Natalie Leung, RECOMS Fellow conducted interviews with farmers in Japan for her research, during which she noticed how the quotes from the interviews do not adequately convey the emotions that were present during the interviews.To convey the emotional and embodied aspects that cannot be fully expressed in words, much less translated adequately, Natalie decided to work with a local Japanese artist. Her experiences are showed in this short piece.
I conducted interviews with 25 alternative farmers in Japan with the help of translator. Next to the usual challenges of conveying social and cultural connotations from Japanese to English, I noticed how the quotes from the interviews do not adequately convey the emotions that were present during the interviews. These emotions are rooted in the practices and experiences of the farmers. They convey their connections with the physical environments like landscapes, soil, and plants.
To convey the emotional and embodied aspects that cannot be fully expressed in words, much less translated adequately, I decided to work with a local Japanese artist. Rather than only using quotes from the interviews, the aim of the paintings is to make the farmers visible. The paintings would help to convey their emotions through facial expression, but also give the reader a visual impression of the landscape, as well as the harmony between the landscape and the work of the farmers. Through the colours, lighting, symbols and the general composition of the illustration, the artist would also be able to convey the overall mood and theme that the farmers had during the interview. The aim was thus to try to convey a more complete information than cannot be done through words alone.
For example, the painting above conveys more completely than words could, how the farmer interacts with her plants through various non-cognitive ways in her farming practices. In the quote, the farmer shared how she used her body to feel and care for the plants to understand their conditions:
'The scent, you can smell it… you can feel it, touch it and you can taste it. If the crop is not doing well, I can see the failure from their shapes. If you look at a tomato closely, you feel the hair….'
When she spoke, she was excited and showed how these interactions with the plants and attentions to small details motivate her in her everyday farming life. However, these emotions are also not explicit in the quote. The facial expression of the farmer in the painting helps to communicate her excitement when she examines the tomato through the touching and smelling it. The blooming plants in the background are embracing the farmer, conveying the reciprocity of care and happiness between the two, in which the plants flourish because of the care of the farmer, and the farmer is happy when the plants grow well.
To conclude, the use of paintings to convey research results helps to supplement the verbal quote and visualize the more comprehensive experiences of the farmers.