“Unapologetic Dinnerware: a brief history of disposable dinnerware” opened on August 28 at the Kreft Gallery at Concordia University. Margaret Carney, who is both curator of the exhibit and director of the International Museum of Dinnerware Design (IMoDD), said this particular exhibition had been a long time coming. “I’ve been wanting to do this exhibition since we opened the museum.” IMoDD, which has done pop-up exhibitions throughout Washtenaw County since 2012, focuses on “the varied cultural and societal attitudes” related to all aspects of dining.
Millenia of Dishes
Unapologetic Dinnerware’s pieces span thousands of years, with the first dishes from Mesopotamia, followed by a conspicuously long gap until the medieval ages, with a solitary bread trencher in front of a scene that resembles Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The rest of the exhibit focuses on a vast array of dinnerware from the 20th and 21st centuries, including posters of patents and prototypes.
The history of an often-overlooked part of day-to-day modern life is as surprising as it is informative. At times, the exhibit feels as anthropological as it is artistic, interweaving purposeful design with culture. The pieces come from Japan, Portugal, India, Germany, the United States, Malaysia, and a host of other nations. There are compostable dishes, single-use plastic dishes, ceramic dishes, paper dishes, edible cutlery, and six-pack rings, safe for marine life consumption.
When you walk into the gallery, the viewer’s eye is immediately drawn to a long table with six places, immaculately set. At each end, like a mother and father, are settings of the classic and timeless American dining table: Corning Ware and Lenox China. In between, are modern, vastly different, and varying levels of disposable flatware and cutlery. Across from plastic is bamboo, and across from wheat pulp is Chinet paper. The juxtaposition of disposable and non-disposable creates an understated discord. The entire installation is reminiscent of a family—a beautiful, and dysfunctional, family.
In the far back corner is an in situ installation of a mid-century dinner scene: Lassie on the TV Guide, and a Banquet TV dinner on its tray, dutifully stationed in front of a 1958 TV set. Along a wall at eye level is an assortment of disposable straws, each in its own clear highball glass: angled to the left, as if pointing to a piece of couture.
A Call to Question
The brilliance of Unapologetic Dinnerware is that the subject initially appears inconsequential, however pleasing to the eye. Yet the varied repetition of disposable dinnerware creates a subtle but persistent question: in an age of immediacy and convenience, how can dining become more environmentally conscious? This question is posed by each piece, both individually and as a whole exhibit, and chronicles the evolution from environmental expendability to environmental responsibility.
A Call to Action
The very title of the exhibition Makes the viewers consider how the idea of “expendable” relates to dining, especially in an age of climate change. The call to question then stirs a conviction to act: to become better informed and find better ways of discarding disposable dinnerware. Unapologetic Dinnerware adds activism to the dining experience.