Saturday, January 25, 2014

Maize Y Mas: From Mother to Monster?

--> Corn was at the heart of Mesoamerican culture. It was more than a staple food, but a part of the majority of meals and festivals and rituals were organized around its planting and harvest. Similarly, today, corn plays a central role in U.S. farming economy and in U.S. diets, although its role in the food we eat is hidden—we don’t eat the whole food but its processed byproducts, as an ingredient in food we buy or, as the main food for the animals we eat, even when its not good for them, we subsist on it through meat. Whereas corn comes in hundreds of varietals and was represented by deities colored blue, white, red and yellow to honor the wide variety of corn, today in the U.S. we basically eat the same corn cob over and over and over: nearly 100% of corn in the U.S. is GM--and is actually registered as a pesticide with the EPA. The wind doesn’t follow the confines of geopolitical borders and GM pollen has spread into Mexican corn crops. What was once celebrated as both creator and mother has been processed into something terribly unhealthy and dangerous for consumers.Mexico has recognized this threat by  temporarily banning GMO corn.

San Jose's MACLA has also recognized this shift in corn from giver of life to threat in it's current show, Maize Y Mas: From Mother to Monster. In the curated show featuring Yvonne Escalante, Yolanda Guerra, Fernando Mastrangelo, Viva Paredes, and Jorge Rojas, MACLA explores corn's  place in our culture across time.

Mastrangelo presented This Too Shall Pass,a stature of the Virgin Mary made entirely out of corn. Corn kernals form the base and her body and yellow corn meal adds more detail to the top of her. It is a commentary on the blending of Mesoamerican and Catholic ideologies--both corn and the Virgin Mary play an important role in origin myths and are good omens and the two became mythologically linked in some cultures. A subtler layer of meaning in the pieces points to the Spanish Conquest and the contemporary conquest of agribusiness over corn in the making of GM corn.

Paredes made a series of glass vases which suggest the shape of corn and filled each of them with the kernels of different corn varietals. She fills an entire wall with them, and the kernels are of all different shapes, sizes and colors--from red to blue, yellow, white and all shades in between. It makes me realize, that, besides how dangerous GMO corn is, just how bland the corn is which we have access to in this country. Paredes' installation also suggests a seed bank of sorts, a living memory of the long, rich history of corn but also the delicate state that corn is in right now as GMO corn pollen can be contained about as easily as the wind.

Across the room, the flip side to Paredes' heirloom kernels is a series of small jars containing the toxic products of corn--items which are no longer considered food, but ingredients: corn syrup, cornstarch, the kernels of GM corn. Items which are not healthy to ingest yet infiltrate our food system.
Escalante presented a series of pieces which combine the essence of corn and their place in our culture with weapons--bullets, missiles and grenades. With this combination, she comments on the ease of destruction corn now has on our society and culture.

In her popcorn stand, instead of filling it with popcorn, she fills with casts of corn to which he had added the fins a missile has. They are falling out of the popper, much like popcorn does as the kernels puff open and spill over, but these missiles are hitting the floor and exploding. Then, in Kernel of Truth, Escalante makes bullets, filling resin with corn kernels and setting them in metal casings. From a distance, they look just like bullets but up close they contain life. Her combination of life and creation in the corn and destruction and death of the weapons perfectly sums up the state that corn is in--it is still a staple in our food and still a part of our culture but as more and more of it is GMO, it is no longer something which promises health and life, but disease and danger.

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