Sprawl (corn) 2011

When I began to model three figures many years ago I didn’t know exactly where the activity would lead me. The word “sprawl” related to two separate meanings. I had just moved into an older home outside of Flint and became more aware of urban sprawl. Former farm fields transformed into condos and single family homes within months. Some of these now sit vacant since the downturn in the economy. The second concept related to the word “sprawl” had to do with the high murder rate in Flint. This statistic seemed to haunt Flint and still does eight years later. So this single word determined the pose that the models would take. I asked each to dress in their favorite clothing so that they contributed something to the overall effect. 

The piece was always about the vulnerability of the young people who grew up in this city and the surrounds. Once a stable environment with exemplary primary and secondary schools, the rapid loss of manufacturing jobs has lead to instability in so many lives. Another version of these portraits in terracotta, with I-beams looming over the people, addresses the roll of institutions in holding them back.

For a long time I thought about what the figures would be cast in. I had been thinking of birdseed for some time as a symbol of compassion. When I began researching I found that seed could be held together with gelatin, peanut butter or suet. I settled on gelatin because it wouldn’t alter the color of the feed. I decided to use dried corn instead of seed because it would attract mammals as well as birds.

Several weeks ago we completed the casting of the three figures in corn and gelatin to place on the ground in my front yard. The images of the deer and people interacting with the pieces came from a wildlife camera placed on a tree nearby. Much like I discovered when I drew the porch bugs, the presence of the deer remind me that a whole other world of which I’m unaware exists around my home.

I would like the viewers of this piece to see the vulnerability of these young people. Over the course of several months, they will disappear as deer and other animals come by at night to feed. But also, I see these young people as giving of themselves, of being themselves the compassionate ones. I have a lot of respect for my students here. They have overcome many hardships to come to college and they are very resilient.