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ICONIC PHOTOGRAPHS, PUBLIC CULTURE, AND LIBERAL DEMOCRACY

No Caption Needed is a book and a blog, each dedicated to discussion of the role that photojournalism and other visual practices play in a vital democratic society. No caption needed, but many are provided. . . .

May 9th, 2008

BUILT: Dinner in the Sky

Posted by Hariman in built

BUILT explores the changing city in the US and the challenges that will affect housing, infrastructure, neighborhood cohesion, and equity in the coming years. BUILT is a series of research, installation, dialogue, interview, and performance events of varied scale, including the opportunity for public conversation offered at this blog.

This week’s post focuses on a photograph from Dinner in the Sky:

dinner-in-the-sky.jpg

“Dinner in the Sky is hosted at a table suspended at a height of 50 metres, by a team of professionals.”

One might speculate about the dinner conversation that occurs while floating above the rooftops. Are they talking about the relationships between luxury, space, and democracy?

Do they ask, how much privilege can you purchase before you feel complicit in others’ lack of privilege?

What do you see? Harmless pleasure or a fantasy of escape? Want a seat?

BUILT is a performance/civic dialogue project and a collaboration of Northwesten University’s Theater Department & Portland, Oregon’s Sojourn Theatre, led by visiting artist Michael Rohd.

16 Responses to ' BUILT: Dinner in the Sky '

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  1. mr said,

    on May 9th, 2008 at 8:47 am

    i often feel envious of big houses.
    I drive by big houses, and i think- wow, it would be great to have a big house. But i don’t really want all that space- i like the idea of it.
    I feel like its a dream I’ve had for a long time, but its someone else’s dream.
    I see this picture, and it looks ridiculously fun and ludicrously excessive…could i enjoy a moment of it without feeling guilty about everyone ‘beneath’ me…and if i can’t, why not? Clearly, some people can. Does that make me better than them? I doubt it.
    What values are my feelings colored by, and how conscious of them am i?

  2. Adil said,

    on May 9th, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    so…the first place i go when i look at this picture is to the questions of where. Where will we live? Where will we go? Where will we eat, quite literally, as our population grows and grows and grows. And I feel like the answer is always up. Either, we look UP to God to help, or we head UP and build high rises, or we raise UP and head to the moon to repopulate, or we create a dining table up, up, and away. However, the only thing I think of when I stare at this bizarre dinning affair is the eminent danger. What happens is someone gets a little too anxious, or if the winds are too strong, or if the support isn’t there…this is one dinner that would scare the crap outta me. And maybe that’s what going UP does. Maybe there is a danger in going up, high rise, moon, God….what have you. I think I’d have to pass on this dinner and stay down on the ground.

  3. Robin said,

    on May 9th, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    I am immediately transported to a “Mary Poppins” kind of place, ready to fly up into the air and laugh forever, to have tea on the ceiling. There is an absurdity in the image, a kind of childlike glee, just because of the impossibility of the situation. And I keep thinking about the food these people are preparing to eat. If someone wants some ketchup, and there isn’t any 50 feet in the air, does the person just have to go without? It seems like when you are 50 feet in the air, you’ve got to deal with what you brought, getting something more, safely and quickly, seems unrealistic.

  4. alison said,

    on May 10th, 2008 at 7:02 am

    Like Robin, I immediately want to know what was on the menu. Whatever it was, i dont think Ketchup was a part ot the meal. What kind of food goes along with this daring and luxurious experience?

    I am also wondering about how it takes a certain amount of privilege to intentionally put oneself in that kind of danger. Like sky diving or other adventure sports or even traveling via airplane or eating blowfish that needs to be prepared perfectly or else it is poisonous. These kinds of dangerous activities come with status and money….this has to be part of the appeal.

  5. Greer said,

    on May 10th, 2008 at 8:07 am

    i am interested in how one’s perspective changes as one dines above a city. how do they view the city and the inhabitants below? are the looking down at the houses and people saying “oh ah, look at that one” – in what way does the city become like a museum or zoo that these people are observing and commenting on. in placing these individuals above the city for a meal it suggests that what is beneath has become another form of entertainment.

    at the same time what is the perspective of an individual down in the city looking up at this dinner party in the sky? is everyone gathered, pointing, and asking “what is this all about”. Does the dinner party become a different type of zoo or museum exhibit to the people below.

    how does objectification come into play?

