Marc Horowitz, a conceptual artist, is currently touring the country on his National Dinner Tour, a project he conceived in an attempt to bring communities together by sharing meals. During a recent visit to campus, he spoke with the Magazine’s Carolyn Kriss about art, secret societies and the importance of craziness.
You have lots of meals as part of the National Dinner Tour. Does the food you eat usually match the personalities of the people you have dinner with?
We usually cook dinner together. So, when I had dinner with third-generation migrant farmers it was all made from scratch: chicken verde and tamales. And when I had dinner with the family with a dogsled team in San Francisco, it was crazy. They had five huskies in that house, two kids, the woman is a stylist, and her husband is an ex-rocket scientist, and they ate like they were busy. They ate like a rocket scientist would, I think. Chili and cornbread and cake that was leftover, and soda. So, that made sense. Al Sharp, the comedian, ordered Chinese. His wife is gone, and he doesn’t know how to cook. So, he ordered Chinese, kind of bachelor style. I can’t cook. That’s another thing. I can’t cook anything, except for macaroni and cheese.
So what made you decide to do a National Dinner Tour?
Well, the meals are very secondary, even tertiary to the whole process. It’s about the conversation. Dinner is sort of an entry point into a discussion about the community, which I get to know better when I shadow the people I have meals with for two or three days. Most of us have dinner. It’s a simple concept.
If you could build a museum, what would it look like and what would be in it?
I think I would like to reinvent the strip mall. I’d go to people’s homes in the community, and make a copy of something dear to them and have them record a little narrative about that object. I’d then put the objects on a pedestal at the strip mall near a bench and install a speaker button, so people could listen to stories about the pieces. You could get to know the community of the strip mall. The strip mall is such a commercial environment, and I think having benches with people’s stuff rotating through would help draw attention away from that consumer experience and get them to know one another.
How do you see secret society tap night as being different from the more “Candid Camera” aspects of your conceptual art? I’m thinking, in particular, of a clip on your Web site in which you go into a Banana Republic with a spaceman helmet on and attempt to try on turtle necks. I can easily see somebody in a spaceman uniform walking around as an initiation activity.
Well, there’s a difference in intent between what I do and the secret society initiation activities. When I walked into Banana Republic with a spaceman helmet on, it was a commentary on the art world. There’s not a really strong intellectual decision on choices of initiation activities with the secret societies. And they don’t document them either.
Right, that would be bad.
But I got some really bizarre pictures of last night.
I made a little sculpture in a secret society meeting place. I somehow got in there and stacked all their cushions up.
Wait, you went into one of the tombs?
No — sort of.
Do you know which one it was?
Uh, no. I really have no idea. I can show you the picture, though I’ll be killed if they ever found this out. [Scrolls through digital pictures of waffles with “Y”s imprinted on them and images of blindfolded girls Marc convinced to construct a human pyramid by telling them he was a reporter for the Yale Daily News. He eventually arrives at the society pictures.] Yeah, so I just stacked the cushions up in the middle. I went in there with a couple people whose names I don’t even know, and that’s it.
What do you think of the secret society community?
To me, there’s no sharing there. Their community is their own, and they don’t wish to share it with anyone else. It’s tombs. It’s dead.
How would you characterize the Yale community?
From an outsider’s point of view, this is very privileged space to be in, but I have a very different opinion of Yale after being here. I really liked the human Monopoly game that was going on.
Yeah, that was the Pundits.
Yeah, I like the Pundits. I think they’re great. When you get people from all over the world who are the top in academics and put them in one place, you know, crazy shit is going to happen, and it definitely is happening. And I think it’s great. n