Michael Arcega’s SPAM/MAPS
by Sasha Wizansky
MICHAEL ARCEGA is a San Francisco-based
interdisciplinary artist interested in the interplay of language
and objects. Puns and elaborate wordplay shed light on his
impressively well-crafted objects and installations. He often
references his birthplace, Manila, by commenting on Philippine
history and culture in his pieces. In 2001, he created “SPAM/MAPS,” a
world map made of carved Spam slices pinned to the wall.
This year he completed “Eternal Salivation,” a
wooden ark with cured meat stashed inside. Meatpaper chatted
with Arcega about these two pieces and his use of meat as
material in his work.
“Eating is something everyone does, and so is an entry
point into culture,” says Arcega. “I was wondering
why we, as Filipinos, eat Spam. It turns out Spam was a World
War II ration. Spam revolutionized the military. It was the
first successful canning of meat and solved the logistical
issue of feeding the military. Spam allowed the military to
ship food ever faster overseas. Now Spam is eaten throughout
Asia and even in Australia.”
Arcega has written: “Spam’s diasporic nature is
symbolic of America’s ongoing influence on many nations.
S-P-A-M is M-A-P-S in reverse.”
Arcega’s ark, “Eternal Salivation,” draws
a parallel between the biblical story of Noah’s Ark and
modern manifest destiny. He quotes God’s words in the
Old Testament: “The fear and dread of you will fall upon
all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon
every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the
fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything
that lives and moves will be food for you.”
Arcega filled his ark with the preserved meat of as many species
as he could find, including emu, llama, pig, cow, deer, antelope,
ostrich, kangaroo, alligator, crocodile, snail, shark, seahorse,
tuna, turkey, conch, and rattlesnake.
“I was thinking about the preservation of life and of
food, and survivalism,” he says. “Noah’s
ark and jerky are both supposed to save you.”
Just as Spam represents America’s cultural colonization
of the globe in SPAM/MAPS, “Eternal Salivation,” with
its hull stuffed with cured meats, represents historical Catholic
conquest in the Philippines and around the world.
This article originally appeared in
Meatpaper Issue Zero.