The End of Hunger

The Filipino phrase WALANG GUTOM, with which we have marked aprons, bowls, and masks, means both the imperative END HUNGER and the descriptive THE END OF HUNGER.  Here, we use it to refer to the end of our work in the Philippines and in this “final” post, we will reflect on our experiences and set some goals for going forward.

As we were leaving, we were put in touch with exactly the artists we would have loved to meet on day one. These are Precious Leano and Alex Baluyut of the Art Relief Mobile Kitchen (ARMK).

The blue and red logo of Art Relief Mobile Kitchen
Women in line at a table of large wrapped sandwiches

ARMK is an artist-run hunger action network. Following the devastation of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in 2013, they packed the kitchen of their house into a trailer and fed survivors in Tacloban for nearly two weeks.  Since that time, they’ve served more than a million meals (the Philippines has a lot of crises, from typhoons, to volcanoes and earthquakes, to armed conflicts. ARMK emphasizes that the food needs to be delicious as well as nutritious, and regionally and culturally appropriate–they understand their role to be providing comfort as well as calories. They often speak of the Filipino value of pakikipagkapwa-tao, sometimes translated as “Filipino fellowship” but which we think of as a mix of generosity and solidarity.

A newspaper story about ARMK with the headline "Couple commands mobile kitchen for calamities"

We were able to meet them for the first time on Zoom after we returned to the US.  Precious and Alex proved to be wonderful storytellers of their feeding adventures. Had we met them earlier we would have done our best to join one of their forays.  Now we are looking for ways to support them remotely, including making them the recipients of the funds we pledged during the PSi conference to donate to hunger action in the Philippines.

a person in a blue ARMK apron stirring food in an enormous pot

In our final projects, we gave money to several different groups to take work they were doing in a new direction. While we have always spent (mostly) our own money to make our artwork, we have not previously directly funded collaborators. We don’t really think of this as a “philanthropic” approach, but we’re certainly conscious of the often problematic relations of food aid, and we have a lot of questions about this model. Yet in our context it was clear that the most straightforward thing we could offer was to support a new direction or an experiment in hunger action by both paying for it and valuing it. 

Sometimes folks talk about a distinction or continuum between “artlike art” and “lifelike art” (for the record, it comes from Allan Kaprow writing in Artforum in 1983 ; semi-paywalled). Artlike art is strongly distinguished from life, while lifelike art is at times indistinguishable. Michael’s art/life class talks about this a fair bit, and we’ve written a bit about how food tends to raise this question when you put it into an art context. In these last activities in the Philippines, we were fairly untroubled by whether there was anything “artlike” at all about our work–we weren’t focused on that, and our partners didn’t care. And certainly things like the Walang Gutom ceramic bowl giveaway include artlike objects. To turn this question around, we’ve been thinking for months about a different version of this question; because the imperative to feed the hungry always has a sense of urgent practicality, how do we think about the right to aesthetics, to pleasure? As Laurie Beth articulated it in a list for some of our talks (and an earlier blog post), what is left out of hunger action if we focus only on expediency, efficiency, or cost efficacy? 

slide with a list of things that might be left out or could be added to hunger action, beginning with "Festivies" and ending with "magic"

Our most recent thinking uses the term lagniappe to describe what we think that we (Spatula&Barcode), as artists, can bring to hunger action. It’s a Cajun term that means “something extra” and is often deployed in food contexts, as when a chef provides a treat in a restaurant that exceeds the paid order. And we would argue that the items on the above list is what separates food from nourishment; you can live on food, you can live meaningfully with the lagniappe of human connection and creativity. Whether they articulated this or not, most of the food action folks we worked with valued connection, agency, and culture as a key part of making hunger action work.

Of course, our work on hunger is far from complete. We are in the midst of editing (with Jazmin Llana) concurrent journal volumes for Performance Research and Global Performance Studies.  We are thrilled to have received many viable proposals, to which we have already provided feedback.  Now we wait as the authors devise their contributions, which are due to us in March.

Laurie Beth is teaching a graduate seminar on Hunger this coming semester.  Here is her starter reading list:

Our projects in Manila have made us think about the possibilities for doing work on hunger in other contexts, starting with Madison, Wisconsin. Our extant proposals for several residencies include projects about hunger in New York, New Jersey, Accra and Johannesburg. 

We’ll continue to use this blog to reflect on our project progress, but perhaps with less frequency. A special thanks to those of you who followed our work in the Philippines by subscribing to reminders.

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