David Szanto & Geneviève Sicotte


For the purposes of this exposition, we have brought academic and artistic patterns together within a series of textual and visual modules. We start with a relatively conventional, scholarly introduction and then move into visual-textual ‘artist’s talks’ about our work. We pose a series of questions to each other and respond reflexively. We follow this up with a ‘diffractive analysis’, first proposed by feminist scholar Donna Haraway (1997) and later elaborated by physicist Karen Barad (2007). In keeping with the iterative, cyclical nature of research-creation, the exposition design uses visual motifs of reflection and feedback, as well as those related to diffraction. We also imagine that reader-viewers may choose to engage with all of the exposition material or just those modules that relate to their own interests. Throughout, we aim to bring the sensory qualities of food matter (taste, smell, touch) into relationship with those of food discourse (seeing, hearing, imagining). By using both written passages and video clips of our conversation about the writing process, our intent is to portray how our methods both differ and align. Through this examination, we wish to share how research-creation is at once useful and limiting, and thereby invite others to contribute to the ways in which it can continue to evolve.

While diffraction is generally understood as an optical effect produced when light waves encounter each other and/or move through or around a physical object, it can also be taken in an epistemic sense. As Haraway and Barad express, diffraction is a means by which to trace effects or outcomes back to the apparatuses that produced them. In this understanding, diffraction offers a counterpoint to more linear forms of analysis: ‘Whereas the metaphor of reflection reflects the themes of mirroring and sameness, diffraction is marked by patterns of difference’ (Barad 2007: 72). Like optical diffraction, which generates visible interference patterns (such as those on a DVD), epistemic diffraction reveals patterns that ‘record the history of interaction, interference, reinforcement, difference […] [providing] a narrative, graphic, psychological, spiritual, and political technology for making consequential meanings’ (Haraway 1997: 273).

Our purpose in deploying diffraction here is to examine how our two projects, produced differently, also produce different kinds of knowledge about food and humans. Whereas SDV takes a more discursive approach, GIY centers more on matter and gesture. These differences in our ‘apparatuses’ thus offer different sensorial ways of knowing about our subjects, and in these differences, we hope to better understand how research-creation can be a meaningful approach to food studies. This exposition is therefore an offer toward the continuing evolution of both research-creation and food studies—building on their existing foundations and potential for post-masculinist, ecological, and transdisciplinary research paradigms. We believe this can be of value to other kinds of artistic and performative practice, and we hope viewers of this exposition will build on, critique, and expand the thinking-doing-feeling presented here.



with FOOD:


How we know the world and how we know ourselves have long been questions explored by humanists, scientists, poets, philosophers, and spiritual leaders, each producing responses according to their own frameworks of knowledge. The Cartesian framing of thinking-and-being has often been legitimized over more sensory—indeed, sensed—modes of understanding, producing dualities and disconnects between parallel practices. This has resulted in some forms of truth being valorized over others, while also limiting our ability to deepen self-other relationships and address many of the complex, ‘wicked problems’ (Conklin et al. 2011) that characterize contemporary experience. In the realm of food studies, this is particularly relevant.

Food studies is an emerging area of scholarship, bringing together an examination of food, food systems, and food culture through the social sciences and humanities. Distinct from food science, agronomy, cuisine, and nutrition/dietetics, the field of food studies is both synthetic and relational, as well as one in which formalization and experimentalism are in tension (Anderson, Brady & Levkoe 2016; Brady, Levkoe & Szanto 2015; Winson, Sumner & Koç 2016). Food studies scholars recognize that food culture and food systems are implicit in some of our most critical challenges, including hunger, migration, trade, climate change, and justice. At the same time, food is also a deeply personal experience: food’s intimacies intersect with human bodies, the senses, and our material encounters with the world on a level that cannot always be captured in words or theories.

