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A journal for storytelling, arguments, and discovery through tangential conversations.
Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Iacopo Prinetti

In a recent article for Airmail Magazine, a U.S.-based online lifestyle publication, the artist Laila Gohar presented her formula for hosting the perfect party. It included, in random order: Laillier Blanc des Blancs champagne (“holiday water”), crystal cups (“so wide that almost seem like swimming pools”), cotton-linen tablecloths (“elegant yet not too uptight!”), and mother-of-pearl spoons (“perfect for caviar, but also for ice cream or sorbet”). In Gohar’s opinion, these chiselled details aim to create an atmosphere “relaxed yet considered, easygoing but layered.”1 

I would be lying if I said that I’m not mesmerized by the atmosphere Gohar depicts, flawlessly combining the irony of Madonna’s “Material Girl” with the decadence of the infamously chic NYC restaurant La Cote Basque, which was immortalized by Truman Capote in his unfinished book Answered Prayers.2 In the current times of growing violence, uncertainties, and genocide, this champagne-filled, oyster-flooded ambience is where I would like to drown. Gohar takes inspiration from this Capote-esque imagery to create dreamlike, lavish environments and objects that become the starting point for installations, dinner set-ups, and design products that combine food-based artworks with decadent crockery and cutlery. At the same time, Gohar aims to critically interrogate this Golden Age of formal dining, discussing in her work the forced performativity typical of this era and the class of hosting situations typical of the 1950s.

Last month, while tidying up my grandmother’s drawers with my mother, we found an exaggerated number of tablecloths, each with twenty to twenty-four coordinated handkerchiefs. To those who didn’t know her, these linens might conjure images of countless parties, with many guests marvelling at the delicate embroidery and décor. However, what mimics the setup of one of Gohar’s installations and narrations is derailed by a fundamental detail: my grandmother is neither sociable nor a socialite. Despite what her overflowing drawers suggest, she wasn’t interested in hosting amazing parties. Taking my grandmother as an epitome of this bourgeois web of constraints (inherited from the Victorian Era) these gatherings start to appear as a burden to women, expected to use their wedding trousseau to fulfill the gendered role of perfect hosts in society. Haunted by the ghost of formality, the women (and men) who lacked the ability to participate in this game of mirrors and smiles would experience stress and tension. Turning the pleasure of hosting and socializing into unpleasantness. 

This reflection brings us directly to feminist art. Many feminist practices took inspiration from the domestic sphere. During the 1960s and 1970s, the second wave of the women’s movement began awakening people's consciousnesses, and the constraints of mid-century society in terms of race, gender and expectations became fuel for political actions. Artists associated with the second wave of feminism used the same tools, drawing inspiration from politics to produce artworks with a socially charged message.

When artist Judy Chicago, a prominent figure in the Feminist Art movement, created The Dinner Party (1974-1979), she broke the bourgeois character of formal dining and made it political. The iconic installation features a triangular table with 39 place settings featuring real and fictional women from throughout history. Each place setting includes a unique hand-painted plate which resembles female genitalia. This politicization positions cutlery as a weapon, and plates as a vehicle to perpetrate new ideas, and creates the potential for women’s liberation and reclaiming their rights.

Through the dissection of the domestic environment that characterizes Chicago’s practice, socializing becomes an investigative field, and eating together becomes an act of rebellion that seeks to answer the question posed by ethnographer of gastronomy Kelly Donati in their text The Convivial Table, “How do we live together?”3 If, prior to the mid-twentieth century, cohabitation was subject to norms and formalities, the rise of the civil rights movement and the questioning of the bourgeois lifestyle transformed the table into a space of resistance. This brings me back to Gohar, who approaches hosting as an art form, using her practice as a homage to the new and liberated meaning that table setting has evolved into as a result of feminist action.

Through this process, the “bourgeois table” liberated itself from inherited social cues in favour of individual freedom: freedom to host or not to host, in order to affirm identity outside of norms and rules. If, in more elitist environments conviviality becomes the means of liberation for individuals, in more informal contexts it becomes an occasion to recognize a collective belonging to a territory or a community. Close-knit groups such as this may develop in rural and isolated regions and revolve around constructing a daily, shared life. In recent years, the artistic collective INLAND has been working to create a contemporary kind of regional, rural community in the mountains of Asturias, Spain to preserve pastoral mountain cultures and traditions. They have established a school for herders, cheesemaking workshops, and the reconstruction of the village in which the collective lives and operates.4 Revolving around the preservation of ancestral practices originating from the place they are restoring, the INLAND collective uses conviviality to affirm their identity. Their practice ensures posterity through artistic actions as well as their presence in international exhibitions, including Documenta 15 in 2022. In a delicate balance between the pastoral inheritance taken over by INLAND and a deep comprehension of contemporary neoliberal systems in art and culture, the collective manages not only to finance its projects but also to spread awareness about the fragility of non-urban regions. INLAND’s approach to conviviality expands the term beyond simply eating together to include living and creating a social, informal community that preaches liberty and builds on the foundations of a primordial sensitivity to the environment which gained traction in the 1960s countercultural movements. This vision of commonality and shared practices is a tool to transmit stories, memories, and traditions, and carry them into contemporary culture. 