  6. Rachel said,

    on May 10th, 2008 at 9:26 am

    wow – the first thought I had when I looked at this was not the sense of privilege, though after reading these comments, that makes some sense (especially with the clothing they’re all wearing)
    but i thought – why are they eating up there? did they run out of room down there? at the bottom and underneath a safe haven of a building?
    if they are trying to make a point that we need to figure out a way to all live together because finding space is such a difficult dilemma, then they are really giving a lot to prove such a thing (letting go of their need for safety, etc)
    I guess the type of people that i imagine who would be willing to do this sort of thing are NOT those who just want to look down on others and experience their privilege – i imagine those that care strongly about things and want to show others something or prove a point.. I mean, my grandmother would never ever want to be suspended 50 ft in the air even if it helped signify that she had privilege(she was all about showing her privilege) – she did not like taking those types of risks.

  7. Justin said,

    on May 10th, 2008 at 9:41 am

    Heights + food + Justin = no good

    So this is a $38,000 meal fit for 22 people who apparently have few things better to do with their excessive amounts of money…

    What can that one meal buy? For starters, instead of eating a tender piece of steak, those 22 people could have paid for my first year of college or they could have purchased a new car, perhaps an olympic trained pony…what about a downpayment on a house?

    Now I admit that I am a watcher of VH1′s “The Fabulous Life of…” series where the lifestyles of the rich and famous are flaunted – having their extravagant expenses as the main focus.

    I am disgusted at not only their wastrel mindsets but also that I’m actually intrigued by it and that society has set the bar for success at their level. Sure I’d enjoy not having to worry about finances, but I wouldn’t need to assert my level of security by spending exorbitant amounts of money on cheap thrills.

    Status has too high a value these days, and I’m not willing to buy it.

  8. Pac McLaurin said,

    on May 10th, 2008 at 10:26 am

    Justin, as you get older there are just some things you want to do. What do you think it costs to climb Denali or if you are really in the chips, Mt . Everest? How much does it cost to race a sports car? How much to fly around the world? How much to go into space? I have to admit my two big splurges in life have not compared to this meal, but going hot air ballooning on my wife’s birthday was terrific and flying to Paris from JFK on the Concorde was the thrill of a life time. Neither would have paid your tuition, but then nobody paid mine either. If you have the money no one gets hurt when you splurge. I would bet all these people give more to charity than you and I make together. They all have new cars, don’t need houses and they are doing something phenomenal. Give them a break.

  9. Ehren said,

    on May 10th, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    Pac, when you’re young thrill seeking and splurging is also quite alluring. It’s not an activity reserved for older generations. But what if we all stopped making those choices to splurge?

    I’ve been mucking around Dinner in the Sky’s website, and other news stories about it, and it seems that the $38,000 number is not completely representative. USA Today says $11,400. Still, not a shabby sum. I assume there are different prices for different packages. Nonetheless, according to the United Nations Population Fund 2004, about 2.8 billion people survive on less than $2 a day. This may be pedantic, but $2 into $11,400 is 5,700, and about 3 times that for the $38,000 number. At least 5,700 people could have doubled their daily expenditures with the money spent on one Dinner in the Sky.

    At the same time, I agree Pac, there’s a thrill-seeker in all of us, and we all splurge in our own way. But maybe we could all splurge more responsibly. Yet, judging exactly how much or how little one should spend for personal enjoyment, I think, is a very difficult thing to manage.

    The real problem I have with this image is the unabashed condescension. Why must we eat dinner in the sky, obviously above other human beings, in business suits and ties? For that matter, why are penthouses on the top floor of a building? Why is the CEO’s office also on the top floor? Why are some of the most expensive restaurants on the top floor of the tallest skyscrapers? Why do logos like Nike, Prudential, and Ford stare down at me from the tallest buildings in the biggest cities in the United States? Why is it that donation of money, rather than time, was the first impulse towards justifying these people’s splurge? Why is it that suits are to be warn at times when respect is most warranted, and are also the most expensive clothing a man can buy? I see allure in eating dinner in the sky. But this dinner is not about thrill, it’s about establishing, for yourself and others, your superiority. It’s about seeing those less fortunate as those less fortunate see you. No. Don’t give them a break. Get them down. Bring them down to earth. For that matter, bring us all down to earth. But no, not down to earth. In. Into the slums. Into the factories. Into the countries where food is becoming more expensive by the day. Let’s get down and dirty, in with the rest of humanity. People with new cars, houses who are doing something phenomenal definitely do not need my break. They can just pay for it. They pay for it every day. There are 2.8 billion people (and growing) who need my break. Not these diners in the sky.

