Sierra: A meeting of the natural and the nuclear

Sierra: A meeting of the natural and the nuclear

British artist Chris Drury explores the wilds and atomic legacy of Nevada

By Mel Sheilds – Bee Correspondent
Published 12:00 am PDT Sunday, August 17, 2008
Story appeared in TICKET section, Page EXPLORE

Photo Caption: “Cloud Pool Chamber” by Chris Drury, formerly installed in the Sierra foothills, is now in the rooftop gallery at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno. DEAN BURTON

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A total of 559 stones are put together to make a primitive shelter in the main gallery of the Nevada Museum of Art.

The work, titled “Life in the Field of Death and 559 Shelter Stones,” is made up of stones gathered at northern Nevada’s primeval Pyramid Lake. The number 559 represents the genes in the partial DNA genetic code of soil bacteria found at the Nevada Test Site.

And so past meets present, art meets politics, and the country has a chance to meet British artist Chris Drury in his first museum exhibition in the United States. “Mushrooms/Clouds” features paintings, prints, sculptures and video. It also goes far beyond the walls of the museum.

“Mushrooms/Clouds,” its title clearly referring not only to natural phenomena but also to the effects of nuclear explosions, is particularly timely as the national debate continues over the proposed and partially built Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository in southern Nevada, and as the Nevada Test Site continues to be the location of anti-weapons demonstrations. The mysticism of various locations in the West is also explored.

According to Ann Wolfe, the museum’s curator, this is an exhibition “that embraces metaphor and analogy as tools for layering multiple meanings. From mushroom spore prints to a sculpture in the form of a nuclear mushroom cloud and videos that explore the cloudlike properties of water and smoke, Drury makes visible the subtle connections between the realms of science, culture, politics and the history of place.

One of Britain’s more prolific and celebrated artists, Drury’s work is in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and British Museum, and the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle. He recently completed an artist residency with the British Antarctic Survey.

Drury works with natural tools – plants, trees, fungi, water – and fashions objects – caves, cairns, baskets, bundles – making clear conceptual links between the materials as well as making observations on destruction and regeneration, life and death.

A centerpiece of the Nevada exhibition is “Destroying Angel,” a large installation suspended from the ceiling using strands of microfilament tied with bundles of sagebrush, making for a marked similarity between a living mushroom and a nuclear mushroom cloud.

A nearby video shows a burning sage bundle and its smoke, referencing American Indian purification ceremonies.

Adding to the uniqueness of this exhibition, a first for the Nevada Museum of Art, is a commitment to using art as a tool in understanding the environment. Therefore, the museum has collaborated with the FOR-SITE Foundation, the Desert Research Institute, and the Pyramid Lake Museum/Visitor Center for Drury’s creations far from downtown Reno.

“Cloud Pool Chamber,” for instance, was installed in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada at the FOR-SITE Foundation in Nevada City. It’s been reconstructed in the museum’s rooftop sculpture gallery. Made from logs from Donner State Park, it’s a hutlike structure with a hand-carved granite pool. Guests can enter and watch clouds passing overhead reflected in the pool.

A three-hour round-trip east from Reno can take visitors to “Winnemucca Whirlwind,” a 300-foot-diameter drawing executed on the surface of Winnemucca Dry Lake, near the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservations. This was once a marshy wetland, which became inaccessible to the tribe when its reservation boundaries were enforced by the government, and which dried up after its water was diverted for other uses in the early part of the last century. The drawing symbolically reclaims the lake for the tribe.

To view the whirlwind, a $7 day pass is required from the Nixon Store on the reservation, a global-positioning devices can be used to locate it, a hidden canister can be found in so you can leave thoughts and a thumbprint, and walking on or near the drawing is prohibited.

It can be viewed from rock outcroppings just off Highway 447, north of Nixon, Nev. Take Interstate 80 east from Reno to 447 and turn north.

At the museum, visitors are invited to add their thumbprints, using soil pigments collected from the Great Basin, to “Touching the Eye of the Storm,” a work inspired by the whirlwind, and one that will grow as the exhibition continues.

The museum has put together several activities in conjunction with “Mushrooms/Clouds,” including an art trip to the Nevada Test Site, talks, night readings and stargazing from the rooftop, photo workshops, a family program of native stories and weavings, and even a “Toddler Art Adventure: Veggies and Clouds.”

“Mushrooms/Clouds” is a work in progress and runs through Oct. 5: “The process is probably the most valuable thing … the way that making a work with people changes you and changes the people probably has more importance than the actual objects left behind,” says Drury.


WHAT: “Mushrooms/Clouds” main exhibition, through Oct. 5 at the Nevada Museum of Art, 160 W. Liberty St., Reno; (775) 329-3333a

ADMISSION: $10 general, $8 students and seniors, $1 ages 6-12

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays. The Café Musee (open 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) on the main floor of the museum is popular with locals and visitors. It is operated by the Wine and Cheese Board, another popular lunch spot across the street from the museum on California Avenue.

A full schedule of events is available at

Categories enivornment, Indigenous, Oddities, Shundahai Network BlogTags , , , ,

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