[ISEA2011] Paper: Pat Badani – A maze about maize: An Amerindian Divinity and its Transgenic Avatars


This paper discusses a project that explores biodiversity at the intersection of ancient and contemporary science and technologies. It responds to the following questions: “Where is corn growing? Where is it going? And, why should I care?” It investigates current practices of resource conservation, environmental preservation, sustainable technologies and biodiversity protection in Mexico, the USA and Canada. Presented as a multi-modal project incorporating electronic media, the project is designed as a maze about maize, because nothing is clear-cut or simple when it comes to the pros and cons of agro-practices today. The complex foundational issues and convoluted stakes derive from history, ethnology, sociology, biopolitics, law and intellectual property, agronomy, ecology, science, and technology of maize.

The essay discusses the plant’s evolution from its status as Amerindian divinity, to its contemporary transgenic avatars in the Americas. The author draws on her knowledge of sacred native beliefs and rituals to grow bountiful maize in Mexico where she lived in the 80s, as well as those practiced by ancient Southwestern Amerindians. She also discusses how her interest in corn grew during her years in academia at a university in the heart of the Corn Belt in Illinois (USA) where she interviewed area specialists about the impact of monocultures on economies and livelihoods resulting from the expansion of fields of transgenic yellow corn that cater to a growing industry of feedstock for cattle, corn fructose for foodstuffs, and bioproducts such as corn plastics (PLA) and corn ethanol.

The author investigates several positions: maize as part of the spiritual, social and economic fabric bonding indigenous cultures today in Mexico (the center of diverse corn in Mesoamerica); maize as lucrative commercial product for exploitation by multinational industries; and finally maize as savior plant in a society polluted by its own waste and quickly depleting non-renewable resources. By investigating these cross-sections in time and place, the paper exposes why should one care about maize. It unravels the myths and realities behind the multiple viewpoints and discordant voices about the subject, and speculates on possible alliances.

  • Pat Badani, USA, is an artist, researcher, educator and writer exploring the relationship between new media and social practice. Currently she is working on two projects involving transdisciplinary research and exchange. She is director of “Al-Grano,” a project investigating GM maize contamination in Mexico (forthcoming is a feature article about the project in “Nouvelle Revue d’Esthétique,” by Catherine Bédard, Paris.) Badani is also international network research partner in the collaborative project “RhyCycling – Esthetics of sustainability in the Basel border area,” funded by The Swiss National Science Foundation.Badani has received over twenty grants and commissions for her work. In 2002 she was awarded a major one-year Canada Council Research Grant to develop her multi-sited new media project “Where are you from?_Stories” dealing with transcultural migration. Her works and research are showcased in international venues such as: ISEA2000 (Paris, France) and ISEA2009 (Belfast, N. Ireland); FILE – International Electronic Festival & Symposium (Brazil); Espacio Fundación Telefónica (Argentina); Watershed Media Center (UK); MECAD Media Art Center (Spain); New Forms Festival, Hexagram Research Institute, Owens University Art Gallery, and Museum  London (Canada); Museo de Arte Moderno, Museo Universitario del Chopo, and Museo de Monterrey (Mexico); Canadian Cultural Center, Maison de l’Amérique Latine, and Artelogie/EHESS (France). Essays about Badani’s works have been published in catalogues, art-magazines, and in books. Her own essays on new media and interculturality have been published in both English and Spanish languages in online and print journals, and in books. Badani has acted as peer-reviewer for several publications and symposia. Currently, she is Editor in Chief of “Media-N, Journal of the New Media Caucus.” She has lectured and occupied full-time academic positions in the USA where she created and taught the first Integrated Media curriculum in the School of Art at Illinois State University. She was also full time lecturer and Acting Director of the Interdisciplinary Media Arts MFA program at Columbia College Chicago. Badani is a member of LEF (Leonardo Education Forum); NMC (New Media Caucus); CAA (College Art Association); AICA-USA (International Association of Art Critics), and IVSA (International Visual Sociology Association). newmediacaucus.org          patbadani.net

Full text (PDF) p. 162-167