NOT A CORNFIELD (a rant)

– Posted in: Miscellaneous, Vegetables
6 comments

It’s NOT A CORNFIELD. Oh, how could you be misled? How could you be so uncouth, so uncivilized, as to not recognize it for what it is: a work of art. Sigh. Only in California* could 28 acres of growing, living Zea mays be not a cornfield! There are two things about this that really irritate me. One, they didn’t grow edible varieties of corn. Given the poverty and ethnicity of so much of Los Angeles, why couldn’t they have grown corn that could be ground into masa harina, and either sold at a discount or given away free to the local residents? Instead it is an ornamental corn that will be converted into “biodegradable containers.” How like a politically correct, well-fed gringo. And two, do you think it is a coincidence that the funding for this project came from a foundation for which the “artist” is a trustee? It’s obvious from the website copy that she can write a well-crafted, jargon-ridden grant proposal, but it sounds a bit like the wolf guarding the chicken coop to me.

I think a cornfield in the middle of Los Angeles is marvelous. There are probably lots of people in Los Angeles who have never seen corn before, or the various wildlife attracted to it. And probably if the Department of Parks and Recreation grew a field of corn for people to eat, there would have been an outcry about wasting taxpayers’ money. Given today’s litigious society, perhaps it was deemed too risky to plant edible corn. I guess I’m not modern enough, because it strikes me that there’s something very wrong with a society that calls this art. Have we come this far from our agricultural roots, that a field of corn becomes an abstraction, a “potent metaphor . . . [for] these very questions, polemics, arguments and discoveries”? I’m thankful that my children live in an area where a field of corn is a field of corn, and if it comes to be a metaphor for something else in their lives, it will be a private metaphor built on personal associations, and not an urban construct foisted on them by a foundation-funded, overeducated artiste who knows how to play the game and milk the system. Grrrrrr!

Thanks to Alexander Trevi of Pruned for bringing this to my attention.

*Update: I take it back. New York beat them to it–with wheat.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

Comments on this entry are closed.

Juantara October 21, 2005, 10:59 pm

I believe the name ‘Not A Cornfield’ refers in part to the fact that it is much more than just a cornfield. It is not your regular cornfield that, on any given week, sees up to 2500 visitors, hundreds of school children learning about nature, an open-air film night, drumcircles, storytelling and campfires deep into the night.
Looking a little more deeply this project actually tries to directly address the fact that there is an enormous disconnect from nature in this society. It is making a statement about that, sparking discussion and that is part of why it can be called art.
The corn isn’t not-edible because it is solely ‘ornamental’ but because the soil is thought to be poluted. Better safe than sorry. There are many other uses for corn however and the project will experiment with many.

Don October 12, 2005, 6:46 pm

Did you see that the grant for this temporary project was 3 MILLION dollars? Sick!
Don

Kathy Purdy October 12, 2005, 5:57 pm

Judy,
The question for me was not if the cornfield was beautiful, but if it was art. Surely you’ve seen aerial photos where they’ve planted a cornfield in such a way as to make a design? I have no quarrel with calling that art–if the design doesn’t thrill me, I can at least appreciate the skill that went into it. But “Not a Cornfield” strikes me as being akin to the emperor’s new clothes. He’s wearing clothes because we say he’s wearing clothes. It’s art–and not a cornfield–because we say it’s art.

Jenn,
I guess my ignorance is showing. I thought brownfield was just an artsy way of saying empty lot. Does it have a more technical meaning than that? And I hadn’t considered contaminated soil. Probably non-edible plants were the way to go.

OldRoses,
I’m not sure it was a waste of money. If a city has a large tract of land that it plans to build a museum on, but hasn’t finalized the plans for, planting some kind of temporary ground cover on that land seems like a very practical thing to do. As I explained to Judy, it just bugs me that they call it art. I don’t see any difference between this “Not a Cornfield” and the one around the corner from me, except the art installation is covers more ground.

OldRoses October 11, 2005, 11:47 pm

This is what happens when people have too much money and not enough to do. I agree, Kathy, what a waste. Absolutely disgraceful. Both projects. Total vanity on the part of the “artists”. Americans have not only lost touch with their agricultural roots but also with Nature. How sad.

jenn October 11, 2005, 3:33 pm

I’m not certain that you’d want to produce food crops on a brownfield. At least not without due consideration of what that ‘brown’ contains and how it might contaminate the crop.

While I apreciate the 1,500 truckloads of topsoil, this article does not give me a good idea of just how he ‘cleaned’ the 32 acres of existing and potentially contaminated soil.

Most heavily contaminated brownfield sites require the soil to be striped and processed – often by running it through a furnace with exhast scrubbers – which tends to produce an end product with only a vague resemblance to what a gardener calls ‘soil.’

Now I am a native of the motor city, and it may be our brownfields are more toxic than most… but I’d want to know a lot about the site if I was going to eat food from it.

I also wonder how much public access each project provided to the cities in question. Certainly that long corridor in the corn was mighty empty, no?

Judith Miller October 10, 2005, 8:06 pm

Well. . . having seen plenty of beautiful pictures of cornfields–which aren’t cornfields but pictures thereof, I can see that there might be beauty in it. I grow Zea mays japonica quadricolor just for its beauty–it’s a fieldy corn variety that never matures here enough to ripen seed but it’s beautiful anyway.

That’s one of the things about art–much as everyone has his/her own opinion, each piece can’t be everything, or about every idea. Maybe next time it can be purely edible varieties.

I didn’t read the artists’ statement–as a potter & weaver I come to things much more from the visual & tactile sides and rarely read statements (I don’t need to read the label on the juice to know if I liked drinking it)–but that said, maybe you could contact the artist and raise the question.

And, just to contradict myself (Pisces!) and agree with you, I also must say I can’t stand Andy Goldsworthy’s ‘earth art’. He seems to be taking credit for rocks and ice and water, or deciding his arrangements of nature are better than nature’s. Overweening pride, that, IMHO.