Why do we eat? The biological answer is obvious: one eats to live. But for Celline Mercado, the reverse is also true: one chooses to suffer life precisely because they can eat. In her series “Somehow, I can’t stop eating”, Mercado reveals that eating is more than a function of one’s metabolism but the means through which one copes with the pains of being alive. Food, then, is not only a necessity to stay thanatos but also a vital reprieve from the agonies of bios.
Mercado executes this thesis through digital illustrations, rendered in a style reminiscent of comic books and pop art. However, she subverts their ostensibly commercial visuals and childlike vibrance with unflinching and intimate autobiographical accounts. Items of food serve as Mercado’s devices of narrative and memory, offering a palette of sentiments that straddle despair and hope.
The banal is the personal. To the artist, a birthday cake and spaghetti are the half-willing choice to live another year. Chips and pancit canton are a panacea against midnight anxieties, though self-destructive. Bottles of soda embody a young girl’s after-school dallying. Empty bottles of beer, on the other hand, bear silent witness to the melancholia of adulthood. A bento box is a dream of a better life abroad, while seafood sold by a fishmonger are those same dreams washed ashore. Amid it all, onion jam is an attempt to make something sweet out of tears.
Mercado displays these illustrations in lightbox prints, evoking the illuminated menus one might see at a fast-food counter or drive-thru. In this way, Mercado—vulnerable and exposed—ultimately offers herself to the viewer as food, to be picked apart and consumed, to sustain and nourish. —Jayvee del Rosario