Nada Dada Action Figures

Feel the adventure as more than 100 artists prepare for creative melee on the streets and in the hotels of Reno. Collect ’em all!

Photo by Lauren Randolph

Artists are funny folk. A lot of people go camping, but when an artist goes camping he brings along a giant fireworks-filled wooden effigy to burn. A lot of people host parties, but when artists host a party, they take over an iconic old hotel, transform the hotel rooms into miniature art galleries or installations, and then call the party a conceptual movement.

In the summer of 2007, a group of local and regional artists did (more or less) exactly that at the El Cortez Hotel, 239 W. Second St., in downtown Reno. The event was called Dada Motel. Last year, after some perfunctory debate about whether to hold it again, the event returned, this time with the name changed to Nada Motel. This week marks the third iteration of the annual artistic identity crisis. They’re calling it Nada Dada Motel, and it runs from June 18-21, again centered at the El Cortez, but also spilling into the Town House Motor Lodge across the street and smaller venues around town.

The event will feature more than 100 artists showcasing a diversity of media: paintings, photographs, sculptures, films, performances and the miscellaneous, unclassifiable varieties of art that fall between the cracks of traditional media.

Here’s some background on the name. Dada is a nonsense word first used by artists in the early 20th century to describe deliberately counterintuitive artwork—art meant to defy rational explanation. Some scholars and artists might point to the works of Salvador Dali or Marcel Duchamp as well-known and easily recognizable examples of the Dada aesthetic. Others would say that the movement started earlier and was more overtly political. Still others would say that there are no easily recognizable examples of the Dada aesthetic because such a thing doesn’t exist—Dada is anti-aesthetic. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter. Dada can mean whatever you want it to mean. For all intents and purposes, it is a meaningless word. Nada, on the other hand, quite literally means nothing.

So Nada Dada Motel is a meaningless event. If this appeals to you, then you won’t be disappointed. An event like Nada Dada Motel is really just an excuse for artists to get together and do what they do best, which is show off. Despite what some artists might tell you, all artists have one thing in common: vanity. Artists make things and do things that they hope will live on—in legend if not physical space—long after the moment of creation.

What follows is a collection of brief profiles of a handful of the dozens of artists involved with Nada Dada Motel. The format of these profiles is modeled on the cardboard cutout character bios found on the back of action figure boxes. This format is a quick and easy way to showcase the talents of the artists involved, but it also serves to poke a little fun at the ego and shameless self-promotion—not to mention the willingness to prepackage and sell—that are necessary, albeit occasionally obnoxious, parts of being an artist.

Codename: Burton Pictures

File name: Burton, Dean

Birthplace: Freeport, Maine

Primary artistic specialty: Photography

Room Number: El Cortez 316

Superpowers: “Minimalism. I find irony in doing minimalist photography, because … pure photography is all about detail and everything like that. And I’m trying to get it so there’s almost nothing there. Of course, you can’t ever get there, but you can try.”

Weaknesses: “I’m trying to be more loose. As I’m growing as an artist I’m realizing that letting some imperfections in is actually a good thing. That’s something that I’ve been working on for quite a few years.”

Nada Dada: “The original Dada Motel was about … the absurdity of the whole thing. And my take on that was … I knew it was going to be a little bit crazy, and so my way of being absurd was to go in and make my room look like a professional gallery. If I do something that looks totally slick, it’s not going to look like anything else in the place. And then Nada came the next year, and that was a big back and forth between everybody. … There were two groups: Change the name or don’t change it. And for me, it didn’t matter. But then I kind of hooked on to the Nada thing, and I’ve kept it. I’m not calling my room Nada Dada this year. I’m Nada. It’s also played into my title this year. … ‘Nothing is What I Want’ is the title. It’s a Zappa quote. In my card, you don’t see it at first, and then it kind of comes out. So I’m into this Nada thing more than anything.”

Photo by Lauren Randolph

Codename: Mayor De’Esprawlius

File name: Holland, Erik

Birthplace: Detroit, Mich.

Primary artistic specialty: Painting

Room number: El Cortez 311

Superpowers: “I’m really strong on building contrasts as a painter. My paintings are powerful. They read well from a distance. They’re not weak. I like hard rock, and I think anyone looking at my paintings could probably guess that.”

Hard rock the material or hard rock the music?

“I like hard music, and I like intense painting.”

Weaknesses: “Well, oddly enough, I’d say it’s the same thing as my strength, because that’s been my strength for about 25 years. And at this time of my life, and I hope it’s not because I’m starting to get old, because I’m 50 now, I’m beginning to appreciate a softer side. A little less intense color, a little more finessing in the detail, and I’m beginning to do some watercolors and some smaller paintings that show that side, and they’ll be there. Both sides of me will be on display at Nada Dada.”

