“DCMJ co-founder Nikolas Schiller had Fishy Apple for ages.”
For Sale: One Car And Its 250-Pound Ear Of ‘Fishy Corn’
By Rachel Sadon
For sale: one 250-pound ear of corn, made of bent steel, fiberglass, and chicken wire. Resembles a fish. Very well-traveled. Bit of a local celebrity. Comes with a Twitter account. Also, a free car.
A farmer out in Pennsylvania has his eye on it. So does an artist in Mount Pleasant. But anyone can make an offer. The current high bid for the “world’s best hood ornament” is $1,001.
Cesar Maxit put his creation, Fishy Corn, on eBay yesterday after six years of eliciting smiles and head scratches around the coRuntry. He built it at the behest of a GMO labeling campaign sponsored by Dr. Bronner’s, the idea being that there’s something “fishy” about genetically modified foods.
It was such a hit, traveling as a support car for a walk from New York to D.C. and on a road trip to California, that Maxit was commissioned to build more. And so Fishy Tomato, Fishy Soybean, Fishy Apple, and Fishy Sugar Beet were born sometime around 2012.
In between their many jaunts to other states, Washingtonians have grown used to seeing them around town (the cars even earned their own Washington Post story a few years ago). They’ve taken scores of road trips together and apart. They’ve inspired thousands of conversations about genetically modified foods. They’ve regularly communicated on Twitter, though the chatter has died down in recent years.
In truth, the gang has been in the process of breaking up for a while. After the second car mounted with the apple broke down, a mechanic unbolted the sculpture and junked the car. As far as Maxit knows, Fishy Apple is still in the mechanic’s yard, hanging out somewhere in Ohio. A Boston-based activist had been using the tomato car for a while as part of a GMO-labeling campaign there. He’s reticent to drive it back to D.C., though, after a mechanic warned him to keep it off the road (“I’ve got a kid,” he told Maxit, by way of explanation). So Fishy Tomato is a Massachusetts resident for the time being.
Maxit came back into possession of Fishy Soybean just yesterday, but he’s had the corn and sugar beet cars alternately parked in Adams Morgan and at his studio in Northeast’s Union Arts. He packed up that studio this week, after the collective lost its bid to stave off development into a boutique hotel. Maxit needs to get the cars out of the parking lot, too.
“I live in D.C. I rarely drive a car, but I have five cars to my name. You start racking up tickets pretty quick,” he says, so fed up with owning vehicles that he’s even considering getting rid of the van he uses to transport art. “I’m running out of time.”
So Maxit put the feelers out there with Fishy Corn, seeing if anyone would bite on a $200 bid.
The farmer put in the first offer and it’s gone up from there. “If it ends up with him I’d be really happy,” the artist says. “I mean I’d be happy with anyone.”
He’s still figuring out what exactly to do with Fishy Sugar Beet (2013’s ugliest car in America) and Fishy Soybean. A number of people have said the soybean kind of looks dragon-esque or like a bumpy green seahorse, so he’s gotten in touch with the Adams Morgan BID to see if they’d like to re-brand the character and erect it somewhere, perhaps in a park (no word back yet). He’s also reached out to the Smithsonian Museum of American History, which has asked him to donate protest art in the past. If there’s no takers, they may end up on eBay, too.
The previous drivers of the fishy fleet are like a who’s who of D.C.’s activist set. DCMJ co-founder Nikolas Schiller had Fishy Apple for ages. Environmentalist (and admiral of the FishyFood fleet) Rica Madrid handed over the keys to Fishy Soybean yesterday. Adam Eidinger was the original owner of Fishy Corn. Projection artist Robin Bell rode around town in Fishy Tomato for two years.
“It was by far my favorite vehicle I’ve ever owned,” Bell says. When he had the car, it became a fixture near the Mount Pleasant farmers market. Others have had semi-permanent homes in Adams Morgan, U Street, and Shaw.
It all sprang from letting one man’s imagination run wild. Originally Maxit had just been asked to paint a car. But he had an idea for a sculpture that he brought to Eidinger, who was managing the campaign. Maxit got the go ahead, with a warning not to make it too big (he promptly ignored the warning).
As the group of activists traveled around with Fishy Corn, arguing that foods with GMO ingredients should be labeled, the sculpture “just jumped right to the issue,” Eidinger says. “It’s the icebreaker.”
It was so successful the campaign commissioned 10 more, though only five got built (one of the never-realized dream: Fishy Bagel, meant to represent genetically modified wheat).
“People would just ask us what it was, and why we were doing it. We had really good discussions and conversations. You could tell most people would just see it and laugh,” Bell says. “It’s the perfect form of arts activism.”
Fishy Corn and his compatriots have since been immortalized in a comic strip and puppets, and they are better traveled than most Americans, this author included. He’s driven back and forth across the country three times, with extended stints in Seattle, California, and Oregon, in addition to a couple of trips to the Monsanto headquarters in St. Louis and jaunts to Houston, Asheville, and Miami.
That’s also why the car is on its last legs.
“It has issues; it does leak,” Eidiner says. “When you start cutting up a roof of a car, it doesn’t always turn out that good. It’s funky, but I’m impressed it’s still driving.”
Mechanics look at Fishy Corn and shake their heads.
All the cars “really outlived any expectation,” says Maxit. “Now we’re running them on vapors.”
Still, with a new engine and less rust than his remaining fishy colleagues, the Fishy Corn car is still roadworthy—at least to the point that Maxit is willing to drive him to a new home.
The truth of the matter, though, is that he’s having a little bit of a tough time letting go, especially of his first creation.
Both Bell and Eidinger also got sentimental when they saw the eBay posting and put in bids that they hoped would quickly be surpassed. “I love it … but I don’t want this thing back,” Eidinger says. If Bell somehow winds up with it, he says he’d put it where Fishy Tomato once lived, outside the Mount Pleasant farmers market.
Maxit considered mounting the sculpture on top of his Adams Morgan garage, but an immediate premonition of drunkards climbing up there to take a photo with a friendly piece of corn quickly dissuaded him.
“If I was a very wealthy man, I’d be like, ‘Yeah, I’m keeping this in my garage.’ But space is tight around here,” Maxit says. “At some point, I had to humble myself and say ‘Well that was really fun to be able to express myself, come up with a character, and given a chance, money, and friends that were willing to help and then put it on a car and travel across the country.’ It’s a little sad, but man, that was amazing.”
Update 7/18: After bidding to drive up the price, artist Robin Bell won the auction. “I was trying to get it over a certain amount and it was like hot potato—I won,” Bell says. “But I’m excited about it, I’m trying to figure out a plan.” If he can get it street legal, he plans to leave it near the Mount Pleasant farmers market, while working to reunite all the car sculptures in one place.