Natural world

Embodied Place at Sierra Nevada College

"As Above, So Below," by Kaitlin Bryson, is an exploration of preservation and decay.

"As Above, So Below," by Kaitlin Bryson, is an exploration of preservation and decay.

Photo/Josie Luciano

Sierra Nevada College is at 999 Tahoe Blvd, Incline Village.

Environmental art is everywhere. Work that explores the relationship between culture and nature has become ubiquitous. There are good reasons for this trend toward environmental work and several of those are on display at Sierra Nevada College’s latest show, Embodied Place. This exhibit, juried by Futurefarmers founder Amy Franceschini and SNC professor Russell Dudley, is small, quiet and personal.

Unlike the romantics of the mid-19th century, large-scale earthworks of the '60s and '70s, and the shock pieces that characterized environmental work in the '90s, this exhibit reflects the contemporary movement away from the adoring gaze or the militant stare,and toward an unassuming first glance.

The 20 featured artists demonstrate a keen understanding of restraint in their work and a collective trust in their audience to make unstated connections as they invite them to explore their surroundings through a combination of photography, video, sculpture, drawing and sound-work.

A few pieces offer a glimpse in the truest sense of the word, showing viewers a cross-section of what it actually looks like to support our lifestyle, in all its mundane detail. Christmas trees are processed by the thousands in one video. In another film, footage of passengers on a bus loops on the screen, giving the audience a view that is simultaneously strange and familiar.

Some pieces commemorate surroundings beyond our control, such as a map documenting an orchard that no longer exists, or a compilation of photographic evidence suggesting the presence of a ghost in one artist’s home.

Other works have an exuberant tone, like the mechanized plantbot that spastically rattles in its glass cage, or a two-channel video installation called “Queer Migration,” depicting the side-by-side re-creation and original roadtrip of two gay men making their way across the country.

One piece that manages to be both commemorative and subversive at the same time is a sculpture titled “As Above, So Below,” an entry from the only selected Reno artist, Kaitlin Bryson. In this piece, Bryson nests dead honeybees inside a hanging catacomb made of beeswax, wool and willow branches. The inverted triangle mimics the structure of a hive and calls into question our ideas of preservation and decay.

“This piece is an ode to bees, but it is also a way to depict death as a part of a whole system,” said Bryson. Her unique take on humanity’s place is heavily influenced by her geography. “I grew up surrounded by both mountains and desert—a place with no temperateness. I think that is reflected in the people here too.”

This harsh but fertile quality that attracts people to the Sierra is a primary purpose for the exhibit itself.

“One point of this exhibit is to make a connection with the new MFA program and provide a frame of reference for artists who may be looking to enter,” said Sarah Lillegard, SNC’s graduate admissions counselor. Currently open for applications, the college’s MFA of Interdisciplinary Arts focuses on “skill development, experimentation, collaborative dialogue and community connectivity.”

The reception for Embodied Place is Feb. 27 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Holman Arts & Media Center at Sierra Nevada College. From 7 to 8:30 p.m., there will be a panel discussion about conceptions of place, relationships between art and science, and—as panelists Geoffrey Holstad and Mary Rothlisberger put it, “the artist’s responsibility to embody a place in order to sustain it.” The public is invited to participate. Other panelists include Ignacio Chapela from University of California, Berkeley, Wendy Baroli of GirlFarm, and Jared Stanley, a local poet and writer.