This past weekend several events were occurring around the London, Ontario area. It was Car Free weekend downtown – a festival that occurred several times throughout the summer in which some streets were closed to vehicular traffic and people were encouraged to use alternate forms of transportation. There have been all kinds of special events in conjunction with these car free days – concerts, sidewalk sales, open houses at the museum and other such attractions and more.
It was also Doors Open weekend. Doors Open takes place throughout the province (different areas do it at different times of the year) and historical, cultural, heritage, and other such attractions are open free of charge, allowing people to get out and go to places they might not normally attend. In addition, some sites open to the public for that weekend only when they are closed the remainder of the year and others open up areas where they might not normally allow public access – the backstage area of a theatre or the attic of a historical house for example. In this case, at the museum, we were allowed to visit the vaults and check out many of the historical artefacts contained within. Fascinating!
I went to one of my favourite places in town: Museum London. One of the events occurring there was their annual corn roast, put on by artist Ron Benner. Ron is an artist who was born here in London. He studied agricultural engineering for a brief time at university and has been interested in indigenous cultures, particularly of Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia and preserving and sharing local customs and traditions.
This pond and garden is part of a series of artwork he began in 1984 called As the Crow Flies. It includes, along with the pond and plant life, shadow boxes, photographs (you can see some of them there jutting out of the pond), and found objects. Benner travelled south from London along the longitudinal meridian 81.14 through places such as Port Stanley, Ontario; Cape Sable, Florida; Playa Larga, Bay of Pigs, Cuba; Puerto Mutis, Panama and Talara; and Punta Parinas, Peru.
As you move from one end of the pond to the other, you are making a virtual trip along the meridian from London to Peru and each stop along the way is represented by photographs and indigenous plants from each spot.
Ron maintains the pond, the plant life, and even the fish in it, caring for them over the winter months and setting it up again each spring. At times, Ron has even grown some corn back in this garden – corn which he then used for the annual corn roast.
The corn roast itself is another representation of Benner’s art and interests in world cultures. The cart, Maize Barbacoa, is handmade and along with the flags hanging from it, displays images of corn roasters from around the world, corn plants, and the word corn in 45 languages.
Ron hands out freshly roasted corn (free of charge!) – I must say the best corn I’ve ever had, grilled in its husk, then without, and seasoned with your choice of butter, salt, fresh squeezed lime juice, and chili powder (or d, all of the above like I did) – as a means of calling attention to the importance of corn throughout the world; its history and cultural role. I noticed as I sat there eating my corn that not only was this event a sharing of cultures, it was a coming together of cultures as well. There were people around me from all over the world, a variety of languages being spoken, but most of all, a community, gathering, sharing some food, and laughing together in the sunshine. It was a beautiful irony.