Performance Studies conference on Hunger

From 6-9 July, Spatula&Barcode participated in Performance Studies international’s 27th annual conference.  The online conference, whose theme was hunger, was organized by our Manila host, Jazmin Llana. You can see the full program here: Conference Schedule | PSi. Many of the conference sessions were recorded and will be available online for the next three months.

a laptop in front of a window, with a gallery of zoom attendees on screen
The team for Foodways Philippines during our session as seen from our conference work station.

We were part of three panel sessions: 

Our project here, Foodways Philippines, was the subject of a session which we shared with our local collaborators: Jazmin Llana, Fritzie Ian De Vera, Neil Penullar, Reigner Sanchez, Jian Aurora Tan, Leo Tadena, and Norby Salonga. Each offered some background on the ongoing work through De La Salle University after which we presented for this new audience an abbreviated form of our prior public lecture through the university on the Foodways series.

Most important to the panel was the series of provocations the group constructed. We ran short on time for conversation, but we hope to follow up with the team soon.

A list of "Questions for Discussion"

From the panel, our understanding of the project advanced on two fronts–creative and critical. One the creative side, we are starting to think that each site will have three components. We’ve already started “Tara Na!” with some initial site visits, and we anticipate that the loose three-part structure of the earlier Foodways projects will take some shape here. In the panel, we were able to more specifically name the three phases:

  1. Tara Na (let’s go): In which we meet and witness
  2. Magluto Tayo (let’s cook): in which we cook and plan
  3. Kumain Tayo (let’s eat): in which we eat and celebrate

In particular, we are paying more attention to what other nourishments besides food accompany meals.  We created this slide that has helped us feel expansive about what artists can bring to the table.

A list of words, starting with "Festivities. Frivolity. Conversation" and ending with "Speeches. Artistry. Magic."

On the critical side, we found that many of our initial questions were sharpened and focused. In particular, issues of representation (how is hunger imagined? How is hunger action perceived?) and issues of agency (What are the foodways of hunger? How do the hungry act in spite of their constraints?). 

Poster for keynote address "Points of Contact: Hunger, Food, Performance" with an image of a brown plate with crumbs on a blue tablecloth

For Richard Gough’s beautifully crafted keynote panel Points of Contact: Hunger, Food, Performance, we served as respondents/interlocutors. Richard talked about stone soup, famine, hunger artists, hunger strikers, fasting, plenitude, loaves and fishes, soup kitchens, temple food, and the radical hospitality of Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen and Massimo Bottura’s Food for Soul. We asked about entrepreneurship and communitas, sacredness and carnality, austerity and frivolity, representability and imagination, magic and miracles, prefigurative politics and conference trajectories. We hope to publish both Richard’s essay and the conversation in the next year or so (see below).

Laurie Beth in front of laptop with Richard on screen and a soccer stadium in the background
Laurie Beth in rehearsal with Richard Gough. In the background is Rizal stadium as seen from our apartment where the Filipinas are about to win this game.
poster for "Global Action to End Hunger" with a graphic of children's empty hands surrounding a pair of adult hands full of grain

Laurie Beth was the coordinator for a keynote panel on Global Action to End Hunger  which grew out of one she helped organize with the COVID Foodways group for the conference Saberes sobre la Mesa through the South American Institute for Resilience and Sustainability Studies. The session brought together narratives about hunger and hunger action from North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa with panelists Br. Armin Luistro, Gastón Ares, Matilda Baraibar, Michelle Miller, and Mpumelelo Ncwadi.

Invitation for conference reception, with a spoon and fork on a white plate against a background of rice grains

In addition to these “academic” sessions, we also hosted three social events in collaboration with Josh Abrams in Hong Kong–an opening reception, a mid-conference meet up, and an after-party–to stand in for some of the more informal social time that is such an integral part of face-to-face conferences. We were never a huge crowd, but the events were very fun and featured a lot of getting to know new people, sharing news, talking about things irrelevant to the conference, and sharing thoughts about conference materials that had been meaningful to attendees. We encouraged partygoers to bring a food or beverage to the table to create some online commensality.  

