Shani Ha plays with the context and vocabulary of the restaurant by twisting an archetypal bistro table in an interactive installation. The table is split between the inside and the outside, playing with the boundaries of public spaces and questioning social interactions and relationships in New York. “Table For Two” appears on the corner of 7th Avenue and Carmine Street and evokes Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.
New York is a very crowded city yet so many people are alone. In a city where more than half of the population is single, everyone seems eager to meet someone even if we keep on ignoring people around us, in the real life. Dating/meeting apps and websites are exploding. Most of our interactions happen behind a screen via texts, e-mails, Skype, Tinder etc. Virtual communication is slowly taking the place of our human interactions, accentuating egocentricity over empathy.
Screens have invaded our everyday life becoming our main medium to communicate. In the same way, the glass that crosses through the table and separates the two seats becomes a screen that both connects and isolates, and through which people get to communicate spontaneously.
The installation questions our relationship to otherness, social-isolation and everyday co-presence situations in New York. By inviting the public to use the piece and sit at the table; the artist allows experimental forms of interaction and communication between viewers; passer-by and clients.
When two persons sit at the split table, they can decide to look at each other or chose to look at their own reflection; confronting the fact that we are becoming more and more self-absorbed and sometimes the presence of the other is simply here to validate our own existence.
When sitting alone, the viewer will face an empty table and his reflection in the glass as a reminder to introspection, narcissism or loneliness.
A white porcelain cup is installed in front of both seats. Anyone who sits at the “Table For Two” is offered a mint tea as a allusion to the conviviality custom in north Africa and Algeria where the artist is originally from. The tea bags are labeled “mint tea” in French and Arabic; questioning the notion of otherness, a central part of the artist’s dual culture.
“Table For Two” can be seen as a metaphor of social interactions and relationships in large cities such as New York where people can be together and very close but also alone and disconnected at the same time. Shani Ha’s intervention offers an allegorical possibility to reconnect spaces and people through a banal and spontaneous action.
“I’m from Paris and living in New York forces me to interact with people I love the most through computer screens. I find it really fascinating to see how we can be so connected to people who are so far away and yet so disconnected from people who directly surround us. This work attempts to highlight this paradoxes and set a stage to explore otherness and empathy. I realize it may sound idealistic but I believe art is the place to investigate these social utopia that can hopefully influence reality.”