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.

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