In the last two decades or so, the field of food studies has integrated these complexities in new ways (Classens & Sumner 2021; Hammelman, Reynolds & Levkoe 2020; Levkoe et al. 2020; Wilson et al. 2021). While conceptual and science-based approaches are still actively developed—and continue to be crucial—some calls have been made for what has been described as an ‘embodied’ approach to research. In such practices, the senses, the body, and actual physical relations between food, producers, cooks, and eaters all come to the fore of investigation. The subjective experience is seen not as an obstacle, but as a tool to gain access to knowledge that would be excluded from a Cartesian framework. This embraces the reality that individual subjectivity is always in dialogue with objective and collective realities. Bodies—human and food, material and conceptual—exist within and because of a multitude of relationships. The aim of embodied food studies is thus to build theoretical and methodological relationality among epistemic universes.

In parallel, research-creation is an approach that has proven useful for undoing certain longstanding dualities while addressing complex socio-technical issues. It is a hybrid method of investigation that brings together artistic practice with social sciences and humanities methods (Hughes 2012; McCormack 2008), often incorporating the public presentation of outcomes and the collection of reflexive feedback (Doonan 2014; Szanto 2015). Research-creation thus infuses scholarship with attention to material-discursive entanglement, while also recognizing that artistic practice is grounded in processes of gathering and synthesizing multiple forms of knowledge (Milieux Institute 2017; Badani 2015). Other named hybrids, such as practice-as-research and arts-based research, parallel research-creation in many ways (Chapman & Sawchuk 2012). Importantly, and even as it has begun to be institutionalized by certain funding bodies (FQRSC 2020; SSHRC 2012), research-creation continues to evolve, enabling experimentation and improvisation within widely ranging contexts (Manning & Massumi 2015).

Broadly, research-creation targets three significant objectives: (a) the pluralization of methods, knowledge, and outputs; (b) collaboration in meaning-making, reflection, and feedback; and (c) transformation of its own practitioners, in turn leading to the transformation of research-creation itself. Across numerous fields and themes, research-creation projects have demonstrated that these objectives are both feasible and necessary (Chapman & Sawchuk 2015; Dal Farra 2017). However, within the growing area of food studies, relatively few scholar-artists have adopted research-creation as an approach. The outputs of those who have, however, point to a range of new opportunities for reimagining human-and-food relations, design innovation breakthroughs, alternative pedagogies, and intersubjective forms of ‘publishing’ (Dolejšová, Lišková & Obert 2019; Doonan 2015; Hey 2017; Kelley 2016).

Food-centred research-creation may thus be a tool for linking conventional scholarly methods with a number of exploratory frameworks. Rather than legitimizing food scholarship through a process that parallels scientization (ordering, quantifying, disciplining), we invoke what artists and creators have always known: that we can trust our senses, our sense of wonder, and our faith in what we feel to be relevant. We see research-creation as a useful response to problematic past strategies of legitimization, largely because it allows for the inclusion of personal, emotional, artistic, reflexive, intersubjective, AND scientific approaches. Ultimately, this exposition is an invitation to other artist-scholars—whether in food or other areas of knowledge—to engage with this question, to challenge what we present here, to build on it, to find parallels, and to diverge from our own offering.

This exposition presents two food-centered research-creation projects, created by the two co-authors, each of which were aimed at the three objectives noted above. Having developed the projects independently and with differing research-creation approaches, we now bring them into conversation with each other, post-hoc, to note and reflect on how they both diverge and converge. Signes de vie / Vital Signs (SDV) is an online work of digital literature incorporating multimedia components: written and spoken texts, videos, sound, and music. Geneviève’s ‘intimate journey into an imaginary food museum’ (Sicotte 2020) explores the ways in which food speaks to us, largely through language and the visual and auditory senses. David’s The Gastronome in You (GIY) is a series of three performances about death, life, and the microbiome, using the materiality of a sourdough starter to activate the gustatory and haptic senses. Respectively foregrounding discursive creation (SDV) and material creation (GIY), the two works present an opportunity to probe the extent to which dualities of food knowledge and representation continue to persist in research-creation, while also providing prompts toward ongoing investigation.