Art: Fallen Fruit lands in Columbus

Brooke Preston

What is art? Can you touch, take, grow or even taste it? David Burns and Austin Young think so. They're the artists and creators behind the Los Angeles-based art collective Fallen Fruit.

While their visual work is shown in top galleries from Manhattan to Madrid (their installation, Fallen Fruit of Columbus, recently wrapped up an exhibition at the Wexner Center for the Arts), it's Fallen Fruit's act of social art that generates the biggest buzz: the planting of public fruit parks. Two of their newest—installed in April—are in Columbus: Weinland Park Berry Patch (Fourth Street and East 11th Avenue) and the South Side Fruit Park (353 Reeb Ave.).

Distinct from the popular community garden model where each tends his or her own plot, Fallen Fruit's gardens are open to all and strategically designed to be planted, tended and enjoyed together. The Weinland Park Berry Patch, on land owned by the Wagenbrenner Company,includes strawberries, red raspberries, blackberries and gooseberries. The South Side Fruit Park on a city-owned plot includes apples, paw paws, pears, plums and apricots. Financial support came from a crowdfunding campaign, as well as donations from the Big Lots Foundation, the Columbus Foundation and Oakland Nurseries, among others.

“When we drew the first map of fruit trees in public spaces in our neighborhood [in Los Angeles],” Burns explains, “we questioned, ‘Who is the public, who has a right to be there and use this public resource? Do you need some other qualifying metric to make it OK?' We decided, ‘No, it's OK to be who you are, and we're glad you're here.'” From these ideas, the pair set out to begin creating culture out of public space. As they did, Burns says they asked themselves, “‘How do we make rituals that don't need instructions? How do we perform public space?' We all perform for each other all the time, so we didn't make it a prescriptive project, but a project that's curious about what's possible.”

Before bringing Fallen Fruit to Columbus, the pair made several visits, delving into historical archives, walking the streets and attending community meetings to better understand Columbus (its flora, spaces and challenges) before working with the Wexner Center's director of education, Shelly Casto, to find ideal spaces. The two locations were chosen because of the Wex's longstanding relationship with Weinland Park and then-Mayor Mike Coleman's push for increased attention and quality-of-life amenities for Columbus' South Side. An Ohio State University program will train community members to keep the garden healthy and thriving.

“We've gone to many cities, and Columbus is not like almost any other U.S. city,” Burns says. “It's extremely socially conscious, extremely liberal and humanitarian, unique in its roots in the way neighborhoods were designed to be holistic and communal, a place that can take care of itself. It also is a city designed not by accident, but consciously chosen to be centrally located, to have a name that represented discovery and to have natural space, urban space and suburban space intermingle.”

If all this sounds beyond the typical artistic discussion, Young urges a broader definition. “The exciting thing about contemporary art is that it gets people to think about something in a new way. We planted these fruit trees and berries as a contemporary artwork, basically thinking about the way that it creates space for people to come together and have common meeting ground. In our work, we think about relationships as the highest form of art and connection.”