Through the medium of food, supper clubs are capable of catalyzing social, environmental and economic issues. By engaging in these cultural, artistic, gastronomic practices they provide opportunities for moments of speculation and debate. As a result, supper clubs offer a middle ground of conviviality.



Looking at the artwork Untitled 1990 (pad thai) by Rirkrit Tiravanija, it’s evident how the assimilation of conviviality into artistic practices can take radically different shapes depending on the era. Produced for his first show at the Paula Allen Gallery in New York, the artwork expressed Tiravanija’s Thai identity by cooking pad thai for everyone who visited the gallery. This artistic action depicted a global conviviality and the free exchange of people, culture, and goods that appeared inevitable in the 1990s, and would later (and unexpectedly, for the idealists of capitalism) crumble in a world increasingly perceived as filled with conflicts and extremism, a perception sharpened by the horizontalization of news produced by social media. What at the end of the millennium appeared as a growing extent of peace, democracy, and global capitalism would later devolve into our contemporary situation in which massacres and ethnic violence pervade multiple countries. If one considers the current war on Gaza, the erasure of convivial traditions is one of the main targets for erasure along with the people. Clearing cultural memories becomes a subtle method to deeply eradicate the collective identity of the population. 

In this sense, conviviality passes from a symbol of globality, as in Tiravanija’s work, to a testimony of the ethnic cleansing of entire cultures. In Foragers, a 2022 documentary by Jumana Manna, this urgency to create a visual repository for collective memory intersects conviviality as a fundamental element in affirming Palestinian existence and the ancestral bond with the land they inhabit. Documenting the foraging of za’atar and akkoub, native herbs from Palestinian territories, the film narrates the importance of this activity in the daily habits of the community. Throughout the film, members of the community meet around shared meals where these plants become the main ingredient for many plates, affirming their bond to this semi-desertic, yet generous, land. The film also shows how as a method of apartheid, foraging these herbs has been prohibited by Israel in parts of the region. Foragers emphasizes how these traditions humanize the Palestinian population and highlight the role of conviviality in the survival and collective memory of a whole population.

Until now, I’ve tried to depict the opposing ends of the pendulum swing that concerns conviviality: on one side, an assertion of self, liberating individuals from the constraints of the mid-twentieth century society; and on the other end the recognition of a collective identity (of a community or a population) expressed through shared habits and traditions that can become a target during conflicts, as evidenced in Manna’s film. As this symbolic pendulum slows towards the middle and the extremes become more moderate a question arises: what lies in this middle ground where individual and collective identity meet?

Supper clubs, which have reappeared worldwide in the last decade, could be where these two attitudes can meet and thrive. When I speak of the supper club, I’m not referring to high-class ladies who lunch (à la Capote’s milieu). Instead, I refer to the long-lasting tradition that originated between the 1930s and the 1940s, mainly in North America and the UK, where supper clubs were created as social clubs to gather for the flourishing middle-class and lower bourgeoisie. People would spend time there from late afternoon until well into the night in an informal and friendly environment animated with food, parties, shows, and other events.  These social spots disappeared over the decades as economies changed and entertainment offerings grew thanks to television (and later social media). Eventually, these (ephemeral) communities vanished, becoming outdated relics not feasible for the present era. Yet, as with any trend, supper clubs have experienced a resurgence in the past decade.5 In a moment where loneliness is increasingly present and governments appear incapable of keeping communities together, individual actions (such as the creation of supper clubs) have emerged as the main structure to support new relations.6

In this new era of supper clubs, a shift can be observed amidst the piles of dishes and glasses. Through the medium of food, these supper clubs are capable of catalyzing social, environmental and economic issues. By engaging in these cultural, artistic, gastronomic practices they provide opportunities for moments of speculation and debate. As a result, supper clubs offer a middle ground of conviviality. Going back to the pendulum analogy, these spaces combine the celebration of individual and collective identity by highlighting regional cuisine while giving creative liberty to the chef and organizer’s unique vision. What is notable about these contemporary revivals is the specificity. Returning to the theme of identity, these places present themselves in various formats that vary from dispersed houses in the Appalachian Mountains to the Venetian lagoon. 

What connects these clubs is their connection with the local communities, which positions them as both places of experimentation and critical regionalism. Through these connections, supper clubs refuse the colonialist action that many commercial operations connected to the food industry perpetrate, for example, inviting Michelin-star chefs to remote locations without any context regarding the history or communities. In an article written for The Guardian by Poppy Noor, appropriately titled “Is it bourgeoise to like ‘good food?’” the journalist reports from Lost Creek, West Virginia (a small village lost in the middle of the aforementioned Appalachia), where a local couple, Amy Dawson and Mike Costello, have established a world-renowned supper club.7 Despite being in a remote location, (attracting people from all over the country) Dawson and Costello have created an experience that combines a rediscovery of the Appalachian tradition of making the most out of scarcity with a broader social discourse. At first Dawson and Costello’s club seems like a stereotypical “foodie” dream destination including self-cured prosciutto, cooking on open fires in the garden, and all the other things that would send any “radical chic” into raptures. The menu instead tells a different story reflecting on how a region full of farming activities finds itself to be one of the poorest food deserts in the whole U.S. 


