Gazes, toasts, smiles, body language that is – that’s the only common language during this dinner. I arrive in the candlelight to the misterious and handsome castle-like Gallen-Kallela Museum because I have been invited to participate in a performance. Silence Meal is artist Nina Backman’s performative dining experience. The performance experiments with a series of steps revolving around senses and silence. The meal follows a specific frame and is officially opened when the artist sits down.
When I reach the museum that is located next to the border of Helsinki, at the beginning of the neighboring city Espoo, we enjoy first a toast together in the exhibition hall, and at this point we are still chatting. The Nordic exhibition named Silent Space – Intesified Integrities is interesting, as it studies silence in its diversity. Silence has been said to be one of Finland’s biggest strengths. It even functions as one of Visit Finland’s main marketing themes. Therefore I find this exhibition to be very current. I would suggest that you would reserve some time for visiting the exhibition before the actual dinner.
The three-floor-high exhibition showcases photographs, performances, installations and video projections of nine Nordic artists. The spatial and conceptual setting is the studio of Finnish artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela. Alongside contemporary art, the exhibition includes works by Gallen-Kallela that are intermeshed with the thematic of silence. The artists of the exhibition are Nina Backman, Lene Berg, Viva Granlund, Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir and Ólafur Kolbeinn Guðmundsson, Lise Björne Linnert, Mia Hamari, Marja Helander, Sari Palosaari, and Akseli Gallen-Kallela. NB! Gallen-Kallela is the only man, which I found interesting as the exhibition is set in a very masculine castle-like setting, but empowers in this way unheard female voices.
Once we had familiarized ourselves with the exhibition, and Backman had introduces the concept of the performative dining experience, we moved into the main hall of the museum, where the dinner was held – together in silence, without conversation, among strangers. The lack of conversation liberates the diners to explore the dinner in a multidimensional way: by focuing on the emotional, cultural and physical experience. The menu of the dinner is planned and carried out by no other than wild food ambassador Sami Tallberg that I have admired for a long time. Because the museum is, and therefore also we are, in the midst of nature, I feel it’s only natural that the main theme of the manu is nature.
Sensing silence makes the performance a unique experience. I have tried several experimental dinners before: Dinner in the Dark, Dinner in the Sky etc., but this is a completely new experience for me. I believe that for us Finns silence is a natural thing, because we all have a naked and silence side to us. It might just take a while to find him/her within ourselves.
When one sits at a dining table in complete silence, one’s mind wanders – my memories take me to my childhood and games of hide-and-seek, public transportation, even to church. Collective moments, when one has to behave. At first, everyone at the table is nervous.
The starter that is eaten with one’s hands, breaks the ice immediately and relaxes the tension in the air among the diners, because nobody can eat this dish “in the right way”. It’s just plain messy. I notice that when I’m not using my voice, my sight becomes my strongest sense. My thoughts run from the stunning Iittala tableware to the art surrounding us, and finally returns to the food and the other dining guests. I notice the color of nailpolish that the person next to me is having, the form of her eyeglasses, the scarf she’s wearing, her position in her chair, even her lipstick. Small details. At times, I’m aware that I’m a part of a performance, but sometimes I’m completely lost in my own thoughts.
Next, we enjoy a soup, and the soup is actually my favorite among the dishes of the dinner. Celeriac is the main course of the dinner.
The flavors of the food bring out memories. The pollen in the dessert take my thoughts back to last September when we had Helsinki Design Week in town, because that was the last time I enjoyed a dish with it in it. During the dinner I hear a lot of sounds despite the fact that nothing is being said. Wine that is being poured, the swallows of the people next to me at the table, caughs. I also feel the scents of the different dishes – they all smell differently.
When it’s time for the second dessert, we are again allowed to speak. We get to know each other over chaga tea and marshmallows, but I must say that at this point it already feels like we know each other, even though we didn’t exchange any words during the dinner and we didn’t know each other from before. Despite all of that, I have been able to figure out the personalities (entertainers vs. analysts) of the people seated with me at the table.
I think the Silence Meal is a brave, powerful and impressive dining experience, so I recommend it for everyone! During the evening, I started thinking: without a voice – who are we? How do we treat others? How present are we?
Book your seat for the Silence Meal at the Gallen-Kallela Museum:
Dates: March 16, April 26 & May 11 at 7pm
Price: €150 / person
The Silence Meal dining experience also includes the entrance to the museum and a guided tour to the exhibition.
Gallen-Kallelan Museo, Gallen-Kallelantie 27, Espoo, http://www.gallen-kallela.fi/en/