National Gallery Of Victoria – Art Of Dining

In 2019, we had the absolute honour of being one of the design firms chosen to participate in the National Gallery of Victoria’s ‘Art of Dining’ Event.

Held every three years, the ‘Art of Dining’ at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), is one of the galleries most popular events, attracting several thousand visitors. Organised by the NGV’s Women’s Association (NGVWA), 42 of Australia’s leading designers and artists are approached to create a dining experience within the gallery’s Great Hall.

The event not only showcases table setting from Australia’s finest designers, but also acts a fundraiser for the NGV to both acquire new works for the gallery and offer travel grants.

The brief for this year’s event, held at the start of May, came from the great work owned by the NGV, ‘The Banquet of Cleopatra’, painted by the renowned artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo in 1744. With the key theme being that of opulence and decadence.

For us the idea of opulence is as grotesque as it is beautiful, and decadence, distasteful as it is liberating.

Few things encapsulate these paradoxes and sums up the idea of lavish extravagance like Marie Antoinette. Likewise, few though out History have had a hairstyle of such significance, that it has the ability to affect politics, industry, society, national identity and gender to such an epic extent.

Working closely with Prop Designer Madeleine Griffiths, we created a Marie Antoinettesque bouffant centrepiece. From one angle, this sculptural form reads as an over the top wig the queen was renowned for wearing. On the other side, instead of a powdered white face and rouged cheeks, the hair was manipulated to form the shape of a vagina. Antoinette’s hair extended across the table finding its way onto dinner plates, glasses and forming miniature plaits entwined around silver cutlery. Nothing says lavish extravagance like Marie Antoinette, and few

From afar, the setting was an ornamental sculpture, the pinnacle of perfection and regal representation. It was only upon closer inspection that the viewer was confronted with a more disconcerting perspective, as the sculpture unfolded and unraveled itself, flowing out to invade the dining setting.

It was truly immersive with not one element that was not encased in hair. From the table and chairs right down to the glassware and cutlery, all have a creature like coating.

The diner was presented with the paradoxical absurdity of sitting and eating within a mass of hair. Was it beautiful or did it turn the stomach? The material played on the traditional human dislike of mixing food and hair, to invoke in the diner a feeling of disquiet, much like the challenging political and social environment of Antoinette’s time.

We wished to deliver an intimate experience that was as beautiful as it is monstrous. Plus, who doesn’t want to stick an giant hairy vagina on a table?

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Installation and the Photographer – Nicole England.