A + E

A + E Conference: Day Two

Day two in the coffee-and-crumpets conference world.

Patricia Johanson was a highlight. Not just because her presentation was comprehensive, wise, and dynamic. Not just because her work is ecologically restorative, respectful of local religions and cultures, and deeply rooted in community practice. Because in this field, where ideas are infectious, where doom is palpable, where the issues at hand are so huge as to be hilarious, Patricia Johanson has done the work. She’s gone out to Dallas and made a sculpture that restored a lagoon. She’s created a wetland sewage system that is both a tribute to and a habitat for an endangered species. She’s done it while continuing the dialogue both in terms of artistic form– sculpture, painting, light– and ecological relevance. Full disclosure: I asked for her autograph.

The morning started with the music of Sean Shepard– composed for the Nevada landscape. It continued through the cultural waters of Australia, tromped through Italy on Amy Franceschini’s Not A Trojan Horse, and announced the research project “Venue,” an extended journalistic road trip by Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley.

On a day where MacArthur Genius fellow Jorge Pardo describes the houses he builds as not-architecture, author Bruce Sterling called for a reexamination of the definitions. “Disciplinary silos are breaking down in places like this,” he said. “You can actually hear them shattering.” What we have is not nature, he said. What we have is Next Nature, a world bereft of unaltered landscape. And the slow dawning is the sheer magnitude of the responsibility for that landscape.

The evening ended with a cocktail hour on the roof of the museum. On the one side, the mountains. Urban trees. On the other, the blinking lights of the biggest little city in the world. In a sense, Reno is the perfect setting for the destroying of silos.

A + E Conference at the Nevada Museum of Art: Day One

Can a thing be both cuddly and epic? So far, the A + E Conference is. For while the lecture hall at the Nevada Museum of Art is intimate, folks are friendly, and there’s that slight taste of eco-art kumbaya in the air, there’s some giant figures in the room. Chris Jordan is one of them: you’ve seen his photos everywhere. The Harrisons are two more. Greenhouse Britain sums up their combination of systemic thinking and storytelling.  Fritz Haeg and his Edible Estates. Geoff Manaugh of BldgBlog. And while you might be so familiar with the work of the presenters you could have practically done their powerpoints for them, it’s still a bit dizzying. In fact, the lights went out towards the end of the day and a backup generator kicked on. They say it was lightning but I’m betting on a joyous collective mental short-circuiting.

However epic the conference, the issued raised today were not unique. They were issues that might be discussed at a conference about Climate Change and Journalism, for instance. Or a conference about Healthy Parks and Healthy People. Or about Theater and Sustainability. I kinda know because I’ve attended conferences on all those themes in the past year. The issues being raised include: how do we comprehend the vast level of ecological disaster we are now experiencing? How do we organize information in a manner that is digestible, accessible, valid and thought-provoking? How do we culturally deconstruct the paradigms that got us here– especially when we live ‘here’? How do we move forward to create a healthier population and planet?

This speaks more to the level of disciplinary blending and silo-destroying that’s happening all over. In the meantime, there’s no shortage of voices exploring answers, not here, not this weekend. There are three floors of installations and exhibits. There are new books and archives of those exhibits. And there is a whole second day of talks still. More to come, stay tuned. Should be cuddly. And epic.