  10. Josh said,

    on May 10th, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    In response to Justin and Pac (and a bit michael) i am reminded of another conversation ive had in the past about privilege, and one that is related to the idea of where we will live i think. What would you give up for other people to have more? Yes Justin, you are right, 38,000 dollars would go an incredibly long way in helping people. But are those really the terms to think in? Perhaps…we would all certainly be better o if every extravagance was eliminated in favor of charity, but where does it end? I know we’re all at different places economically, but chances are every person reading this has some stuff they could give up to give more to others…what kind of computer are you reading this on? what did you have for lunch? do you have a car? a bike? whats in your fridge? how full are you right now? are you so full that if you gave half your meal to someone who needed it, then you could both be satisfied? i am right now, but thats not how our lives work, for better or worse. I like nice dinners, and i like driving my car, and while i want others to be happy and well off, i am not willing to give those things up, and as callous as this sounds, while it is good to have perspective, i can’t think about what i could give up everytime i sit down to eat. maybe its not exactly the same, but i think thats the slope that decrying every extravagance as a waste that would have been better spent on those less fortunate leads to.

  11. Kenisha said,

    on May 11th, 2008 at 7:50 am

    My first thoughts, what is going on? Why would anyone order and eat food in the air? But after a closer analysis, the photograph underscores several future and present community themes.

    In the next 30 years, the population of America will increase by 100 million. Where will all these people live? Is the photograph above suggesting a new reality for the Americas that in 30 years people will be living like the Jeffersons, flying in cars and houses floating in the air! Since we do not have space for everyone, will we begin to defile gravity to create space for these people? Is this our future?

    Also, the photograph underscores power relations in the United States. Most of the people attending the dinner are white males and scatter around the dinner table are 2 to 3 white females, the fact they are suspended in the air suggests their royalty and power. This gets me thinking of power relations in the United States, does the power still reside in white males? Or is power slowly trickling down to hierarchy from white females to black males, black females, et cetera.

  12. Rachel said,

    on May 11th, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    what if they accidently drop a fork?

    is it sudden death for a passerby below?

  13. Sara said,

    on May 11th, 2008 at 10:39 pm

    This image is unsettling for a number of reasons. While I can totally understand the comments previous to mine, in a different vein this image speaks to me as a literal representation of the top-down approach to community development. Due to the business attire, I imagine the people attending the dinner are in a city planning meeting in the sky deciding the fates of those literally below them. Maybe they’ll parachute in their leftovers for the poor below after deciding to “make the community better” by building housing and stores that the residents can’t even afford instead of going into that community, finding the good organizations and people in it and using those assets to make it better. As mentioned in a few previous posts, why is up always better? Why is it desirable to be above? I understand wanting to use your hard earned money for fun experiences. But a change in perspective that doesn’t come from a dinner in the sky would certainly be much more valuable to the future of our country.

    p.s. Rachel…thank you for that last comment…love it.

  14. Micah said,

    on May 12th, 2008 at 7:27 am

    I see this picture, and mostly what I think of is the aloofness and oblivion of the folks who are dining. In a high-end restaurant, one can turn from the window if unsightly images pass by. In “Dinner in the Sky”, those images become part of the city mosaic. It’s certainly indicative of a greater class disparagement with which America associates itself.

    Also striking, the notion that there is little room to move up there. The diners are actually stuck in their rigid seats as if in a roller coaster. For basic comfort reasons, this seems altogether undesirable. In this sense, although they may have the freedom to dine in the air, they do not have the freedom to stand up, move about. I wonder if this is a metaphor for the sometimes imprisoning effect of privilege.

  15. Phil said,

    on May 12th, 2008 at 11:21 am

    I’m also worried about forks dropping.
    Does the dinner float over the city or is it stationary?
    There’s something very futuristic about this image — makes me think of private enterprise into space. The individual with enough wealth can literally defy gravity and fly.
    I imagine vertical space becoming the real estate of the 22nd century.

  16. Justin said,

    on May 12th, 2008 at 11:35 am

    Pac,
    Thank you for contributing to our project the BUILT cast and crew are all so passionate about. I feel as if Ehren and Josh have already covered so much of my thoughts that never made it online, so I’ll try to refrain from copying and pasting.

    Perhaps I was over-generalizing about the group pictured above. I commented on the extravagant lifestyles of the rich and famous which does not necessarily include the business men and CEO’s who aren’t living such high-profile lives as those featured on brain-cell wasting VH-1 shows. I was slandering those who perpetuated the materialism of our society/world with grandiose acts of spending that developed millions’ idea of success. I am disgusted by our fascination with such issues and the idea of the power of money.

    It would be naive of me to hope that our world would stop delegating so much power to money but what can one do to lessen its impact? Is that even possible?

    Commercialism and materialism were criticized by Herodotus over 2000 years ago with the first coining of money by the Lydians. If that human perception of money has been around for so long along with such a development of money’s role in human lives, what can possibly stop its continuing effect?

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