Idea: Site-specific participatory performances about sustainability & food geographies around the city.
Primary artistic medium: multidisciplinary
I am a Mexican-Canadian artist and moved to Philadelphia in 2019. The Communal Griddle builds on my body of process-based work exploring food production. It brings together my artistic practice and previous experience working as a small food business owner to sustain myself. This integration is artistically generative, opening up a line of inquiry around art sustainability and the economic realities of artists. The Communal Griddle extends my non-traditional approach that involves collaborating with non-artists and cultural workers outside art institutions, beyond simply presenting the work to the public.
My previous projects include Snack Pack, a doughnut-based stop-motion animation work reflecting on my first job as a new immigrant; Tunnel, an installation involving the construction of a tunnel inside an art gallery with a non-status construction worker and gallery curator; YYZGRU, a parcel delivery system designed to exchange personal objects between Brazilians in Toronto and their families back home; Social Plastics/Nail Party, a participatory performance in a nail salon in collaboration with an immigrant family of nail technicians; The Supercake, a 22-foot long edible sculpture in collaboration with immigrant women with whom I worked at a cake factory; Weast Feast – Fogones, a participatory performance with immigrant cooks, waste laborers, and food producers in Philadelphia; and The People’s Budget (Mural Arts), a participatory project working with Latinx immigrant food business owners and community leaders in Philadelphia.
The Communal Griddle
The Communal Griddle is a participatory art project informed by environmental justice, building on a project called Waste Feast-Fogones that I developed during a residency at Recycled Art in Residency (RAIR) in Philadelphia in Winter 2022. During the residency, I collaborated with immigrant laborers and chefs to design, construct, and prepare food in a cooking sculpture made from waste materials. The intention behind this collaboration is to establish links between stakeholders across the food chain to come up with sustainable solutions rooted in the communities that have historically been employed as cheap labor in our food system. The Communal Griddle is an itinerant sculpture that requires audience participation to be completed, and that will take many forms as it is activated across the city. Although the physical sculpture will not change, every iteration will be unique and unrepeatable.
Inspired by my upbringing in Mexico where scarcity has motivated people to repurpose scrap metal to fabricate improvised cooking appliances, The Communal Griddle offers an opportunity to celebrate DIY culture as a strategy for self-reliance that is considered “low brow,” receiving little attention in dominant, food and art, circles; however, it offers critical knowledge about adaptation in light of global waste and food insecurity crises.
For ARTisPHL, I propose to activate the sculpture at cookouts within multiple communities across the city, as a platform for community building and storytelling. The Communal Griddle will use the city’s diverse gastronomies as a point of departure to build relationships that cut across social and economic barriers. This is particularly important in the present moment, as the pandemic has increased social isolation and economic inequality, and limited opportunities for communities from across the city to connect.
The wood fire-powered sculpture will be activated in public places where communities already gather, such as neighborhood parks. Each activation will be planned in collaboration with local communities and organizations with whom I have existing relationships (e.g., SEAAMAC in FDR Park, Philly Boriquas at Roosevelt Park, Puentes de Salud in Capitolo Playground). Other cookouts will be hosted in self-run community gardens (e.g., Iglesias Community Garden and Sun Park in North Philly). I will invite local sustainability-focused artists, crafters, and cultural workers to display their work or perform during the cookouts.
The project’s website will host multimedia documentation about the cooks and their stories, documentation of the cookouts, and recipes in multiple languages (e.g., Spanish, Khmer). Website visitors and event attendees will be encouraged to try the recipes and share their photos through a social media campaign.
The Communal Griddle will be executed in three phases, including outreach (to recruit chefs and plan the cookouts in collaboration with community organizations), production (in collaboration with chefs and food industry workers to guarantee the cookouts meet health and safety standards), and communication (marketing, media production, and website creation).