Ryan Chartrand

RENO, Nev. – An eclectic group of artists, architects, scientists and writers are gathering at the Nevada Museum of Art on the edge of the Sierra this week to explore how nature and culture intersect in their chosen fields at a conference on “Art and Environment.”

“It is sort of an interesting mix,” said David Wright, executive director of the museum.

“The idea was to get all these different people to come to Reno and share with us – through their own lens – work they have been doing that we consider part of art and environment,” he said. “We have done some research and we believe the conference is the first of its kind.”

“We’re trying to get away from that pigeonhole of being an environmental conference,” Wright said.

Programs at the three-day conference that began Thursday range from the lessons of environmental stewardship taught by tribes who have lived in the region for thousands of years to the experiences of artists and scientists who have spent significant time working in extreme desert and polar regions.

“This is no small idea,” said William L. Fox, a Los Angeles-based writer and poet who is a former Nevadan and has served as a visiting fellow at the Getty Research Institute and the National Museum of Australia.

“We’re going to examine how we untangle what we are doing to the environment and what the environment does to us. It’s a two-way street,” said Fox, whose nonfiction books include “Making Time: Essays on the Nature of Los Angeles” and “In the Desert of Desire: Las Vegas and the Culture of Spectacle.”

“As far as I know, this is the single-most significant gathering of artists the state has ever seen,” he said. “I think that 10 years from now, people will be saying ‘Did you go to that art and environment conference in Reno in 2008?’”

One session at the conference running through Saturday will examine the radical self-reliance, self-expression and artwork on display at the annual Burning Man cultural festival in the Black Rock Desert about 100 miles north of Reno. Generation X’s innovations in art, technology and activism will be discussed at “what’s neXt: Artists Imagining the Future.”

Another session will bring together artists, designers and scholars to explore the “nature of place and placeness.”

“We’re going to talk about the idea of landscape and how that affects everything from the artistic project itself to the writer and how it can be a totally different work if you are based in the mountains or the desert or a city,” said Geoff Manhaugh, senior editor of Dwell magazine and the author of “The BLDGBLOG Book” who also operates an architectural blog.

“As a blogger and a magazine editor for that matter, there is a certain placelessness to that. Theoretically, I could write from anywhere. So how does someone from a placeless media interact and ground yourself with place?” he said from his home in San Francisco.

Presenters include Vito Acconci, who received his master’s in writing at the University of Iowa in 1964 on his way to a diverse body of work ranging from performance art to film and video, photography and sculpture. He’s worked with Acconci Studio in Brooklyn, N.Y., since the late 1980s and taught at the San Francisco Art Institute, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Yale University.

Dan Goods, another presenter, works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., where he designs four-dimensional objects but he also has created a pipe organ out of soda bottles and gardens at Huntington Gardens in San Marino, Calif.

Others include Chris Drury, who has made site-specific outdoor works all over the world. Some of his work is on exhibit at the museum in Reno, including oversized prints of mushroom spores made out of dust collected in the museum’s air ducts and hanging mushroom sculptures he made out of sagebrush which will turn to dust when the exhibit is removed.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *