From the first time I stepped foot on the land that we now call Small Pond Arts, I saw a show happening here.
We visited the property for the first time in the fall of 2009 while searching for the perfect place for our dream to take hold. As we walked the paths in the woods, I saw not only myself here, but I saw future artists and audiences here. The shape and layout of the property would be perfect for a site-specific travelling performance. On July 24, 2011, this dream was finally realized with Cornography. My vision was for an afternoon of art about food, where audiences would be led from location to location to discover theatre, music, puppetry, installation and visual art.
Illustration by Milé Murtanovski
I put out a call for submissions inviting artists of any discipline to respond to the theme of “our twisted relationship with food.” I have always been a lover of food, and the subject has been much on my mind since moving to the agricultural area of Prince Edward County. I’ve watched too many documentaries and read too many books about our modern food system, which is so deeply dysfunctional and fragile. Since we moved here we have grown closer to the food system; within our first year at Small Pond we started growing some of our own food, and after becoming friends with some local farmers we've gained a greater appreciation for the work that they do. There is so much to say on the subject of food that I wasn’t too surprised when almost 40 artists responded to the call with a dazzling variety of takes on the theme. As the months went by, the pieces of Cornography fell into place one by one, and the shape of the day took form.
Out-of-town artists started arriving a few days before the show and Small Pond was once again a veritable hive of activity, with elaborate installations being built, rehearsals taking place, artwork being delivered, and much mowing of paths and performance areas. Then there were the preparations for the meal; if we were going to have 40 artists doing a show about food, we obviously had to feed them, and we had to do it in style. We planned for the day to conclude in The Great Artists’ Feast, a dinner party held in their honour.
You never know how these things are going to turn out. All you can do is be as prepared as possible and hope for the best. The day finally arrived and the weather was glorious. All the artists showed up. And, rather importantly, so did the audience. The visual art was displayed in the barn, and the show began with a dozen visual artists introducing themselves and their work. The audience was then led to a Punch and Judy show performed by myself and Trevor Jablonowski, wherein the notorious puppet Punch falls in love with a cob of corn, much to Judy’s misfortune. The audience actually booed at one point – what a great compliment!
Two artists from Florida, Rachael Kerley and Giang Pham, had arrived a few days previous on a week-long artist residency. Their sensual, interactive installation Sacrament, Wash, Passage, Altar took place in the ‘salon du silo,’ the garden area that surrounds the silo. It was a meditation on the grains of eastern and western cultures: corn and rice. At Sacrament people were given small bags of pop corn and Rice Krispie squares to munch on; at the Wash station they were offered (and often accepted) a corn oil and rice foot rub; in Passage they walked on a path of rice and corn; and at Altar they were met with an array of glass jars containing oil, water and grains.
Our good friends Bay Woodyard and Gavin North of Honey Pie Hives and Herbals performed a puppet-filled Travelling Medicine Show.
|The Traveling Medicine Show|
Local songstress Melissa Larkin performed next, filling the art barn with the sound of her tantalizing music and spoken word. The audience was then led to the spot behind our house, where Guy Doucette, Pat Larkin and Koren Bellman performed a musical puppet piece called Doctor Frankornstein and the Stalking Terror.
In the back field our audience met Mary Macdonald and her installation to make lasting. Mary had been at Small Pond every day that week, mostly perched atop a ladder in our back field as she built a large cage of buckthorn branches. During Cornography people were invited to write their favourite foods on recipe cards which were hung from the structure.
I had invited local visual artist Chrissy Poitras of Sparkbox Studio to participate in Cornography, and was surprised and delighted when she told me she wanted to do a piece of performance art. For the performance we laid down a long runway of white felt in the middle of a tall field of grass. People were asked to take off their shoes and walk down the carpet to where Chrissy was waiting for them, wearing a white dress and blindfold. She then proceeded to eat a pomegranate as messily as she could. The audience fell completely silent, mesmerized by the scenario; a little bit of magic taking place under the big blue sky.
|Chrissy Poitras just prior to her performance|
Jeff Keary gave a lecture on the subject of salt and its insidious nature. Then Katy McIntyre led a piece we called Cornfield of Dreams. She passed out pens and paper corn cobs to people and asked them to finish the sentence “My dream of the future of food is…” Once they’d written their dream, they held them aloft and were led in a procession through the woods, passing young fiddler Luke Norton. The woods open out to a huge field where people "planted" their dreams atop stakes.
|The procession of dreams. Photo by Phil Norton.|
|Luke Norton fiddles in the woods.|
|"My dream for the future of food is... a garden for every home."|
Our final act of the day was Arlene Bishop, a musician I have admired from afar for years. Arlene’s music is quite simply spell-binding; lucky for us, she’ll be back at Small Pond August 26, 27 and 28 as the musical guest for our shadow puppetry play The History of Shadows.
The Cornography performances and programming may have been over, but there was still one final act: we had to eat! Long tables were put end to end in the shade of the Manitoba Maple in the front yard, and an abundant buffet of local food (much of it from our own garden!) was laid out. The Great Artists’ Feast began, and it was so satisfying to sit back and watch all the artists sitting shoulder to shoulder with one another, breaking bread. The meal was put together by one of my oldest and dearest friends, Tanis De Sa Pereira and her two teenagers, Spencer and Sydnie. Not only are they great cooks, but having them play such an integral role in the day just added to the warm feeling of being amidst family.
As you can imagine, it was a full, full day – full of energy and imagery and ideas, full of friends and laughter and surprises. Our community was incredibly receptive to Cornography; clearly we have touched on a subject matter which is vital and relevant to them. The quality and scope of the art was undoubtedly impressive. Therefore Milé and I have already decided that we will do it all over again; artists, start simmering your ideas and stay tuned for details about Cornography 2012, coming to Small Pond next July!
Huge thanks to everyone who participated in Cornography, artists and audience alike. You have shown us what is possible, and we are forever grateful for all that you brought to the table.