Last year, I did a photo project based off mannequin pieces. I set up mannequin pieces in everyday situations – eating lunch, sitting at the bus stop, playing pool, being bullied. The concept behind it was that these pieces were doing their best to fit into a whole-bodied world, but because they were different, people wouldn’t let them. They suffered annexation and bullying, simply for being different. For my performance piece, I decided to take this project one step further. I took a mannequin bust to lunch with me, treating it like an old friend, and filmed our encounter.
I set the mannequin on a chair across the table from me in Slavin cafeteria, bought it lunch, and engaged it in conversation. I told it about my Easter break, my plans for after graduation, and how much I missed taking photos of it. I asked it questions and waited for it’s response. At one point, I took out my iPod and headphones so it could listen to one of my new favorite songs. I showed it pictures of my latest road trip and let it smell my new lotion. These are things I would have done with a casual lunch with a friend.
The question I proposed in my mind was, “Will people judge me for who I choose to eat lunch with?” The mannequin was meant to represent all of those on the outskirts of society, the ‘rejects,’ the ethnic minority, the socio-economic victims of the system. Sure enough, I got reactions. Placing myself in the busiest part of Slavin cafeteria, I got lots of reactions from those waiting in line. Although I did not actually hear these responses directly, friends informed me of them afterwards. One male student made quite a scene, announcing “Is anyone else seeing this?! She’s like… talking to it!” This is exactly my point. “It” could be replaced with any other societal group he has a prejudice against. “She’s talking to that nerd” “She’s talking to that black kid” “She’s talking to that kid with turrets, how embarrassing!” One woman placed her food down at the table next to me, then moved to another table in the same area, but further away from me. Another male asked his friend, “Hey, you’re a psych major. Can you tell me what’s going on here?”
I was also asked if I was extremely lonely. I thought this was interesting, because from my perspective, if I’m speaking to someone on the outskirts of society, then these people are a kind of ‘last resort company.’ It’s upsetting to think about, but I know it happens. I know there are people and places out there that have such racist tendencies, that if I were seen eating lunch with one of those people, those one track minded people would think the same thing, “She’s eating with a Muslim, wow, she must be extremely lonely if she has to eat lunch with that.”
This was also a test for myself. Can I practice what I preach? Here I am, proclaiming to people that we should befriend everyone and not worry about what others will think. Am I willing to commit social suicide (unfortunately) to do what I think is right? Not many are. In the beginning of the full film, you can see me start to say something, but then I give up. I was extremely nervous. I had actually planned to have this lunch date a week earlier, but I chickened out. In the end, however, I was able to do it.
I should also mention that there was a group of guys that didn’t care at all about what I was doing. They engaged me in conversation. They asked if I was doing this for a class, and I responded, “No, just having lunch with a friend.” They continued to ask about my friend, what her name was, why she didn’t have arms, ect. They also told me what a good friend I was for buying her lunch. They did not see my video camera and had no idea what I was doing. The project worked out exactly as I had planned and I am very happy with my final short film.