by Don Krug
Malcolm Cochran teaches sculpture in the Art Department at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. He holds an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, MI and an MA and BA from Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. He is probably best known in the midwest for Field of Corn (with Osage Orange), an ecological public art work in Dublin, Ohio, created with funding from the Dublin Arts Council. The two-acre park was created by Cochran in cooperation with the City Park and Recreation Department and with landscape architects Stephen Drown and James Hiss.
The 109 six-foot giant ears of corn stand in thirteen diagonal rowson two acres at the Sam and Eulalia Frantz Park. Three different molds wereused to create the human-size ears, made of pre-cast white concrete. Artcritic Barbara Zuck writes that "Cochran chose concrete for his kernels because of its durability and because it is a prevalent building material [most of Dublin's business and industrial areas are constructed with formed white concrete]. . . . I have enjoyed my share of Ohio white corn. Cochran's white corn does not have that healthy glow. This particular symbolism maybe sly but certainly can be grasped by the unschooled art fancier. "Placemarkers set in bronze discuss the history of the land, past farming practices, and how corn was cultivated by indigenous people and European settlers in the region over the years. An existing row of Osage orange trees that date to the 19th century defines one end of the field, along with an additional row planted for the project.
All public art yields many interpretations, and Field of Corn was controversial from the start. Cochran's ecological design has been interpreted by Dublin residents in a variety of ways. Some local residents see the field of concrete corn as a graveyard signifying the death of the community's fertile soil and farm productivity. Some people are skeptical that it will ever be accepted: "How long before someone spray-paints graffiti on the ears?" Still others have looked at the concrete corn as a positive metaphor of a time-gone-by when the rich farm land yielded a healthy lifestyle and economic prosperity. Zuck (1994) points out, "Walking between Cochran's oversize rows of corn, as the traffic whizzes by, I could not ponder how fast Dublin--central Ohio--have grown in the past 15 years. Everywhere, developments encroach on gracious brick homes, fields and barns of the not-too-distant past." Perhaps Janet Jordan, the City Park and Recreation Department Director (1996) said it best when she stated, "Whether you embrace it or not, it makes you think. That's one of the most important functions of public art." The materials Cochran selected are layered with meanings. His juxtaposition of nature (the park/corn field) and culture (concrete/progress) reflect social tensions that exist in rural, suburban, and urban areas about differences in evolving ways of living associated with political economic development.
Field of Corn is typical of Cochran's work in that it deals withthe history of a people in a particular place. Many of his sculptural installations involve details of a site's oral history. Cochran believes the Field is "a monument to the history of farming in Dublin and . . . a place of reflection about land use in this region." (Cochran in Hubble-Smith,1994, p. 1) The field honors Sam Frantz, who owned the land and experimented with corn hybridization. It is about Dublin's changing landscape, land use, and changing identity from a rural town to a suburban city.
Much of Cochran's other art work also deals with environmental issues.Chapels of Ease, in Atlanta, uses traditional and indigenous materialsin a series of simple doorway shelters. In Maine addresses a region's seasonal climate. The artist placed open freezer boxes on an outline ofthe state of Maine. Made from cow hair and wax, Ohio Chimney is reminiscent of "a home that no longer exists, of a community that is lost." (Rogers, 1994, p. 3) Other works recall the architecture of former structures built at particular locales.
Cochran's art works bring past experiences of the environment to our attention. The impact of human beings on the land is a strong issue in his work. Artificial constructs are compared to the naturalness of the site. He focuses on the living and the dead simultaneously. Sarah J. Rogers wrote,"Sculptor Malcolm Cochran is similarly attracted to the powerful meanings of vernacular sites and buildings, which he then gives form through very direct, material means." (Rogers, 1994, p. 3)
Regarding a new work proposed for construction at a reclaimed mining site, Malcolm Cochran stated, "Several aspects of this [history of settlements in this region] intrigue me, the realization that the site now known as the Wilds was once predominantly family farms and small villages, that there were a number of churches and schools in the area, that what we now see as sweeping plains was more rugged terrain. Studying the photographs of these settlements and hearing oral life narratives of the area has made me aware of a now invisible former life of the site." (The Wilds,1996) Cochran's sculpture is eloquent and straightforward, direct but multilayered in its implications. His insight is tempered by ambiguity, which invites each viewer to interpret the artwork personally.
Cochran, M., et al. (1990). Awards in the Visual Arts 9,Winston-Salem,NC: Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art.
Dublin Arts Council. (no date). Explore Dublin's museum withoutwalls.Dublin, OH: Ohio Arts Council.
Hubble-Smith, J. (1994). Field of corn (with osage oranges). Dublin,OH: Dublin Arts Council.
Marx, M. (July 30, 1994). Sculpture's harvest set for October. TheColumbus Dispatch, Cl.
Marx, M. (October 31, 1994). Dublin's 'Field of Corn' in full bloom.The Columbus Dispatch, Cl.
The Museum of Modern Art. (1994). The language of place. Saitama,Japan: The Museum of Modern Art.
Rogers, S.J. (1994). The language of place. Columbus, OH: OhioArts Council.
The Wilds. (1996). BioScapes, Catalogue of maquettes. Cimberland,OH: The Wilds.
Zuck, B. (November 20, 1994). Dublin cornfield holds kernels of truth.The Columbus Dispatch.