Artist Shani Ha's "Table for Two" installation evokes the isolation of city life.
At the corner of 7th Avenue and Carmine Street in Manhattan right now, there's a table for two split across a restaurant window. You can sit down on the inside or the outside, alone or with a companion, but either way you'll confront that inescapable fact of modern life—a screen.
"Table for Two" is an installation by Paris-born artist Shani Ha. Part sculpture, part performance art, it challenges those who sit down to look up from their smartphones and into the eyes of a friend, a stranger, or their own reflections in the glass. A self-conscious homage to Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, the work realizes the age-old concept of the big, crowded city as a lonely, isolating place.
Still, there's something very contemporary about Ha's contrived meeting space. The window acts as bridge and barrier, not unlike the screens that consume our waking hours. Smartphones and social media, Ha says, are "making us more self-centered because [they give] us the power to access only the people we decide to access." In this installation, the artist says she "wanted to break the bridge between the outside and the inside, and allow a new form of interaction between people."
The installation has already yielded plenty of unusual interactions. One day, Ha says she saw two deaf people communicate through the glass using sign language, as if there were no barrier between them. On another occasion, a couple talked to each other on the phone, like an inmate and a visitor in a prison booth. Often people take a seat at "Table for Two" while waiting to dine at the restaurant inside; their presence, in turn, draws curious passersby from the street. Outdoors, the table doesn't announce itself as an artwork, appearing as a uniquely intimate public space.
Although the piece evokes universal themes of urban isolation and atomization, it also has, for Ha, a peculiarly New York character. As a French expatriate, she's keenly aware of the city's striving, career-oriented culture, as well as her own otherness within it. In New York, "everyone is here to make it" and prove that they belong, she says—whereas in European cities, "you can just be there to do what you like and you don’t have the pressure to stay." "Table for Two" is a respite from that rat race, a place to disconnect and reconnect all at once.
"Table for Two" is on view through March 14, in the window of AYZA Wine & Chocolate Bar in the West Village.