Ron Benner & Jeff Thomas – Corn = Life: The Power of Naming

Ron Benner, Jeff Thomas, Corn = Life: The Power of Naming, 2024, photographic/garden installation view, Steelcase Art Projects, Markham, ON. Photo credit Olivia Mossuto.

Ron Benner and Jeff Thomas
Corn = Life: The Power of Naming

Curated by Yuluo Wei
June 23 – October 26, 2024
Public Opening Reception: Sunday, June 23, 2024, 2 – 4pm
Location: 248 Steelcase Rd. E, Markham (Free onsite parking)

Industrial Arts Sculpture Garden 2024 presents a unique fusion of two artists’ visions that interweaves living native plants with evocative historical imagery. Curated by Yuluo Wei and presented by Steelcase Art Projects, this artwork is a tribute to Indigenous peoples’ agricultural and cultural heritage.

At its heart lies a striking white-purple trellis, an homage to the 1613 Two Row Treaty–a foundational agreement between Dutch settlers and Thomas’ Haudenosaunee ancestors. Benner plants a rich tapestry of culturally significant native American plants and corn, including varieties Peruvian Purple Maize, Mandan Bride, Assiniboian Flint, and Iroquoian Rainbow, which grow to embrace the structure. These are accompanied by tomatoes, chilli peppers, marigolds, sunflowers and many others, creating a rich flora that honours its Indigenous origins.

Jeff Thomas’ photographs connect deeply with Ron Benner’s garden and serve as personal and collective contemplation on the environmental and societal ramifications of broken promises. The Two Row Treaty symbolizes mutual recognition and autonomy. Reflecting this spirit, both artists contribute to the garden with a sense of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence.

This dynamic and contemplative space invites viewers to be part of a living document. May it inspire new pathways towards a harmonious coexistence.

Ron Benner, Jeff Thomas, Corn = Life: The Power of Naming, 2024, photographic/garden installation view, Steelcase Art Projects, Markham, ON. Photo credit Olivia Mossuto.

Public Programs

Picnic with Ron Benner
Listening to Ron Benner’s talk while enjoying a fun and engaged picnic with friends.
Date to be announced.

Picnic with Yuluo Wei
Participating in the curatorial talk while enjoying a fun and engaged picnic with friends.
Date to be announced.

Corn Roast
Monday, September 30, 2024, 11am – 1pm

Throughout the summer, the garden has blossomed into an abundance of flowers and edible plants. Join us for an unforgettable community gathering at Ron Benner and Jeff Thomas’ renowned photographic and garden installation. Benner will host a lively Corn Roast, offering delicious roasted corn on the cob, generously topped with butter, salt, Mexican chili powder, and a splash of fresh lime juice.

This unique event blends elements of sculpture, installation, and performance art. Attendees will experience Benner’s iconic roving corn-roasting wagon, Maiz Barbacoa. Originally commissioned for Toronto’s first Scotiabank Nuit Blanche in 2006, Maiz Barbacoa features captivating images of corn roasters from around the globe and displays the names of corn in over 50 languages.

The event is free and all are welcome.

Education Program
​​In tandem with Corn = Life: The Power of Naming, Steelcase Art Projects will facilitate weekly summer Junior Placemaker program over three weeks, for youth volunteers of age 14-18. More information will be available on the website and social media by early July. For more information and to apply, please email steelcaseartprojects@gmail.com.

(Top Left) Jeff Thomas, Corn = Life, 2021, 30” x 92”, pigment print on aluminum. Courtesy of the artist. (Bottom Left) Jeff Thomas, Broken Treaties, 2021, 30” x 92”, pigment print on aluminum. Courtesy of the artist. (Right) Ron Benner, Jeff Thomas, Corn = Life: The Power of Naming, 2024, photographic/garden installation view, Steelcase Art Projects, Markham, ON. Photo credit Yuluo Wei.

About the Artists

Ron Benner is an internationally recognized Canadian artist whose longstanding practice investigates the history and political economy of food cultures. Benner originally studied agriculture engineering at the University of Guelph in 1969/70. Finding himself ethically opposed to industrial agriculture and bioengineering, he began to travel and research the politics of food. Benner’s mixed media installation works, including commissions of photographic-garden installations, have been shown in solo and group exhibitions at Museum London, the Art Gallery of Ontario, Western University, Wilfrid Laurier University, and many other galleries, museums and cultural institutions in Canada and internationally.

His work is included in numerous public collections both in Canada and internationally, including the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Ontario. He has recently been appointed artist in residence in the Department of Environmental Science at the University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, 2020-2021, Benner resides in London, Ontario, on the traditional lands of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Lúnaapéewak and Chonnonton Nations.

Jeff Thomas is an urban-based Iroquois, self-taught photo-based story teller, writer, public speaker and curator, living in Ottawa, Ontario, and has works in major collections in Canada, the United States, and Europe. Jeff’s most recent solo exhibitions were in University of Southern Illinois, Art Gallery of Mississauga, Wanuskewin Heritage Park (Saskatoon), and Stephen Bulger Gallery (Toronto). Thomas has also been in many group shows, including The Family Camera, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto; Tributes + Tributaries, 1971-1989, Art Gallery of Ontario; Land/Slide: Possible Futures, Markham, Ontario; SAKAHAN, National Gallery of Canada; UNMASKING: Arthur Renwick, Adrian Stimson, Jeff Thomas, Canadian Cultural Centre, Paris, France. He was awarded the Canada Council’s Duke and Duchess of York Award in Photography (1998), Royal Canadian Academy of Art (2008), The Karsh Award in photography (2008), the REVAL Indigenous Art Award (2017), and the Canada Council Governor General’s Award for Visual and Media Arts (2019).

Acknowledgement

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support from the Ontario Arts Council.

The artists thank the following for their assistance in the production of this installation: Olivia Mossuto, Jamelie Hassan, Zein Saadani-Gordon, John Riley, and Ross Bell.

Steelcase Art Projects
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Industrial Arts
Markham, Ontario

Accessibility: The public art space is accessible.

Industrial Arts is a site comprising multiple industrial units on a 5-acre site in Markham, hosting tenants involved in light manufacturing processes.

Steelcase Art Projects is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to transform Industrial Arts into a site for artistic experimentation through collaborations, commissions and projects. Working with our tenants and with the surrounding community, we are connecting business to the arts through unconventional collaborations in the industrial realm.