The Nevada Museum of Art: Breaking new ground in the genre of Art and Environment

By Anna Critchley

“Art and Environment” is an artistic genre of its own with several subcategories, including eco-art and taxidermy. The Nevada Museum of Art is proud to house “the only research institute in the world devoted to the subject of creative interactions with natural, built, and virtual environments,” also known as Art and Environment. The Art + Environment conference, which runs every three years at the NMA, is a product of the research institute and a culmination of years of careful curating.

A picture of the Nevada Museum of Art located in Reno, Nevada. Photo courtesy of the Nevada Museum of Art.

But what is it about this genre that pulls people in and why is it important?

Amanda Horn, communications director for the Nevada Museum of Arts, explains.

“At this point in history, no matter what side of the political line you stand on there is no denying that humans have seriously impacted the way that we are evolving, not just as a species, but as a planet. What we do here is provide an opportunity for people to stop and consider that impact, what it means and how are we going to react to it now, in five years, ten years and so on,” said Horn. “We are creating knowledge around this topic as well as providing a place where people can come to study, research, discuss and find solutions or just simply to observe. The collecting of this knowledge is important so we can find solutions that work.”

The Art + Environment Conference,held in Reno October 9 – 11, 2014, has been garnering worldwide attention since its inception in 2008. People from all over the globe come to hear speakers such as this year’s keynote, Maya Lin, who is best known for the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. and more recently for her project titled What is Missing? The conference provides an impressive lineup of people from the art and environment community – authors, activists, professors and artists, among many others.

Several speakers at the conference, including Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg, use science to create their art. They take a complex idea and transfer it into another form that is visually pleasing. Take a look at Viégas and Wattenberg’s windmap of the United States, for example. These artists were able to take a cluster of raw scientific data and turn it in to a visual map that is as informative as it is beautiful.

A still shot of a wind map courtesy of
A still shot of a wind map courtesy of

“Artists have a luxury and privilege that scientists do not; they don’t have to be data driven, they can experiment and look at things from the thirty thousand foot level and maybe, through that process, help arrive at a scientific conclusion to the issues we face. It’s a modality of thinking that’s different from science,” said Horn.

Art and nature converge in so many ways, some simple, some complicated, some political, and some apolitical. What you might expect to always find within the art and environment genre of art, however, is a sense of connection with the natural world around you.

“We’ve been entranced by nature, scared of nature and we’ve also felt like we have authority over nature,” said Horn. “Some art is about using science to inform art but sometimes it is the other way around where art informs the science.”

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