Michele Brody serves tea as art, and as a way to engage people to enter the world of art — from the inside out. Brody creates structured environments, fashioned after a Japanese Teahouse, to which she invites people to come in to “have tea” with her. She
then asks them to participate in an exercise of self expression — writing personal stories, in a stream of consciousness on repurposed tea bags. These stories are then layered into an installation that transforms her interactive “performance” into a sculptural artwork again, to be viewed in and of itself.
Every stage of Brody’s performances/sculptures brings with them a feeling of serenity, meant, I’m sure, to help to combat the stresses of our hectic modern world. Is this not, in fact, the ultimate goal of art throughout the ages — to resonate with harmony and pleasure such that the viewers can escape their daily reality and find the inner human peace that we have all too often lost?
Today this approach to art-making is labeled “social practice,” but more often than not, contemporary artists address negative societal situations with combative gestures and/or mischievous innuendos. I prefer Michele Brody’s “gentler and kinder” approach to creative engagement.
Gail Nathan, Executive Director
Bronx River Art Center
Reflections in Tea is a multi-disciplinary, social-action project that focuses on the building of community relationships by bridging cultural boundaries through the contemplative art of sharing Tea.
Since 2007 Michele Brody has been serving tea to the public on the streets and within community art centers throughout New York City, the U.S. and Taiwan. The origin of Reflections in Tea is the ritual performance of preparing loose-leaf tea within special paper filters to be shared with individuals and groups during an Asian influenced tea ceremony. Initially envisioned as a mobile teahouse, the main component of Reflections in Tea is the invitation of the public to enter and sit within a semi-private space to share a pot of tea. Each ceremony focuses on the sharing of stories and reminiscences about tea within the context and history of one’s community.
By taking the time to cross the threshold of both an actual or virtual teahouse, each participant is introduced to how the drinking of tea is practiced throughout the world as a transformative custom between our public and private lives, and the practice of welcoming a stranger into one’s home.
Participants preserve their memories and stories by creatively transcribing them onto 4×7” sheets of tea stained notepapers produced from drying out and flattening the previously used tea filters. The sheets are then clipped to a net and hung together, culminating in the creation of an ever-growing installation of fluttering paper quilts. From afar these quilts form an overall composition of a craggy mountain range evocative of the mountain sides where tea is cultivated. While when viewed up close, reveal over a thousand individually handwritten stories, reflections, poetry and drawings pieced together to reflect back to the public both a visual and visceral experience of our collective memories and experiences. Where the variety of voices, languages, penmanship, drawings and colors of tea come together to create a unified expression of the diversity and shared humanity that holds communities together.
Reflections in Tea first originated on the streets within a NYC coffee cart, retrofitted as a mobile sidewalk teahouse at the 2007 D.U.M.B.O. Arts Festival and then in 2009 on 14th Street during the temporary public art festival Art in Odd Places. Eventually the project moved indoors in 2008 to the Brenda Taylor Gallery within a collapsible teahouse constructed out of copper pipe with translucent walls strung out with rows of participants’ inscribed tea stained paper filters. Over the years this roving tea ceremony has set up house in NY on the Lower East Side at the Henry Street Settlement and the Tenement Museum in a copper clad push cart, at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden during the 2011 Cherry Blossom Festival; and, as an artist-in-residence at the Hudson Guild Gallery II. In response to the 2010 catastrophic Fukushima earthquake and tsunami Michele Brody was invited to present Reflections in Tea at the 2011 World Tea East International Tea Conference as an interactive exhibit to provide both hope and financial support to the victims in Japan. She later published the stories in her first book “World Tea Stories” in celebration of the 10th year anniversary of The World Tea Community in 2012 at the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas.
During 2013 & 2014 Michele worked collaboratively with dancer/choreographer Sabine Heubusch to develop the interactive dance installation Five O’Clock Tea Reflections at the chashama 461 Gallery in Harlem and the Performance Project@University Settlement on the Lower East Side. In 2013 Michele constructed a bamboo tea house in Taiwan as part of the Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project, and was then invited back in 2015 as a keynote speaker about Reflections in Tea at the International Forum on Tea Culture, Creativity & Science.
After living in Manhattan for 17 years, Michele Brody moved to The Bronx at the end of 2013 where she received funding from the Bronx Council on the Arts for community-based programming at The Andrew Freedman Home and the Bronx Museum of the Arts to blend the arts with nutrition, tea and the history of the community. Working with a range of age groups, in particular senior citizens, Michele Brody started to produce a series of multi-disciplinary poetry events and creative meal pairings called the CommuniTea. Collaborating with dancers, poets, musicians, chefs and tea specialists, the CommuniTea focuses on the enhancement of a communal experience by sharing tea and nutritional foods that reflect a local culture and its stories. While in The Bronx, the focus of each CommuniTea event has been on helping New Yorkers from the South and Mid Bronx come together and improve the quality of life in the borough through a process of creatively expressing a sense of pride in their community. The culmination of the past three years of these events has been compiled into the publication of Michele’s second book “Three Years of Tea in The Bronx” available for purchase HERE.
The premise of Reflections in Tea focuses on how the delicate characteristics of memory and the ephemeral qualities of experience can be preserved and expressed to others through the tactile experience of reading each others’ stories through project’s tea quilts and books. The project continuously strives to illustrate to the public how the drinking of tea is practiced throughout the world as a transformative custom, where these traditions can be as simple as a break from the work day during the English tea time, the welcoming of a stranger into one’s home in the Middle East, to the formalized ritual production of the Japanese tea ceremony in spiritual houses. The ultimate goal of Reflections in Tea is to continue traveling as a mobile teahouse to a range of communities, art centers and temporary public art installations throughout the US and beyond. Within each setting such as college campuses, senior centers and public parks Michele Brody wishes to bring people together to share in the unifying nature of Tea within a format of openness and understanding which invites all to contemplate how we can cross over the barriers that divide us.