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Landscape Futures

Perception shifts as art and nature intersect at the Nevada Museum of Art

by Meghan Killeen in Design on 06 September 2011

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Promising "unexpected access to the invisible," what exactly the Nevada Museum of Art's current show Landscape Futures proposes isn't immediately clear. On first blush, the work looks like the usual collection of forward-thinking designs. But here there's a catch.

The exhibit's range of large-scale installations, experiments and devices all concern themselves less with the design itself than with the viewer's reaction to it. Two years in the making, Bldgblog editor Geoff Manaugh worked with the NMA to develop an exhibition that would reflect the intersection of art and landscape architecture contextualized by the ever-evolving scope of design communication. The resulting project surveys methods for architecturally inventing and exploring the human perception of and interaction with their environments.

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This flip-flopped point of view comes from Manaugh's desire "to look at the devices, mechanisms, instruments, and pieces of equipment—the technology—through which humans can learn to see the landscape around them differently." Revising the concept of "landscape futures" he posits that maybe we don't need to devise new landscapes, "but simply little devices through which to see the world in new and unexpected ways."

Artists Chris Woebken and Kenichi Okada's interactive installation "Animal Superpowers" anthropomorphizes human sensory capabilities. Furthering the theme of human impact on environment, design firm Smout Allen's Rube-Goldberg-inspired system visualizes a technological landscape that can adapt to our water needs.

An architectural commentary on the Arctic landscape, "The Active Layer" by experimental design group The Lateral Office consists of thousands of wooden dowels arranged to point out the tenuous geography in the North. "Embracing speculative scenarios in order to provoke new ways of thinking about the future" is at the heart of the exhibition, explains Manaugh.

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Furthering the cause is the recently-launched Landscape Futures Night School, a series of event-styled lectures sponsored by Studio X in conjunction with Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture under Manaugh's current direction (along with Nicola Twilley). On hand at the debut installment was lecturer Liam Young, founder of the futuristic think-tank Tomorrow's Thoughts Today and fellow featured exhibition artist. Creating "living maps of moss," Young's "Specimens of Unnatural History" ecologically replicate the Galapagos islands as populated with robotic and taxidermy entities that simultaneously reflect a "cautionary tale" of the future and a throwback to the naturalistic height of the Victorian era.

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Supporting the contemplative narrative of his work, Young presented a metaphysical tour-de-force of his expeditions, ranging from Chernobyl dreamscapes to invasive species in the Galapagos conducted under the nomadic studio group, Unknown Fields Division—a group devoted to "unreal and forgotten landscapes, alien terrains and obsolete ecologies."

Landscape Futures runs until 12 February 2012 at the Nevada Museum of Art.

"Specimens of Unnatural History" images by Liam Young. All other images by Jamie Kingman.

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