Sunday, October 12, 2014

Art + Environment Conference, Oct. 9-11, 2014

We've just returned from the triennial Art + Environment Conference at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno. The conference occurred around a new, taxidermy-themed exhibit entitled "Late Harvest", that was thought-provoking and ground-breaking. If you are in the area, you might try to see it.

The conference is an absolutely remarkable event focused on "art that walks in the world", that is to say, art that has a real contribution to and influence on the culture and environment. Jeff and I presented very briefly about Sagehen during one of the lunch sessions on the Harrison project, and I believe we have started conversations that will lead to new art/science projects on the ground at Sagehen.

This is the premiere event of its kind in the world, and I can't recommend the conference highly enough to anyone with an interest in the intersection of art and science. Attendees came from all over the world and included educators and science practitioners, as well as museum reps, artists, writers and poets. Everyone seems to value collaboration and discussion with scientists, though many folks I spoke to don't seem to know where to start.

"Fighting Lions" by A. Worthington, c. 1880.
There were some very interesting presentations on more theoretical aspects of the linkage between art and science, including one from Adam Duncan Harris, the Peterson Curator of Art and Research at The National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, which lent a number of historic wildlife paintings to the Late Harvest exhibit.

Harris discussed how Darwin was influenced by the Romantic tradition of wildlife painting to emphasize a vision of inter-species competition that was far bloodier, over-the-top and dramatic than more recent scholarship has revealed to be the case.

Of course, Darwin's own work then fed back into the art world and made it mandatory to create natural history illustrations from life observations within the natural environment, rather than from the out-of-context and often falsely depicted taxidermy models previously employed.

The NMA video-recorded the conference and will eventually make the material available on line, though the timeline is somewhat hazy. I'll update this post when the videos become available.


Update: 10-18-14

The Nevada Museum of Art has generously shared the PDF of the Late Harvest exhibit catalog with us. This catalog includes the essay by Adam Duncan Harris mentioned above, as well as additional relevant material.

Enjoy, and let us know what you think!

Update: 12-27-14

Orion Magazine has published a series of conference recap posts. There is an interesting and thought-provoking comment made by artist David Brooks about how biologists are the true avant-garde thinkers of our time.

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