A plate of spaghetti has been common party fare in most Filipino homes. Christmas give-aways are requisitely packed with spaghetti and tomato sauce combo, while many children’s birthdays are celebrated with the ubiquitous red-sauced sweet pasta festooned with sliced hotdogs and topped with grated Eden cheese. It was imperative to serve such dish for someone’s birthday to impart to the celebrant longevity and good health – a tradition adapted from the Chinese where originally a single noodle filled a bowl and eaten in one slurp. Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty introduced this, he also believed that people with long faces live longer.
The brightly saturated Pinoy spaghetti belie its bloody historical and geographic origins of conquests and wars, and its noodling migration from the Arabs to Sicily to America then to our part of the world. The Arabs called the dry pasta as itriya, and it suited their nomadic and military adventure across Europe. The conquered Sicilians concocted recipes out of this dry pasta and established numerous spaghetti factories across this Mafia land crossing the Atlantic with their cannolli to Lady Liberty’s feet – “Give me your tired and your poor and your spaghetti and meatballs”. As WW2 rolled along, US GI rations were packed with this nest of a mess of noodles and meat. For want of a Pasta Napolitano, Gen. Douglas Macarthur has been served instead a noodle dish doused with ketchup ala Maria Orosa (banana). And from that WWII stopgap measure birthed the Pinoy spaghetti in all its crimson murderous glory.
In recent times, spaghetti had become ubiquitous as it’s cheaper to produce and make with fewer ingredients compared to the traditional pancit bihon or canton. It’s very much cognate to the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s – cowboy movies that were cheaply and quickly made in Italy with horses galloping in a redder sunset at the speed of asynchronous dub, highly stylized in its visceral grit of 5-o clock shadows, dusty canyons and leather stirrups.
Lindslee’s method of painting aims for such viscerality – squeezing out acrylic pigments into noodling paste all over the canvas which then serves as the “plate”. By this, the tactile alternates with the visual, as well as the literal and the metaphorical. Wayne Thiebaud, an American artist that had an almost singular focus on food as subject, terms rather this as “object transference” as to paint literally mimicking the object it depicts. Hence, a mimesis that revels on the corporeal. Food is a recurring motif in his works – bread, oyster, cake, instant noodles, chicken, eggs – are rendered as larger than life facsimiles from resin and acrylic, as banal pantry items demanding their attention and importance as seeming portraits of historical/socio-political figures. Or rather their amplified scale underscores the process and ritual of consumption in relation to the de rigueur of viewing and exhibiting as the materiality of paint, its viscosity, density, serves up the state of excess in an unbalanced economy of lack and abundance. As such, this contrast is much more pronounced in his current subject – spaghetti which is cheap, fast, almost a ready-made; vis a vis painting (or any artwork) traditionally esteemed as high value and long lasting : Ars longa vita brevis. But Lindslee updates this cliched aphorism rather with Vita brevis ars consumere – life is short, art consumes us even more; immortality is but an illusion.