WILLMAR—Can a shared meal in an outdoor setting, served with one-of-a-kind hand-carved wooden plates and utensils, lead to conversations that help people connect?
Minneapolis artist Jess Hirsch hopes the answer is yes. She and her meal guests will find out next week at Emotional Platings, an event to be held Oct. 7 in Willmar and Oct. 8 in Milan.
Participants will be asked to choose from among eight picnic kits of wooden dishes and utensils crafted by Hirsch. They will then be guided through conversations about emotions, using themes drawn from the energetic healing capabilities represented by each type of wood—for example, birch and romantic communication, maple and nurturing, and hackberry and resistance to grief.
Each event is open to 16 participants, two per picnic kit. Participants can be paired with a stranger or picnic with an acquaintance.
Emotional Platings will be held at noon Oct. 7 at Robbins Island Park in Willmar and at noon Oct. 8 across from the Village Arts School in Milan. Additional sessions will be offered at 1:30 p.m. if there are enough signups.
Hirsch, who is originally from rural Minnesota, said there's been a growing rift between rural and urban since the election last November.
"I'm really interested in understanding commonalities and breaking this very extreme division," she said.
She hopes the shared experience of a meal and conversation will give participants an opportunity to connect with the emotional landscape, using trees as a symbol and inspiration.
"It's asking people to be vulnerable," she said. "It's a chance to spend a little time asking some questions and finding some shared ground with the other participants."
The project is part of "Here and There: Rethinking Public Spaces," an initiative by The Soap Factory to enliven underutilized public spaces across Minnesota.
Hirsch's art practice focuses on exploring the healing world through participatory sculpture. She has a master of fine arts degree in sculpture and recently completed a year-long apprenticeship in Scandinavian woodworking. The pieces for Emotional Platings came mostly from local sources, including trees in her own neighborhood, and are made from green wood.
Registration for Emotional Platings can be made online at http://bit.ly/2yqLNSx