This year our house turned 100 years old. Although we have lived here for only a short time, we have celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Halloween, two wedding anniversaries, a Mendhi, many birthdays, and – as of recent – a Last Supper. With each occasion, a memory was created. We have been here long enough to recognize that the bones of this old home grow stronger and come to life with people – much like the Table will with each carving. We were honored to host the Apostles for a night of food, celebration, and reflection. After they left that night, Andre and I spent time gliding our hands over each mark and reading the message left behind at each place setting. We noticed that some marks were deep while others barely broke the surface; some were complex while others were minimal; some loud while others quiet. When we woke up the next morning we saw this beautiful table where we left it the night before, straddling two rooms and softly resting in the sunlight. When it was time to break it down to move to Grand Rapids we did so lovingly and with intent, reminding us very much of the way we prepared our first child to leave the hospital to come home. It’s been many days since we settled the piece into the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids but every time we walk through our home, we are reminded of the day we had with the Last Supper Table – and we are humbled that it now rests in the hands of the thousands of people that will pass through ArtPrize.
The seventh apostle, years ago, taught Andre and I that designers had a responsibility. He challenged us to think deeply of certain words that were often thoughtlessly expressed: family, community, education, ideals, spirituality, and truth. He softly demanded a level of accountability with creativity. The Last Supper Table hopes to do the same. It offers itself to the public to thoughtfully mark their story – their struggle with forgiveness and trust. Leaving that mark can be challenging for many reasons. Beyond those that are personal, walnut is a hardwood that is not well-suited for carving. The choice in material is intentional and it demands a tool that can overcome its hurdles. As we built the table up, we also worked to understand how to take away from it. With the skill of Gabriel Craig from Smith Shop, we found a way to reshape an off-the-shelf masonry nail to suit this purpose. Apostle No. 7, it is with your support that the experimentation and production of the carving tools are possible. Apostle No. 7, thank you.
As the Last Supper Table grew in its ambition, it grew in its need. Andre and I realized that design, art, craft, and storytelling needed capital; that capital required a strategy. We had pieces in our heads but were lacking the time and perspective to step away from the work we were so intimately involved in to just think. We wanted a dinner and we wanted twelve apostles but we struggled with how to best connect both while fundraising the amount the project needed. Although the number six is half-way to twelve, the sixth apostle appeared much earlier. And with the appearance of Apostle No. 6 came the clarity and perspective we needed to finalize our approach. Apostle No. 6 is connected to the structure of the Last Supper Table – the component of the table that hides beneath its surface that is critical to the support of its top and the connection to its legs. Similar to the table’s structure, this apostle is quiet yet critical. His presence at the Last Supper will be through a designated pair. Apostle No. 6, thank you.
The generosity of the hardwood industry in Michigan resonates loudly in the Last Supper Table. Between Detroit and Grand Rapids, we discovered two hardwood apostles. The first apostle supported the lumber required for the Last Supper Table’s surface; the fifth apostle supported the lumber required for the sawhorses and seats. Like the first, Apostle No. 5 was introduced to us by Pike Lumber as well as Armstrong Millworks. And like the first, he is someone we have yet to meet but whose warmth and support are so palpable over the phone. Along with a contribution from Pike, Apostle No. 5 allowed us to secure thirteen 10’ boards of 4/4 walnut. Apostle No. 5, thank you.
Things do not always go as planned. Andre and I know this well; Apostle No. 4 knows this well. What began as an Ali Sandifer custom commission for a communal table became a journey. Twelve weeks turned into one year. We replaced one piece for another – twice -learning some valuable lessons along the way. And then when we thought our design risks were mitigated, all were reminded that hardwood is alive and, given the slightest change in environment, will react. We crafted an alternative that was never installed and instead, after days on a new piece, remedied the original. Throughout that process, both sides were dedicated to making things right. Even with heartbreak and frustration, there was mutual respect and empathy. Rather than hide this story, we choose to celebrate it. Apostle No. 4, your support is applied towards the enormous storytelling that is a part of this project because the Last Supper Table has been an exercise in sharing many uncomfortable and vulnerable moments. We are so touched – and find it so fitting – that, along with your support, you have offered a contribution of wine to the Last Supper. Apostle No. 4, thank you.
Until it is offered to the public, the Last Supper Table is a story that is personal to Andre and I. The project has grown tremendously from the skills and talent of Iron Coast and its two filmmakers, Mike Glinski and Andrew Stefanik. Of the hours of raw footage – often clumsy, sometimes painful, and rarely graceful – they are somehow able to piece together a beautiful story lasting only minutes. Their work is a reminder that the ability to surface what is most important, articulate it gracefully, connect it to context, and rally an audience around it – while appearing effortless – is no easy task. The third apostle embodies a very similar skillset. For that reason, Apostle No. 3, your contribution supports the storytelling behind this project – the hours it takes behind the scenes as well as in the finished product. Apostle No. 3, thank you.
As a studio assistant for Ali Sandifer and support staff on this project, I’ve been both in the trenches and on the sidelines. I have witnessed how this project – at once a personal challenge taken on by two people – has become something so much larger – a testament to the power of relationships, reciprocity and mutual respect.
Building and maintaining good relationships can be overwhelming, much like the thought of building a 30 foot long table. I’ve thought about that a lot lately, as I have observed and participated in the growing set of connections and collaborations being forged around the Last Supper Table. What’s happening around the making of this table shows that it’s possible to achieve things much bigger than one or two people when there’s a shared commitment and when differences or grumbles are set aside. Sometimes you just have to be humbled by the notion that it’s kind of impossible to go it alone. At the end of the day, even when we’re alone, we’re in this together. Sitting at the same table. A win for one is a win for all.
For me, The Last Supper Table is a reminder that I’m not the only one who’s ever lost time or money or sleep, that we all make sacrifices and get frustrated… and that’s ok. It’s also a reminder that when you operate in earnest and hold others to the same account that good and beautiful things start to happen. Ultimately, it’s helped me to lighten my load – because I’m too young to carry so much weight on my shoulders.
The Urban Institute for Contemporary Art (UICA) will house the Last Supper Table during ArtPrize 2014 in Grand Rapids from September 24 – October 12. We are honored to be a part of the collective of artists selected to exhibit. The UICA’s theme this year is COLLABORATION with “originality, inspiration, and chemistry encouraged.”
This weekend we had the opportunity to visit our exhibit space at the UICA and it had us thinking about both the art and the execution of the project. We are experimenting in the shop and working through our thoughts on the overall scale of the table as well as its details. It is this part of the process where we understand and value the act of collaboration. It is also this part of the process that tends to be silent to you, the public. What you are allowed to see is a finished piece, not one under production. The Last Supper Table is an exception and, in the next few weeks, you will see our process come to life.
You may also begin to understand the way that we collaborate. The Prologue video to the Last Supper Table already tested us as co-designers. If you pay close attention, you will notice two seats with only one of us present at a time – not both. We walked into the video shoot with the intention of speaking about the Last Supper together but we were prompted to do so apart – and this was not easy. As you follow the making of the Last Supper Table you will get to know us, the makers, a little more. For instance, the post before this was one that took Andre 33 years to write. It is this kind of release that drives this project for the both of us.