At the center of the (Re)Set the Table exhibition is an object that is both incredibly familiar and surprisingly transformed. Mary Ratcliff’s Connected: Beyond the Surface is a table, a sculpture, and an experience.
“A simple dining room table can evoke a whirlwind of vivid memories and emotions,” says Ratcliff. “Our personal experiences and stories are not only what defines us, but also, what bonds us. May we seek to find ourselves in one another other, investigate and understand our emotional differences and similarities, and aspire to connect with the people and world around us.”
This repurposed humble oak table is much like those that have been used in kitchens and dining rooms for decades. The surface carries the marks of use: cellophane tape, glitter in the cracks, water marks, aged paint splatters, and the scrape marks of plates, forks, and toys. The predictable pedestal and legs have been replaced by rusted metal that sprouts from the bottom of the chairs and table, created a web of connection that forces each piece of the ensemble into a seemingly-singular object. Roots? The base of a banyan tree? Veins? Neurons? Yes.
Ratcliff found additional inspiration in the words Peter Michael Stephan Hacker who wrote, “Inanimate stuffs and things have powers – potentialities to change, bring about change, be changed, or resist being changed.”
The result is an interactive work that invites viewers to not only reflect on the tables of their past, where community was created, or not, but to also engage with one another in the present. The work of art invites visitors to sit, explore, and share reflections and perspectives with those around them.
Situated in a room devoid of anything accept questions on the walls and a space to add to the conversation, it is a work of art that has evolved throughout the first week of the exhibition with the participation of more than a hundred visitors. Quiet conversation, intense debate, and joyful laughter have added to the work. The questions posed to visitors include “What are the places where you feel welcome?” and “What does it mean to have a seat at the table?” The nearby wall where people have shared their experiences of being included and heard, or not, add whispers of experiences into the space even when it lacks human presence.
Yellow House is grateful to Mary Ratcliff for her thoughtful participation in the (Re)Set the Table exhibition. It has been inspiring to follow her work from her time as a student at University of North Florida, a resident artist at Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, and into her professional career, that has been punctuated by several public installations of her work in our community and beyond.
We hope you will visit and find yourself connecting beyond the surface with your own lived experiences and those of people you visit with and new friends well met at Yellow House.