Just smile and NadaDada

The anarchic annual local art festival returns


For more information, visit http://nadadadamotel.weebly.com.

Heather Lee Jones’s shop Happy Happy Joy Joy will be the site for her Nada Dada creation, “Shoezilla.”

Heather Lee Jones shows off her Nada Dada work-in-progress, “Shoezilla,” on display in her store Happy Happy Joy Joy.

by Laura Davis

What’s behind door number 1?

If that question is being proposed on a game show—your options may include a tropical vacation, a bucket of slime over the head or the ever-fancied his and hers fur coats.

But if it’s the third weekend in June, and your perplexing gamble is between neighboring doors at a colorful motel, the awaiting surprises will diverge even further than that promise of a pina colada on the beach. From, say, a woman sewn into a giant dress overtaking the room, a barnyard scene featuring hay stacks and imitation cow noises, to a bed covered in a stack of fresh plush “road-kill” from which red felt “blood” puddles ultimately morph into a mass of flowers on the floor.

And that’s just the PG rooms.

Yes, the mysteries behind the doors in the land of Nada Dada Motel never cease to amaze, and at times disturb, thanks to the uncensored freedom of the annual art event’s mantra: Absurdity. Keeping with the spirit, they say, of Reno itself.

“When the event got its start [back in 2007] it was called Dada Motel,” says Erik Holland, one of the event’s original six conceptualists. “We were loosely based on the Dadaism phenomenon in Europe—an art movement during World War I where a guy put his urinal in a New York show and called it art … it was absurd. So we were named to represent Reno’s reputation for absurdity.”

And represent it they did—and continue to do, every summer, right around the corner from Artown. The timing is no coincidence. Nada Dada Motel’s founders conceived the event as a response to the heavily out-of-town talent on which Artown relies.

“The founding members wanted to make the point that there’s a lot of talent here, so we just decided we were going to do our own thing, and we did,” says Holland. “We think Artown is great but we have all this right here in Reno, and we’re gonna celebrate that.”

The celebration of local art and shock value has continued to grow—with last year’s showcase being the largest to date. The event has even garnered national attention, wrangling an article in the New York Times in 2009.

For 2013, Nada Dada will spread its wings even further into Reno. Having previously been centered primarily downtown, this year sees the art showcase moving into motels in Midtown as well. Along with adding its first retail store to the map—Happy Happy Joy Joy, an eclectic toy store which opened on South Virginia Street in the beginning of May.

Photo By Allison Young

While the event, which has its roots at the El Cortez Hotel, has always prided itself on the DIY motel room galleries which pay homage to the history of Reno and its early transient appeal, the retail store is walking distance from the participating Best Bet Motor Lodge. And the shop’s owner is Heather Lee Jones, a Nada Dada alumni. Jones will once again be showcasing her unique art inspired by plush and re-upholstered taxidermy animals, but from the comfort of her own four walls. The White House on South Virginia Street will also be a new addition in MidTown. But the trend of non-motels isn’t something the coordinators plan to pursue too far. They prefer to stick to the character the motels offer.

“Cool things often happen in motel rooms that wouldn’t happen in daily life,” says Holland of the desire to stick with their tried and true format.

The motel arrangement has the added benefit of making it easier for artists to acquire and maintain their rooms themselves. The DIY slogan of Nada Dada being, “Get a room—make a show.”

“We called ourselves ’The Disorganizers’ the first year,” Chad Sorg, another of the six founding coordinators explains in reference to their role in Nada Dada not being focused on controlling. “It’s truly happened that way. We have less work to do these days—over the years it has become more apparent to everyone that they’re really on their own.”

The only organized communication artists have together is through a Facebook forum—on which the participating hotels are posted upon approval, and the show dates given. Then it’s up to the artists themselves to take the reigns and secure (and not get kicked out of) their rooms, a.k.a. galleries.

“We’ve only had one person thrown out of [a room] because he went kinda crazy—it wasn’t even his art that did it,” Holland says of the gallery tenants. In fact, despite the potential for rambunctiousness, Holland says the motels are generally very supportive of the anything-goes event.

“[Previously] at the Best Bet, one of the fellows wanted to put pornographic photos on the soda machine because it was too late to get a room,” Holland recalls. The owner just shrugged and said, ’it’s a free country!’ And that became his gallery.”

Community rooms

Perhaps it’s in part the hospitable community feel that carries Nada Dada from year to year—as well as the absurd—but whatever it is, it’s contagious. This year will see the first out of town inception of the event, with a Las Vegas group called the Green Jelly taking a cue from the Renoites and starting their own version of Nada Dada, with a green twist.

“[We’ve] expanded to architects, designers, non-profits and other model citizens across the Las Vegas Valley, in addition to artists,” says Green Jelly member Michael Litt, of the show they have scheduled for November.

The community feel is something contemporary artist Nikki Lambert says keeps her coming back to Nada Dada year after year. The connections being not only priceless in the figurative sense, but the monetary as well, when it comes to the ability to barter goods amongst motel neighbors.

“It’s sometimes hard to put a value on your art,” Lambert says. “But when you see something you like, you can exchange—I’ve gotten beautiful glass jewelry and metal sculptures. It’s neat to be in a community where you can draw upon each other for inspiration.”

It’s not just the inspiration from one another that makes for a continual commitment to the four-day weekend every year. Participants such as writer/filmmaker James Dilworth get inspiration from the attendees as well. Dilworth’s Iris Room at the participating Wildflower Village on West Fourth St. features typewriters available for art goers to take a gander at writing their own masterpieces. It was due to one of these loaned machines that he found the material for a film he’ll be showing this time around.

“My latest movie, called Daisy, is based off of a guy who came [into the Iris Room] and wrote a love letter to his future wife. It was very romantic and melancholic—lots of random and wonderful things come out of this.”

Whatever the door may hide, the communal love for the absurd has inspired a shared investment by both artists and attendees of Nada Dada to see its continued success.

“Reno is a wacky, creative, vortex,” says Dilworth. “And Nada Dada is the child of that. It should be fostered and given milk—until it turns 21, then it should be given beer.”