Accepted Paper:

The Dinner of Desires: artists, anthropologists and homeless people at Expo Milan 2015  


Ivan Bargna (University of Milan-Bicocca)

Paper short abstract:

The author reflects on an artistic-ethnographic project about food, wishes, and social exclusion, he carried out in a soup kitchen. The times of field and artistic action are related to those of people, big media event, and charitable institutions, to show gaps and mutual implications .

Paper long abstract:

The Dinner of Desires (2014) was an artistic-ethnographic project, ideated in the frame of Expo Milan 2015. It involved a hundred homeless people attending a soup kitchen in Milan, the artist Emilio Fantin, and a team composed of a contemporary art curator, some anthropologists, a sommelier, a pastry chef, social workers, educators, cooks, waiters, videomakers, and an architect. The project was intended to promote a participatory reflection about the social and biographical dynamics of desire, by the means of a situation triggered by an artistic action.

The Dinner of desires was not a performance, but a long term relationships-building process focusing on the links between biographies and food (sharing and exclusion practices, tastes, memories, wishes) explored through the collaborative writing of a "menu of desires".

As a complex device involving different institutional and disciplinary agencies, the Dinner did not happen only in a face to face relationship around the table, but at the intersection of several social mediation systems: on the one hand it was an open experience, with a strong degree of indetermination (as it is characteristic, in varying degrees, of art practice, ethnographic research, and people biographies) and on the other, it was an "organized experience", which had to correspond (or disregard) to the times and constraints of the sponsors, to the Expo media framework, and to the charitable institution in which the dinner took place.

This field of tensions and divergences is the one in which, both the artist and the anthropologist worked.

Panel P019
Art (and anthropology) beyond materiality and representation