Long Term Engagement: The Center for Art + Environment
02.13.2011, 10:53 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

The Nevada Museum of Art’s 2011 Art + Environment conference takes place in Reno, Nevada over three short days this fall (September 29th-October 1st).  But its provocations and exchanges are likely to ripple much further into the future. In many ways, we here at FOP are still buzzing from their 2008 conference.

Three years ago, the Museum hosted its first, and perhaps the first, Art + Environment conference.  Shortly afterwards, the Museum officially launched its Center for Art + Environment. Since then, in addition to becoming host to a now reoccurring conference, the Center has also become a granting agency, archive research center, exhibition spacesocial network, program host and much more.

Last Thursday, February 10th, at the Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York, a delegation from the Museum announced the speakers and exhibitions for the 2011 conference. This year’s conference will feature a fascinating line-up of presenters and several exhibitions we’re excited to see, including Geoff Manaugh’s Landscape Futures and the Museum’s The Altered Landscape: Photographs of a Changing Environment.

What we find most inspiring about the Center for Art + Environment, and the Nevada Museum of Art in general, is their ability to position themselves as an institution at the edge of contemporary conversations concerning what “environment” “is” —and then wrestle with the often unanswerable questions and challenges embedded within various and changing definitions.  Their work of hosting conversations among disparate fields of inquiry and exhibiting artists whose experimental practices respond to such unresolved questions will become only more vital in coming years.

One question left open during the 2008 conference was, “what is this emerging field:  art + environment?” We look forward to seeing if this conversation might resume, given the multitude of changes that have unfolded over the past three years in terms of creative practice, technological innovation and planetary transformation. We also look forward to seeing how institutions, including the Nevada Museum of Art, will respond to the expanding needs and terms of artists’ non-traditional practices at the edges of what might be considered “art + environment.”

We’ll be attending the conference with a particular frame in mind this year—a continuation of ideas we’ve written about previously: to sense and document how “the geologic” is taken up, discussed, and expressed by presenters and audience. We plan to relay signals back to the FOP blog from inside the conference.  We’ll watch for how artists, architects, scientists, bloggers, curators and educators imply or explicitly address how geologic force and materiality inflect the work they do. Our hope is that the A+E 2011 conference can lend specific insights into how artists are expressing and experiencing geologic force as a condition of contemporary life and creative practice.

It’s seven months before the A+E conference, and already we’ve spotted one instance of how “the geologic” will be in play there. Last week the Center for Art + Environment announced its commission of Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison’s Sierra Nevada: An Adaptation. It will be on view during the conference. The project functions at an extremely expanded scale—a hallmark of the Harrison’s work for the past 40 years. (Their previous work,  Force Majeure is described as “a series of land-based artworks responding to the challenges of global change.”)  The scope of this newly commissioned piece spans 28,000 square miles long the Sierra Nevadas.  It is intended to function explicitly at a geologic scale.  The project aims to affect climate change and restore wetlands to a degree that only glaciers have done previously. Provocatively, with this commission, the Nevada Museum of Art breaks with traditional institutional time:  it is committed to support this artist project for the next 50 years. Given the likelihood that most of the Museum staff, and the Harrisons’ themselves, won’t be around to see where this project ends up five decades from now, this gesture of support activates exciting new directions of innovative interaction, relationality, risk-taking, and conceptual and practical re-calibration among artists, institution, and ongoing environmental change.

We look forward to encountering additional discoveries and insights about the geologic at the conference next fall.  Registration is open to the public as of last week and we encourage all who are interested to sign up early.  We hope to see you there!

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