Mediated food cultures allow us to inspect modern life through a medium (food) unavoidably “consumed” in real life. Thus, food culture becomes one of the most perceivable means of investigating our fragmented contemporaneity.


Through their supper club, the couple tries to sew back the fracture between the place, its potential, and the food culture, whose devastation is well represented by Walmart’s saturating the area. Dawson and Costello aim to expose how big corporations have taken advantage of the area, exporting all the cultivated produce from the region and leaving a food desert behind. At the same time, they involve themselves with the local community, inviting them to dinners (free of charge) and creating dialogues and projects aimed towards restoring the biodiversity and local cultivations. The supper club becomes more than a place to stay together, it takes on a social, community-directed function that leverages its appeal to attract visitors from outside the region. This is not merely cosmetic but acts as a means of addressing the area's socioeconomic conditions while investing in the local community and its healing after centuries of low wages and deadly coal mining.

The capacity of these clubs to drive attention towards “marginal” locations and their needs is a character trait of several of these food-related activities. This quality is inherited from the original supper clubs that usually appeared outside of urban areas, and helped draw entertainment to these smaller communities. In the case of Tocia! Cuisine and Community, an association focusing on the relationship between food and local culture, this mission is even more challenging. The collective operates in the Venetian Lagoon to create communitarian moments of knowledge through foraging, fishing, and other activities inherent to the lagoon’s history. Through their food-based practice Tocia! addresses Venice as an area polluted by globetrotters due to hyper-tourism, the Biennale, and a growing number of art foundations directly followed by a dive in the number of permanent inhabitants in the city.

As in the case of the Appalachian supper club, Tocia! operates within the liminal geographies of Venice, creating a web of fishermen, beekeepers, farmers, and artists who reflect on what lies outside the touristy façade of the city. They investigate the smaller and less inhabited islands, their traditions and knowledge through menus that bring together contemporary creativity and embedded structures. This includes experimenting with salicornia (a brackish herb growing on the lagoon sandbanks), and with moeche (a phase in the development of the shell of the crab specific to the culinary tradition of Venice), along with investigating invasive species like the blue crab. Through these experiments, Tocia! raises issues regarding climate change by reflecting on produce preservation through fermentations and other techniques, combining food culture and activism. Tocia’s nomadic supper club uses this research to affirm a Venetian identity beyond what is proposed as a tourist attraction (or trap). It goes to the roots of tradition to question the contemporary way of living and coexisting.

Both the North American and Venetian cases combine the chef’s individual creativity and communitarian identity through food-based actions to bring together the two poles of this theory of conviviality—a theory that may not have been needed, but you reached the end of the article now, so there’s nothing to be done. This whole path brings us back to Donati’s question of “How do we live together?”  and I would extend this question to ask, how do we live together in a world that is so polarized? 

These cultural practices may offer us insight into a solution. Mediated food cultures allow us to inspect modern life through a medium (food) unavoidably “consumed” in real life. Thus, food culture becomes one of the most perceivable means of investigating our fragmented contemporaneity.

Travel facilitates movement through different areas, situations, and visions of conviviality, culminating in the culturally and politically active dimension of the supper clubs. Through their inherent connection to food and local communities, these clubs create a middle ground that produces localized and unique insights into our contemporary times. Maybe, through a table that brings together cultural, scientific, and social stances, we’ll start to design new ways of living together that mend the fragments of today.

The above conversation was written by Iacopo Prinetti who is a curator and researcher based in Turin, Italy. He works both independently and as an assistant curator for OGR Torino.

Editorial support by Madeline Bogoch

Cover: Gohar World Table II,  2022,Photography: Jeremy Liebman. Retrieved here



1. Laila Gohar, “The Host of Hosts,” Air Mail, December 12, 2023

2. In the unfinished book Answered Prayers (1986), Truman Capote identifies this restaurant in New York as the eponymous place for high-class ladies to lunch and where to meet the city's jet set (but also eat complicated dishes).

3. Kelly Donati, "The Convivial Table: Imagining Ethical Relations Through Multispecies Gastronomy," The Aristologist: An Antipodean Journal of Food History 4 (2014): 127.

4.To prevent the village from becoming a tourist attraction, the collective has never disclosed its location, which it sees as, like many other tactics, a way to oppose capitalization in favour of an honest locality.

5.James Ramsden, “What’s the future of the supper club?” The Guardian, February 25, 2011

6.Rebecca Moccia, Ministry of Loneliness (Milan: Humboldt Books, 2023)

7.Poppy Noor, “Is it bourgeois to like ‘good food?’” The Guardian, September 9, 2022