, and the things (memories, relationships, places) that are retained, or sloughed-off, along the way.

All of this unfolded at The Sunview Luncheonette, itself a place out of time. This falling-apart, shuttered old diner was once a neighborhood spot. It's now pretty much off the map, except for when it's brought to life, now and again.

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