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These are the real children of the corn—-the ones who grow up poor in small agricultural towns, who drop out of school because their future is bleak, who drink because there’s nothing better to do. Transformer Gallery’s latest installation brings us to their hangout: the cornfield, where illicit activities can be easily concealed, and hours can be spent smoking or flirting or fighting or doing nothing at all. The installation by Nancy Bannon, part of Transformer’s Sustainability Lab series, hosted two days of performances last week in which audiences were fully immersed in a darkened gallery metamorphosed into a field of 7-foot-tall sculpted cornstalks. Though performances have ended, visitors can walk through the field and soundscape through Saturday.
Your reaction to the cornfield may depend on where you’re from. Culturally, the field and the characters that inhabit it are a world away from cosmopolitan D.C., but not so distant geographically. “Cornfield” also plays up our associations with these sometimes-eerie locations. To some people, they’re peaceful places where food is grown, and to others, they’re the site of crop circles, or the last thing the pretty blonde girl in a slasher movie will ever see. Bannon walks this line with the three actors who inhabited the space, and whom the audience voyeuristically peers through stalks and husks to watch two young men struggle with their listlessness and misdirected anger, while their female friend tries to fend for herself through their come-ons and taunts.
This being Sustainability Lab, the exhibit is also subtly critical of factory farming and the monocrop economy that takes farmers further and further away from traditional techniques. Bannon implies that these practices have turned farm towns into rural wastelands, full of undereducated and underemployed young people whose problems will continue through generations. A field of corn may be a symbol of government subsidies and obesity in Washington, but for these young people, it’s just a place to go and think about how there’s nowhere better to go.
See “Cornfield” from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, to May 29 at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW. Free. 202-483-1102. Photo by Joshua Yospyn.