a seat at the table, by Canadian artist Carole Epp, was on display at the Art Gallery of Alberta as part of their exhibition borderLINE: 2020 Biennial of Contemporary Art on display from September 26, 2020, to January 3, 2021. The installation was comprised of a dinner table holding approximately one hundred paper Royal Chinet plates, each painted with different portraits of frontline workers performing the variety of services they have delivered throughout the pandemic. Bolted on top of these plates is a piece of plexiglass. This foundation supports four vintage china plates, each inscribed with a different phrase from anti-mask protests. Four upholstered chairs surround the table and complete the piece. 

Epp first applied to the exhibition’s public call-for-entry with a slightly different proposal, but like so many other things in life, COVID-19 put a wrench in her plans. The first iteration was heavily reliant on outside contractors, impossible to bring to fruition in the realities of lockdown life. However, in all of a seat at the table’s imagined iterations, a dinner table was been central to Epp’s concept for this installation. Growing up as a child, she remembers eating dinner every day as a family; a priority and touch point she and her husband have carried into their own family life with their two young sons. 

Referencing the family dinner table rather than a restaurant table was important to Epp’s concept. The family table is a place where complex realities, conversations, and differing perspectives intersect; it signifies the idea of home and who we hold close during these strange times—who we let into our circle and who we keep out. As far as Epp is concerned, the family table is a “sacred space—it defines home life—it is a place of coming together and sharing.” These days sharing a meal with someone has inherent risk, making the space of the dinner table take on even more meaning and weight.