The Gastronome in You (GIY), a cycle of three iterative food performances, centers on an inherited sourdough yeast culture and questions the persistence of humanity after death, through memory, narrative, and the microbiome. At the same time, it is an exploration of the ways in which we can act concurrently as both artist and academic, and of the blurring of boundaries that transdisciplinary practice with food tends to elicit.
The first iteration of GIY took the form of an installation and performance within the Exploration Gallery of the 2014 conference of the Canadian Association for Food Studies at Brock University in St. Catharines, ON. It focused on the gastronomic integrity and energy of Gigi Frassanito, a friend and colleague who had died of stomach cancer the previous year. His twenty-year-old sourdough yeast culture (distributed to friends and family at his memorial service), served as the starting point for this work. Over the course of three days, I propagated a small sample of the culture into a large, lively, aromatic mass. During this time, I tended to the flour, yeast, and water a few times a day, checking the humidity, ensuring the microbial community had enough to eat, and documenting my movements in time-lapse imagery. I felt, at times, as if I were tending Gigi’s gravesite, trimming grass and flicking away pebbles, but also caring for new life, a midwife to Gigi’s offspring. By the third day, the gallery space smelled both sour and sweet—that unique aroma of fermenting complex sugars that stimulates salivary glands and reminds bread makers of the life-death cycles inherent to collaborations with yeast. The embryonic lump of starter that I had brought with me was now many dozens of times larger, bubbling and burping like a giddy newborn. I divided the mass into seventy small mason jars and then left them available for collection by the conference participants. In so doing, my intent was to have the ‘audience’ of this work incorporate both the starter (in the eventual form of bread) and the humanism of my late friend (through absorption of my story about him). Gigi’s own bodily yeast cells, having in life been in continual exchange with those in the sourdough culture, thus became agents of his continued existence.