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"PerFarmances" Break Down Silos

PhD student Chris Bell brings together disciplines for new discoveries
September 28, 2016

Portrait: Chris Bell

Portrait: Chris Bell
Photo by Matthew Weber, CLAgency

Theatre is not solely a platform for entertainment—it is also a platform to produce knowledge and to articulate the importance of social issues. PhD student Chris Bell’s research focuses on how we can use performance methodology to communicate issues of food production and food securities as well as the history of performance in rural agricultural communities.

“Food studies is such a pressing issue,” Bell says. “It begs the question, ‘How do we feed the world?’ Performance studies offers a way to communicate this issue and these ideas to highlight how important food is to the production of individual and collective identities.”

Bell researches communities by reading a wide range of texts before entering those communities and conducting ethnographic research through interview, participant observation, and experiencing the embodied way that farming works.

“What excites me about my research is that both theatre and food studies focus on emotive production. Both are very much connected with our embodied ways of experiencing the world,” Bell says. “By approaching food studies with a performance studies lens, you’re cracking into the oral history of these objects, this edible environment. Vice versa, you reveal the role that food plays in the formations of culture and society.”

By using his expertise in food studies, Bell dramaturged for the BFA production Earthquakes in London. Dramaturgy is the research support for a theatrical production through which information gets consolidated and presented to the cast and production team to better inform the decisions they make as artists. Essentially, the research helps in the creation of the world that they are making on stage. Specifically, Bell researched global warming and climate change on both a global level and a specific level to Great Britain to help inform the production.

Community, Not Competition

In addition to researching and dramaturging, Bell co-founded A PerFarmance Project, a community-based performing arts residency that is centered on food production and investigating the identity of small farming communities: County Tipperary in 2013 and Lac qui Parle County, Minnesota in 2015. Bell is expanding the project by creating residencies in Coventry, England in partnership with the Global Research Priorities at the University of Warwick. In the future, Bell hopes teach at the university level with heavy focus on pedagogy in an academic environment that supports his passion for interdisciplinary work.

“What I appreciate the most about my program through the College of Liberal Arts is the people that I connect with in such a wide range of intellectual formations. The connections I’ve made are invaluable to me and the work that I am producing. It’s a very convivial environment which is important to the process of learning. Learning is a communal experience, not a competition,” Bell says.  

The provocative interdisciplinary work that Bell produces is crucial to understanding how expanding our intellectual horizons can ultimately reshape academia and the humanities. The opportunities are endless when one destabilizes the disciplinary silo and asks scholars to think beyond their own discipline. There are multiple avenues through which one can achieve new discoveries. Bell has used the avenue of the theatre in order to understand, produce, and articulate new knowledge on food production.

“From my research I hope that I can express to people that that the food we eat not only has a physical impact on our environment, but also plays a role in the creation of individual and collective identities,” Bell says. “It makes us who we are.”

This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.