A list of dishes, with an image of meat, rice, and green vegetable in a white cardboad box

In addition  to creating personal invitations to every conference attendee to join the parties, Spatula&Barcode pledged to contribute $10 to hunger action in the Philippines for every person who joined a reception. As a result, we will be donating $340 to an anti-hunger organization to be determined. 

In keeping with the theme of replacing some of the in-person conference experiences that are lost when we meet virtually, we also designed some conference swag. We are somewhat ambivalent about the very idea of organizations spending conference money on giving away things like tote bags (although swag is often part of our own projects and we’ve also gleefully worked with conference giveaways more than once). For this online conference, we wanted to refer to the idea of conference giveaways without actually producing anything that folks didn’t actually want. So we worked up a simple design of a background of rice surrounding the phrase “Walang Gutom”, which means “end hunger” or “the end of hunger” in Tagalog, and then made it available on a few items for print-on-demand through Redbubble. As of this writing, nobody has purchased anything yet, but we like the project conceptually (and we’ll probably buy a tote bag for ourselves). We may move some of the Spatula&Barcode swag onto Redbubble in the future.

a tote bag with rice background and text saying "PSi#27 Walang Gutom 2022"

Here are a few of the sessions that we attended that excited us:

On the pair of opening keynote panels on Hunger and the Response-ability, we moved and intellectually provoked by presentations by Swati Parashar, Patrick Anderson, Sruti Bala and Marian Roces, that brought together consideration of hunger as violence in context of other ongoing violence, both slow and fast.

Eddie Paterson hosted a session called We’ve Never Done This Before that featured the artist Jen Rae discussing the project she organized with her partner Sally Beattie that mobilized community members converting a neighborhood garden into an urban farm and a disused lawn bowling club into Covid-19 food hub.  More at Fawkner Food Bowls.

Laurie Beth and Michael looking together at a zoom meeting on two screens

The session Pang! Shared recordings of two audio plays by Dan Froot & Company based on oral histories of families in Los Angeles and Miami living with food insecurity (which proved to be not the focal point of their lives). In discussion, the company was joined by two of the mothers on whose stories the  plays were based which brought the issues poignantly into the present.  

On the panel about Sharing & Commmunity, Oscar Serquina (Philippines) and Paulina Bronfman (Chile) taught us about Leni Robredo’s lugaw (rice porridge) campaign in the Philippines and about ollas comunes in Chile.  These have parallels to actions that were described in the Global Action session Laurie Beth chaired (see above) but went into greater depth both structurally and critically.  

At the closing session called How PSi Thinks, Paul Rae offered a provocation for looking backwards and forwards– that this conference might be too soon and too late, too vast and too narrow.  What ensued was a generative discussion about organizational values and structures in context of this call to action. At that session, Laurie Beth summed up her conference expression with these keywords associated with the sessions she attended with the last two added during the wrap up.

Recipe. Roro. Creative abolition. Food sovereign voices. Radical hospitality. Network. Prefigurative politics.(Un)representability. Action. Magic. Commensality. Memory. Futurity. Cacerolazo.  Hunger of Necessity.  Hunger of Desire.

We have quite a bit of experience attending conferences, including online ones, and have been involved in organizing quite a few as well. We’re sure that experiences varied greatly among the ## participants scattered around the world in different time zones and countries, but we were deeply impressed with this PSi (and we’ve been to more than 20). Jazmin’s vision for the event was the most important factor, but we have to mention also her tireless efforts and her organizational abilities (we gave her the nickname “Professor Calendar” in the weeks running up to the conference). Part of that organization was an extremely well-prepared technical crew. We enjoyed spending so much preparatory time online with Yohan Palis, or “Yo”, who was the lead technical host and drew on his experience with ARTIST Inc to not only organize all the technical side and occasionally act as interstitial DJ. 

The conference, both the sessions where we spoke and the ones where we listened was as useful as we hoped for advancing our thinking about working on hunger creatively and critically. We are anticipating volumes of the journals Global Performance Studies and Performance Research that will grow out of the conference and its aftermath. As we are part of the editorial team for these volumes, we expect to be immersed in these conversations for several years to come.

Jazmin holding yellow sunflowers in purple paper in front of zoom laptop
Conference organizer Jazmin Llana receiving flowers IRL from the virtual conference annual meeting.

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