Open Outcry: Simon Dance Design Furniture 07.03.12


You might know the Chicago Board of Trade from the photographs by Andreas Gursky, or the 1983 film Trading Places, starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy. The price of food commodities, such as pork bellies, coffee and eggs, is set there, using a process called "open outcry". That's the technical term for the classic (but now disappearing) stock exchange scene: a very large space containing many men yelling at each other.

When American artist Mary Ellen Carroll was invited to bring her Itinerant Gastronomy series of staged meals to Chicago, she knew at once that the setting had to be the board of trade. Itinerant Gastronomy "brings together a chosen group of people in a particular location where a meal is prepared and a very specific conversation is held", Carroll says. This series of meals has been running since 1996, and has taken place in locations such as New York's High Line just before it was turned into a park.

For Open Outcry, the project's latest incarnation, Carroll turned her mind to furniture design. She approached Philip Ording, a mathematician specialising in knot theory, to discuss seating configurations. "We spent some time looking at possible interactions with the guests, and giving some guests a certain hierarchy, but, as a knot specialist, it could be very knotty or something more elegant," Carroll says. The furniture itself was created in collaboration with British studio Simon Dance Design.

The result is a modular system of curved chairs and tables, which can be reconfigured in several ways: a closed circle, a C-shape, an S-shape or a sinuous line. "It's about dialogue and interaction," says Simon Dance. "The geometry of the design came about from how you bring people closer together, with the artist in the centre narrating and cooking. Through that process, we had this push and pull, a little like the open outcry process, trading ideas and images."

The event took place in January, a performance-like meal during which guests discussed subjects chosen by Carroll. By holding the meals in public places, Carroll means to make participants more aware of what they are saying, thinking and eating. "That's what it should be," she says. "It's about self-consciousness, being aware, and how that can be something that transforms a place into something else." Now the event is over, the seating developed for it may yet live on. Dance says they are talking to a furniture art company about releasing it as a limited edition, perhaps with a wider release in future.


credit Leigh Loftus, 2012



Michael Tropea, Chicago 2012



Will Wiles

quotes story

The geometry of the design came about from how you bring people closer together, with the artist in the centre narrating and cooking

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