Mattea Perrotta’s ‘L’Ultima Cena’ Captures the Choreography of Dining Together

Lara Schoorl

Photography by Mattea Perrotta

Produced by Mallery Roberts Morgan.

When seated at a table and sharing a meal, we do not always need words to communicate. Structures of languages and hierarchies can corrode or at least change. This is something Mattea Perrotta discovered on her many travels to countries such as Morocco, Turkey, Senegal and Mexico, where she did not fluently speak the native tongues. Language beyond words—specifically around food—also served as the impetus for her latest project, The Last Supper Club, a series of dinners at the artist’s studio in Los Angeles.

Held in three installments, bringing together artists, musicians, writers and friends, the series was Perrotta’s way of paying homage to Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party (1974–79) as well a chance to break bread with people she might not know and to notice the conversations and interactions that resulted. Four decades after Chicago’s iconic installation was first presented, Perrotta says, “Women’s participation and recognition in history has become more present, but inequality and visibility are still an issue. I want to discuss these things with women and men, with both parties seated at the table.”

Each dinner at Perrotta’s studio was cohosted by herself and successively by Erin Wasson (model and designer); Steven Arroyo (chef at Escuela Taqueria); and Daniella Murphy (founder of Costa Mesa Conceptual Art Center) and Kenny Osehan (owner of Ojai Rancho Inn and Shelter Social Club). The meals varied from Moroccan-influenced dishes to Mexican and Japanese cuisines, and the guestlists were split between the hosts accordingly, allowing for a constantly rotating group of attendees—Jessica Garber from Sumner shop, musician Rodrigo Amarante, artist Lisa Solberg, Darren Rademaker from The Tyde and artist Austyn Weiner among them—and spontaneity. During the first dinner, someone stuck the bread knife into the loaf, and there it remained a centerpiece for the table. At the third dinner, artist Henry Taylor stopped by and found, wrapped in a paper towel in his pocket, a piece of homemade corn bread, which he genially shared with the other guests. A previous evening ended when Perrotta lifted her plate to pause the chorus of conversation and then chucked it against the wall. Her dinnermates followed suit, throwing their own plates and leaving a mosaic of shards across the studio floor.

By way of invitation, each guest received a film still and a YouTube link. During the meals the full films were projected in the background on a wall between Perrotta’s paintings, half watched, half blue-ing the candle-lit studio and lending even more of a hallowed-ground air to the already cathedral-like space with its long rectangular shape and high ceilings. The films–Fruit of Paradise (1970) and Daisies (1966) by Vera Chytilová and Sans Soleil (1983) by Chris Marker–with their pulsating and cut-up imagery, in hindsight, echo the fragmented yet orchestrated chaos we find captured in Perrotta’s own images of the remnants of these post-dinner table scenes. Featured here, the photographs make up L’Ultima Cena, a new book published concurrently with Perrotta’s latest exhibition of paintings, “The Last Supper,” at Et al. etc. in San Francisco through April 6. Culminating in San Francisco, the city where Perrotta earned her BFA and where Chicago’s seminal work was exhibited for the first time in March 1979 at SFMOMA, is “a coincidental synchronicity” not lost on Perrotta.

Perrotta’s work negotiates the freedom of interpretation by way of abstracting often specific subjective moments. Her paintings, like her photographs, evoke a feeling of nostalgia, yet one that is soothed by the fragmented elements she provides us with. She gives viewers a piece of her memory, and they can construct their own from its edges. L’Ultima Cena itself draws from art history, referring by way of its Italian title to Leonardo Da Vinci’s fresco (1494–98) in the Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. Contrary to the dinners, the book is less about the presence of the guests than about their physical absence afterwards and the remaining atmosphere of the evening. The photographs are tableaus of dinners gone by, the residue of an unconscious choreography by its participants. The former gestures of hands touching the tablecloth, tasting the food and feeding mouths are what Perrotta has framed through her lens.

In Sans Soleil the narrator recounts, “I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering, which is not the opposite of forgetting, but rather its lining. We do not remember; we rewrite memory much as history is rewritten.” As she prepares to relocate to Paris this spring, Perrotta contemplates her own absence from the city where she was born and raised. With L’Ultima Cena, she has created a metaphorical farewell to LA. At some point in the night, the dinner ended and people moved on, but the table remained as a collective still life capturing both a memory and an experience for the viewer to retrace.


This story was originally published in LALA Magazine.