Dine in the Dark: a Dinner pARTy

Credit: Zichen Liu/Photo Editor Credit: Zichen Liu/Photo Editor Credit: Zichen Liu/Photo Editor Credit: Zichen Liu/Photo Editor Credit: Zichen Liu/Photo Editor Credit: Zichen Liu/Photo Editor Credit: Zichen Liu/Photo Editor Credit: Zichen Liu/Photo Editor Credit: Zichen Liu/Photo Editor Credit: Zichen Liu/Photo Editor

Have you ever considered what goes through your mind the moment you meet someone new? How much does someone’s physical appearance influence your impression of them when compared to their personality? The Ellis Gallery exhibit, Dine in the Dark: a Dinner pARTy, allowed visitors to explore those questions.

Dine in the Dark, displayed from Nov. 7 to Nov. 10, was a project created by seniors Nick Boston, philosophy major; Sarah Stinson-Hurwitz, gender studies and art BHA; Faith Kaufman, design major; and junior Daniel See, decision science and art BHA, the same Carnegie Mellon students who put together The Holiday dinner party last month. That event, as well as this month’s Dine in the Dark, is a part of the students’ Dinner pARTy series, for which they host a “dinner party” event every month to bring together people from various backgrounds on campus.

The focus of the Dine in the Dark exhibit was to present the outcomes of an event they recently organized, in which ten people from the Carnegie Mellon community were randomly picked to have dinner with one another. What made this particular dinner unique was that everyone was blindfolded, and their identities had to remain anonymous until the end of the event. The guest list included three undergraduates, two graduate students, two campus police officers, two faculty members, and one staff member. Throughout the dinner, the guests were asked several questions that helped facilitate a fruitful discussion and to also allow everyone to get to know one another on a more personal level.

When I stepped into the Ellis Gallery, the first thing I noticed was the recording of the guests’ responses to the questions that played all throughout the room. Hearing their voices as I walked around the exhibit made it feel as though I was present at the dinner. There was a long table at the center of the room that had dinner plates and utensils all set. Even though all the seats were empty, I could still easily imagine all the guests at the table.

Hand-drawn self-portraits of each of the attendees were hung up on the wall, and beside each portrait was a diagram that presented where they sat at the table. Some of the questions asked during the event were also displayed in the exhibit, along with the written responses of several of the guests. The questions were very random, but they gave guests the opportunity to reflect on their personal beliefs, decisions, and approaches to certain situations; an example of a question being, “What would you do if you had 24 hours left to live?” Visitors were even able to contribute to the dinner conversation by writing down answers to the questions on sticky notes and posting them on the wall. The entire interactive design of the exhibit was very well done, and it allowed visitors to experience the dinner party for themselves.

I attended The Holiday dinner party last month, and the main difference between my experience during that event and my visit to the Dine in the Dark exhibit was the people I was surrounded by. I was able to physically be around and mingle with so many different people during last month’s event compared to this month’s exhibit, which I visited by myself and was the only person physically present in the room at the time.

What surprised me, however, was that I did not feel so alone when I was in the exhibit. Listening to the voices of the guests speak, viewing their creative self-portraits on the wall, and reading their very personal and relatable responses as well as others’ to the conversation questions, allowed me to create and attend my own version of that dinner party. It was truly fascinating that I was able to form a connection with the people who attended the event and/or visited the exhibit when I had never met them in person. The Dine in the Dark project helped me understand that physical appearance (and presence in my case) is not essential to forming relationships with new people.