Hunger Pains

Or Curating While Hungry

I just got back from Bangkok where we (meaning Mich and I) hung a quilt for Grrrl Gang Manila at the Bangrak Market. The quilt is half of Soft Bodies, which consists of two pieces, the other being Lesley-Anne Cao’s Thread (2016). 

Bangrak Beauty, and installation view of Mich Dulce’s At Least I Won’t Regret Anything (2017)

I find myself struggling, more than usual, to get out of bed and back to work nowadays. While I’m lucky to find work in the cultural sector, I’m beginning to find it more and more difficult to convince myself that  no job is too small. On some days, it’s about continuing an old or ongoing project. On others it’s something fun, like hanging work in a market, in another city.

Installation view of “The Book of the Courtier,” from Lesley-Anne Cao’s Thread (2016), embroidery on fabric.

Everyday though, it’s uncertainty. The word for this or at least the term around which the art world has built a discourse, I’ve learned over time, is “precarity”; and no matter how much has been written valorizing or condemning it, nothing can really prepare you for the difficulty of facing it head on each day.

A friend once told me that the best way to work is to “avoid work,” in his terms, to just keep getting paid for things that don’t feel like work. This is how we end up working for 16 hours straight on some days, while other days we never even leave our beds. Except to eat.

Lately, living in Manila has us fucked in every orifice by inflation on top of taxation. I never had to have the vocabulary for this up to now, but now it feels like studying this new layer of precarization has become a full-time job. I can’t relax because it has gotten too expensive to even eat. If I don’t know where my next meal is coming from, I can’t get any sleep, and now I’m too tired to even think; and if I can’t think, I can’t work.

All I do is worry. The only thing that stops me from worrying is more work–the kind of work that does not require a lot of thinking, only heavy lifting. While curatorship–at least the kind of curatorship I’ve gotten used to, which requires me to constantly be cleaning surfaces, comparing prices between hanging and lighting fixtures, and lifting heavy shit, because none of the shows I’ve done has granted me the luxury of hiring a professional installation team–allows me to enjoy the best of both worlds.

Registration table at the opening of Quid Pro Quo, curated by Elissa Ecker and Rebecca Vickers for the Bangkok Biennial

What frustrates me is that I usually love the part that requires me to write and think and discuss, but these tasks have become scarce, mostly because I’ve become incapable of thinking of anything beyond the doom and gloom sweeping through the Philippines. In reality though, that frustration has long been replaced by genuine anger, the kind that eats through your stomach and kills all hunger and any lust for life. And if I–a middle-class woman who is typing this from a coffee shop–feel that ulceration, then how much worse is it for everyone else?

Being in Bangkok was a good working break. I felt the difference in my eating habits. Eating–because there was work to do–felt like a chore to tick off a list; the difference came with actually being able to enjoy it; being able to savor every bite without feeling fucked over by rising prices and taxes and an uncaring government with nothing but disdain for its own people. I could eat without feeling like an inconvenience to my country who has to pay out the nose just to survive. And while Thailand, at least according to some people, is really no better than the Philippines on political front, at least when it comes to food, they are the clear winners. At least there was that.