Nada Dada: “It means self-empowerment. It means that we can make things happen ourselves. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to rent a motel room, turn it into an art gallery, and have lots of people come by and look at your art. You don’t have to be juried into it. You don’t have to get slides made of your work. You just rent the room and put the work up. There’s something very democratic and liberating about it.

“This year I’m going to set up a fairly traditional art gallery in my room. Traditional oil plein air landscapes and some figurative painting, in a fairly traditional style, probably realism-slash-impressionism. I’m going to have some nice lighting in there, and I’m going to have stuff for sale.

“The spirit of Nada Dada is actually the spirit that we need to have in our country. We need to restart our country. Our country—you know GM’s gone bankrupt—and the same spirit that got Nada Dada started will help get our country started, too.”

Photo by Lauren Randolph

Codename: Patty Melt

File name: Melton, Patty

Birthplace: Twin Falls, Idaho

Primary artistic specialty: Graphic design

Room number: El Cortez 221

Superpowers: “I’m projecting history, and I’m doing it graphically because I have strengths being a graphic designer. I have a graphic design company, so for me it’s pulling all those things I learned as a graphic designer to come and put this book together—eventually it will be a book. So I’m having fun telling a story.”

Weaknesses: “My weaknesses are that I don’t have enough time to devote entirely to my art. I would love to be able to be wealthy enough where all I did was do my art. If I had enough money to just do my art every day, without having to do graphics and all the other things I have to do, I would devote it totally to fine art.”

Nada Dada: “Nada Dada basically is nothing. We’ve been trying to analyze that ourselves for three years. We’re there, but we’re not being told what to do. … This, to me, is the most fun I’ve ever had, because it’s a group of people that aren’t being told what to do, or we’re not asking for any money from anyone. We’re just a group of artists being who we are.

“Well, I’m working on a coloring book of the old motels on Fourth Street right now. I wanted to kind of keep with the whole spirit of the motels, and so I started that last year and gave away prints that people could color when they were in my room, or they could take it away and color them. Do whatever they want. And I’ve added on, so there’s eight prints I’ll be giving away this time. Also, I’m looking to see if people have motel stories to tell. So while I’m there I have motel stories to tell because I lived them when I was a little kid. My grandparents managed the Town House Motor Lodge, I swam with Lyndon Johnson. My studio right now is in a motel room at Wildflower Village. I’ve got a lot of motel stuff in my life, and so I just really wanted to keep that going.

“When I was little girl, I went to 17 different schools and lived in motels, so when I go down Fourth Street, those motels are what I look at like it’s going home. It’s really very strange. So what I’ve done is I’ve taken these motels, and I’ve cleaned them up. There’s no junk in front of them. They look really nice, to try and keep them the way that they were back—I’m only doing hotels from the 1960s back. I’m just working with a group of artists I really respect and the fact that being nada, it can be anything that you want. There’s nothing saying you have to do this or you have to do that. We are individual artists doing whatever we want to.”

photo by Lauren Randolph

Codename: Joe Target

File name: Rees, Joe

Birthplace: Hayward, Calif.

Primary artistic specialty: Filmmaking

Room number: El Cortez 414 [But highly mobile]

Superpowers: “I’m always extremely interested and curious, and I like real avant garde experiences, I like to push the envelope. That’s something I get high on, something that feeds me as an artist. I like to work with people that have a lot of intensity. I figure there’s always time for subtlety later in life, when you don’t have a lot of other physical activity going on.”

Weaknesses: “I’ve extended a certain amount of responsibility to raising a couple boys in my life, which is a pretty mainstream, normal kind of thing. And I see an artist as being pretty self-centered, in order to really pull a creative load. It’s hard to play a dual role. In some ways it’s a weakness—a lot of people think, oh, that’s great. It’s a tough thing … when your focus is on being an artist, because half of my life, my focus was on what I was doing and my art and the people I was working with. And for the last 20-some years, I’ve raised kids by myself … so it’s been pretty difficult because that took a lot of attention. In some ways, it’s a weakness because I have a tendency to fall in love with people, and I fell in love with my own kids.”

