Field Notes from the Art + Environment Conference: Day 2

Last night marked the end of a productive day of blogging from the Art + Environment Conference, Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, NV. The various panels we attended covered topics including Burning Man, artists working with astrophysicists to map where starlight falls on the North Pole, and “Gen X ” artists that relate their work to the environment.

Participants and attendees are extremely engaged with the theme of “Art + Environment” and invigorated by a shared sense that this conference could be remembered as a first and major catalyst of a new “movement”-a focused exploration by artists, museums, and scientists on how art and science can cross-pollinate. The fact that this event is taking place outside university walls signals a constructive trend: alternative institutions (such as museums) are creating experimental contexts where people gather to grapple with contemporary topics of global change.

Scientists Lynn F. Fenstermaker, of the Desert Research Institute described how during her collaboration with artist Chris Drury, she identified a graphic similarity between an aerial view of Frenchman Flat (site of numerous atomic bomb tests, left image) and a microscopic image of an organism that now lives in Frenchman Flat (right image).

In the last panel of the day, Jeff Gordinier, author of X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking, led a discussion that followed presentations by several young artists. Entitled What neXt?, this session presented work that included: “polluting, wasteful” suburban front lawns into edible gardens (Fritz Haeg); crocheted “carbon footprints” that map the artist’s travels (Katie Holton); iPods filled with spoken word and music timed to walks through urban cityscapes (Kianga Ford); and magazine design that uses photographs not as mere illustrations but as a means to join information with aesthetic experience (Jason Houston). This session confirms that young artists are responding to natural and built environments in wildly diverse ways. Yet their work is also deeply grounded in place. The flexibility and mobility of their crafts make it possible for them to generate junctures of art and science without being categorized as part of any single movement (such as Land Art) or being rigidly institutionalized (as gallery artists, activists, or editors).

You can view a full report of yesterday’s activities at our blog and join the conversation. Today’s conference highlight includes a desert excursion for 40 participants-our first chance to take ideas engaged at the conference, inside the museum, out into the landscape and on-site.

Smudge studio, Extreme Media Studies, and blog postings on Art + Environment are collaborative efforts of professor Elizabeth Ellsworth and project art director Jamie Kruse.

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