Room with a view

NadaDada Motel

Cindy Gunn is one of the many artists participating in this year's NadaDada Motel art festival.

Cindy Gunn is one of the many artists participating in this year's NadaDada Motel art festival.

Photo/Eric Marks

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An artist walks a fine line between work and life. Many artists seek to eliminate that line altogether, and make their life their work, and live right smack in the middle of it. Such is the philosophy of NadaDada Motel, an annual art show celebrating its eighth anniversary. NadaDada Motel consists of artists taking up residency in downtown motels and using their room to stage an art exhibit. It’s a fitting concept for Reno, where motels are in abundance, and the city’s legacy is entwined with tourism and lodging. As the NadaDada Motel website reads, “Art and absurdity live in Reno.”

Since NadaDada’s inception, more than 400 artists have participated. The name, references the philosophies of Dadaism but has come to refer specifically to the Reno-based collaborative art group. (There’s even a Wikipedia page about it.) The concept for the show arose as a response to Artown, when several artists wanted a more informal, communal way to showcase art without restriction. In true Dada fashion, the movement is essentially leaderless but organized by a dedicated group of artists.

NadaDada was held at the El Cortez Hotel on West Second Street until one particularly rowdy year several years ago that involved underage drinking and general debauchery, according to artist Cindy Gunn.

After that, the event was no longer permitted there, and instead occurs in several downtown motels including the Town House Motor Lodge, El Ray Motel, Keno Motel, City Center Motel, Wildflower Village and the Morris Burner Hotel. This year, there are more than 30 artists participating, and more than 50 rooms will be filled with art around the theme “Less Art Sprawl.” This can be interpreted however the artist sees fit.

Attendees can come and tour the rooms from June 19 to June 22. The rooms are open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and “Dadamayor” Erik Holland—who recently ran for the real mayorial seat in Reno—will speak at the kickoff event at the Town House Motor on the evening of June 19. A full map can be viewed on the website, and locations participating in the event will have the colorful NadaDada Motel banners mounted visibly.

For Gunn, who's an illustrator, the theme has an environmental meaning, where “sprawl” pertains to the waste and energy consumed by humans. She has participated in “all but the very first NadaDada,” she says. Her room this year—room 214 at the Town House Motor Lodge—is a statement about an individual’s carbon footprint. The idea came to her last year.

“I had people answer a questionnaire about how much carbon they use,” she says. “I calculated that we’re using two and a half times what we should be using. It would take two and a half planets to get our resources done.”

Her exhibit will feature hand-made footprints to demonstrate these facts. This builds upon work she’s done previously, including photographing gas stations and adding footprints as overlay. In past years, she’s tackled environmental topics, including a 2010 exhibit on overfishing, in which she turned her room into a beach.

In the years she’s been involved, Gunn says “not much has changed” other than the location. “It’s a really fun event. We hope to get a good crowd.”

For artists interested in exhibiting, the process is fairly straightforward—just contact the organizers and reserve a space. There’s a reason the motto of NadaDada is, “Get a room, make a show.” The openness is intended to break down the expectations of what an art show should entail.

“There are no rules about what you can show,” says Gunn. “That’s the NadaDada way.”