Meatpaper zero

Michael Arcega’s SPAM/MAPS
by Sasha Wizansky
MARCH, 2007

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.


Michael Arcega, 2001. Spam luncheon meat, 4' x 3'