‘If we as artists can be of service to society, why don’t we?’ Alina Lupu’s art takes many forms, but in this case, that of social practice, supporting and working together with social initiatives. The initiative in question is Helen’s Free Food Market (HFFM), a project which is anti-food waste and simultaneously supports people with a lower income.
Helen’s Free Food Market was founded in 2019 with a single pickup – by Helen van der Bilt and a befriended neighbour. The principle was straightforward: take food that is about to go to waste from local supermarkets and hand it out to neighbours that need it. The initiative has gained increasing attention and support, especially during the 2020 lockdowns, going as far as to be supported by the Amsterdam municipality who says HFFM reaches a segment of Amsterdammers it fails to reach.
Instead of taking the spotlight herself, Alina would like to redirect attention to HFFM, where she’ll work, research, and reflect on the role of the artist as ‘public servant’. During Common In in 2022, and with Alina, we are showcasing the work of HFFM and inviting participants to reflect on it and get inspired.
Event 9 June
On 9 June Alina and Helen will present their work and reflect on their collaboration of the past months, along with contributions by researcher Carla Kolner and artist-activist Elke Uitentuis.
ALINA LUPU AND HELEN VAN DER BILT
Alina, can you share a little bit about your practice?
I am very interested in precarious working conditions, mainly for artists but not only that. I took on several side jobs – I was a food delivery courier, a cleaner, a barista – not only as a way to support myself but also as a starting point for my artistic practice. Usually my art is longterm, research-based, a process rather than an object, and as such it doesn’t have a clear presentation moment or something like that.
How did you meet Helen?
In the middle of the pandemic, I had more time at my disposal, and I stumbled upon Helen’s initiative on social media. She was looking for people to pick up food with the ‘bakfiets’ which then became a recurring thing in my schedule.
Helen, can you tell us about Helen’s Free Food Market?
In 2019 I went to pick up some food that was about to be wasted by some supermarkets and handed it out in the neighbourhood with my neighbour. It was a one time thing, but it turned out there were many people in need. So we kept doing it, and during corona it really exploded. Now, we have a growing community of 40 volunteers and together we ‘saved’ 41.200 kilos of food last year alone.
What is your aim with HFFM?
We bring together two problems: massive local food waste, and increasing poverty. We present it as such so people don’t feel like they’re getting handouts from an institution. Most of the ‘clients’ are both recipients and volunteers. People are thus helping to combat food waste as well as helping themselves.
Alina, how do you bring together an initiative like HFFM and art?
Helen’s initiative is a practice that can be folded into the art world. There are artists that try to start similar things, in terms of giving back to the community, in terms of salvaging resources, in terms of connecting people. In the case of proposing HFFM for Common In, it has to do with my view that artists don’t always have to start something from scratch. There are so many inspiring, collaborative initiatives that we can join and help further.
What does the title Artist as Public Servant mean?
There is always the fear among artists that their art needs to solve problems. Well, it doesn’t have to solve problems, but it can. If we as artists can be of service, why not?
Alina Lupu is a post-conceptual artist and writer. She works a lot with performance, photography and video. Alina is especially interested in precarious working conditions.
Helen van der Bilt is the initiator of Helen’s Free Food Market, an initiative in North Amsterdam aiming at bringing sources of food waste together with people in need.