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As food-centered research-creation projects, Signes de vie and The Gastronome in You demonstrate that scholarly and artistic practices can come together productively, generating outcomes that neither one nor the other can produce independently. In the dynamic tension between art and academia, a new space opens up—one that both enables and demands a pluralistic stance. With food at the center of this work, other tensions are at play, including the outcomes we want to share. Some of these are aimed at epistemic development within food studies, while others are more personal and sensorial, serving to disrupt our ‘formal’ relations with food, our focus of study. As more artist-scholars take up research-creation, we imagine a time when the lived experience of food—from agriculture to nutritional well-being, culinary theatrics to food sovereignty—can be explored holistically, upending dualities and producing meaningful courses of action.
In our exploration of the diffractive analysis, we have also started to show how research-creation projects act to change both their creators and audiences, as well as expectations for how knowledge is represented. Notably, beyond showing difference, diffraction can also show similarities. This is especially true regarding the body and the material. Even if they do so in different fashion, SDV and GIY rely on a physical implication of the researchers’ bodies and senses. David’s gestures of preparation, food-sharing, eating, and manipulating compose the work itself; Geneviève’s use of actual foods and bodies produce images and stories that resonate with the visitor’s own experience. This similarity may be traced to our shared belonging within food studies; despite that, much food research remains disembodied and abstract.
We must also note that within both of the works shown here, clear currents of emotionality flow. Geneviève initially felt that her sense of food as a fundamental driver needed to be hidden in her career. Not a serious pursuit, too personal. Yet it inspires her, excites and activates her desire to question, explore, analyze, and share. It is emotionally laden, and rightly so. For David, GIY was originally a means to process the difficult and enduring emotions surrounding his friend Gigi’s death. But in other work, he has also aimed to both activate and leverage emotionality—in himself as well as in his audiences. Indeed, as he has previously written (Szanto 2016), he believes that emotion is key in conducting relevant research on food. As researchers, our humanness is part of our apparatus; as human beings, we are emotional. As both David and Geneviève have noted, however, to acknowledge one’s subjectivity and emotions—indeed to leverage them in one’s research—is generally discouraged by the systems of academia. This brings us back to the challenges of ‘legitimizing’ food scholarship, while also prompting a new question: what are the creative liberties associated with distance from academic institutions?
What we think about our research-creation practices and aims is strongly influenced by our positions and trajectories. Since early 2017, David has not been affiliated with a single academic institution on a full-time basis. This detachment is both limiting (due to lack of resources, regular peer exchange, and collegial support) as well as freeing (from expectations and norms). Geneviève, on the other hand, is a full professor with a substantial history of publishing and public scholarship. David’s academic formation wanders from physics to design to cultural communications to gastronomy. Geneviève is a professor of French literature with research that focuses on social critique, literary and digital creation, and food culture. We assume that these differences in our professional positionality have affected the objectives with which we start on a project. We also acknowledge that these contexts necessarily have become part of our methods and apparatus. It prompts us to ask who and what is the work for. What do we aim to transform by conducting research-creation? In responding to these questions, we discover that the answers are surprisingly similar in both our cases. Yes, the work addresses certain food-specific issues that are collectively relevant, but it initially emerges from within, and in many ways we create it for ourselves. At the same time, we want to reach a broader community of artists, food studies scholars, and research-creation practitioners—those for whom broad social challenges are also personal and localized. Indeed, we hope to transform our communities, and facilitate (some of) our students and peers through their own desired transformation. Research-creation allows us to show and enact, through our very practice, other ways of being an academic, an artist, a food researcher.
And this, therefore, is where we turn the conversation back to you, the viewer-reader-perceiver-interpreter of this exposition. What kinds of diffractions—whether patterns of difference or similarity, reinforcement or disparity—do you see between our work and yours? The practice of diffraction can be carried out not merely between two trajectories of creation, but between many. We therefore invite further discussion and critique of what we present here, as well as analysis of and speculation on where research-creation (whether food-related or not) can go from here. What other materialities, gestures, words, and images can be brought to bear on this spectrum of thinking, doing, and feeling? Where next?