Nada Dada: “It’s just kind of a goofy expression. There’s no limitations on art—basically that’s what I get from something like that. In the so-called quote-unquote art world, everything has to be looked at in a certain approach, a certain way. Real formalistic paintings and sculptures are juried and so on. And usually there’s a lot of limitations on art objects and visual art type pieces, so along comes an organization like this that offers opportunities for artists to get out and do things they enjoy, and it’s not about money. It’s not like you’re doing a painting or a sculpture because you’re hoping to sell it—although that would be nice, I’m sure, for a lot of people, because you’ve got to survive. But it gives you an opportunity just to do things that are really experimental expression, real gut-wrenching, soul-searching kind of pieces.

“What I’m doing for this is going to be more art performance-oriented type things. There is a [video] piece I want to show by [experimental vocalist] Diamanda Galas. … We worked together back in the ’80s. I was one of the first people she worked with, and our plan was to put together this performance, it’s called ‘Litanies of Satan.’ And it’s just a short, 22-minute-long performance where she really works her voice out. Her whole thing is that she’s kind of operatic, but also it’s a very alarming, very disturbing kind of performance. It’s very intense. You’ve never heard sounds like that in your life. … Now my part of it, of course, was I created some of the effects in the piece. So we take a leap a little bit further into another kind of dimension visually, so between the sound and the vision, we came up with this piece.”

photo by Lauren Randolph

Codename: Rough and Ready

File name: Todorova, Rossitza

Birthplace: Sofia, Bulgaria

Primary artistic specialty: Pen and ink

Room number: El Cortez 407

Superpowers: “As an artist, my superpowers are that I can take a scene that you have seen … an experience that you’ve had a million times—and that is driving through Nevada—and have you look at it in a way that seems so familiar, and you cannot specifically place it.

“I do pen-and-ink drawings. Lately I’ve been working with pen-and-ink as water media, so they really have a watercolor feel to them, but they’re monochromatic, and it is work on paper. They depict highways, overpasses and Nevada—Northern Nevada specifically—the desert and manmade structures of the desert, in an abstraction.”

Weaknesses: “My kryptonite as an artist is color. There’s a book called Chromophobia … that talks about how the Western world of art thinks of color as secondary and dangerous and no matter how much time I spend with it I cannot help but have the same view myself most of the time. I find myself wanting to take color out of things and make it as simple and linear as possible, and I think that it makes me stronger. I find that when I have color around me it makes me weaker.”

Nada Dada: “I love the idea that we are in a hotel-motel that is not a hotel or a motel. It is Nada, and it is Dada. It is nothing, and it is exactly what it’s not supposed to be. You’re not supposed to visit people in their hotel rooms to do business, or to look at their work, or for them to be self-publicizing from there. A hotel room is supposed to be something private, a getaway, and here we get to invite the public to go visit a very intimate space, a space that the artist has full control of, and have them create a gallery out of something that you would never think to invite the public to. I love that it’s nothing.

“I’m sharing a room with Marian Studer. She’s a ceramicist. She teaches ceramics at Spanish Springs. So the two of us are sharing a room. She’s going to be showing her mixed media paintings and ceramics, and I’m going to be showing [my work]. And we’re going to have more of a traditional work gallery compared to some of the people that are doing performance art, etcetera. We’re trying to really show off and market our work.”

Photo by Lauren Randolph

Codename: Jedi Mom

File name: Marlene [formerly Snyder], Jill

Birthplace: Las Vegas, Nev.

Primary artistic specialty: Singing, performance art

Room Number: El Cortez Trocadero Lounge

Superpowers: “I have the ability to manipulate emotional affect and have people come to a greater conclusion of who they want to be. [Laughs.] … I am the banshee, with my shrieking and my juxtaposition of ideas. I can manipulate human affect to a more positive and fruitful outcome.”

Weaknesses: “If someone else wants something more than I do, I will totally not do it. So I don’t put myself out there as much as I would like to. … I act alpha, but I’m actually not.”

Nada Dada: “I’ve been really wanting to call it Nevada Dada. … Dada to me means political activism, it means a collection from a variety of different sources, very eclectic, not necessarily making any kind of contextual sense. … Bringing together all these different artists fits with the name very much, and it offers a lot of freedom to each of the individual people participating to bring their own form into the motel and create a new form with all the forms together creates a new thing.

“I’m performing a full-blown cabaret performance art piece, a theater piece, called ‘Becoming the Intrinsic Beloved,’ and it’s kind of a psychedelic show that has everything—music across the decades and centuries, and all the music is live, performed by local people. I’m singing a ton of it, and [engineer/percussionist] Tom Gordon and [cellist] Matt Linaman and Charlene Adzima on the violin, drawing from the Celtic community and the classical community … it’s almost like a chamber rock band. … It goes through four stages. I kind of borrowed from William Blake a little bit—the songs of innocence, songs of experience—and then I went through to songs of alienation and songs of illumination.”