Emilie is a food technologist, experience designer, multimedia artist and educator who uses food as a material and metaphor for creativity and multi-sensory communication. With projects like the Lickestra – a musical licking performance, & the Cotton Candy Theremin – which remixes the interface of making cotton candy by transforming it into a multi-sensory orchestration of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. We welcome her to FITC Toronto to delight and inspire all five of our senses.
Your work often combines technology and food, which is something most people can get excited about! When did you decide that you would focus on food and the senses?
I've always been fascinated with the theatre of life that takes place around the dining table. In my own family, these were times where everyone could connect beyond language and, together, experience feelings through flavor. It's a feeling that is similar to why I love dance, for example.
Food, like dance, is less about a linguistic pursuit and more about an emotional experience, manifested in (and by) the body. This felt like - and still feels like - a more holistic, and human, means of connecting with others.
That feeling was important to me as I grew up in Middle America, with a French mother and an American father. We spoke differently, dressed differently and ate differently than the culture around us. Though our personal and cultural identities were always in flux, food was a universal medium that brought us together and created a sense of belonging.
As I moved forward in my professional career and completed a Masters in Industrial Design, I knew that I wanted to foster that kind of feeling in both myself and others. At the time, not many designers were using the material of food to design with so I decided to bring my love of new adventure (!) together with my personal relationship to food.
Voila! 10 years later, an omnivourous body of food design has evolved as I've explored how, and why, food can be designed.
Today, my work has evolved to also encompass sensory design because food, in essence, is a multisensory material, so it naturally lays a wonderful foundation for a holistic understanding of how to use the senses as a medium of communication and expression.
If you had to give up one of the five senses, which would it be and why?
NO THANK YOU! ;)
I'm going to answer this tricky question in a tricky way: I'd give up my sense of taste. But NOT my sense of smell ;)
We’ve all heard about multi-sensory disasters like smell-o-vision. Has any of your work resulted in the decision that certain experiences are better left without certain senses?
I don't know about you, but I personally think Smell O Vision was a genius idea. It's not the creativity that is bad in these projects, it's the execution. Diffusing smell is no picnic. We're getting closer to better solutions in this area, so don't toss out the idea just yet ;)
As for certain senses being left out of certain experiences, this is also a trick question - every experience involves every sense. Even if you are sitting in a movie theatre SANS Smell O Vision, you're still subject to your neighbors cologne or that noise kid's popcorn butter smell.
The real answer to this question is that certain experiences could use more certain sensory considerations. Wouldn't it be nice if someone worked on the smell of subways, for example? Or if bathroom stalls were visually interesting from the inside?
As we move forward in this landscape of sensory design, the goal should be to develop a better understanding of how the senses work together so they all communicate in harmony. That, to me, is a definition of "better".
As live experiences your projects take place within group settings. In a time when we’re working with so many solo experience technologies like VR, how important is the community aspect to your work?
I love community. It's one of the reasons I do what I do. That said, I would be remiss to say that community does not exist in virtual, "solo" settings. Online communities do an incredible job of fostering human connection and VR is definitely moving in that way as well.
Perhaps the question to ask ourselves instead is "What does the shared physical experience do that the virtual cannot?"
My work is mostly based in the physical landscape because I am interested in the accident of being human. You can only control the physical experience so much - there are always things that go wrong, always accidents that happen, and, usually, always great, unimaginable inventions that result.
We can control a virtual experience so much more in comparison, but the accidental beauty that emerges from not being able to delete real life is, to me, the great essence of humanity. I hope we never lose it.
The theme for FITC Toronto in 2017 is Step into the Light - can you tell us what this means to you?
We are in a dark period in the world these days. It is our responsibility, as Edith Wharton said, "[To spread the light:] to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it." For me, "Stepping into the Light" means owning and revealing our own truth, while also developing empathy and awareness of others.
Find out more at
FITC Toronto // The Future of Innovation, Technology & Creativity
Hilton Toronto • April 23-25
Or on her website emiliebaltz.com