Visual Arts

human / nature, at Hinterland, explores our complex relationship with nature

Humans have a complex relationship with nature: At times, we want to be a part of it or to observe it, while at others, we want to control it. Artist Jason Reno has spent the past few years exploring the way people manipulate nature and use it as a tool, such as a fan moving air or an oar moving water. In his new show, human / nature, opening Friday at Hinterland, he'll share his work, which documents his studies of the interactions between humans, the weather, nature and tools.

Many of the pieces in the show have sculptural elements because a natural shaping of the materials lends itself to the content and theme, but Reno doesn't use the usual materials. Rather, he employs Swiss Army Knives, wishbones, tumbleweeds or building blocks. His approach, he explains, is less about creating a new form -- as in other modes of sculpting -- and more about finding new ways to look at old forms. Many of the pieces are stagings of ordinary objects, the goal being to call attention to that object's utilitarian side.

"The relationship generally occupies a lot of my attention," Reno explains. "It's really in all of my work. I work conceptually, in a process-driven way that's has a performance quality to it, even though the audience doesn't see the performance. But at the same time, my work is also very material-based -- I have a background in sculpture and a lot of the materials tend to be natural. But there's refinement, that's both due to my efforts as an artist, and the way that we use natural materials, like lumber, normally."

One of the natural materials Reno examines in his work is a dowsing stick, which traditionally is used to find water, ore, gems and other materials by "divining." The dowsing stick is just one of the ways people have tried to control the weather, or nature -- in this case by using the stick as an extension of the self, to connect or communicate with hidden elements. Reno says that's the interaction he's so interested in.

"Dowsing is soft science, in a way," Reno says. "The stick that I chose is a pretty standard one, where the dowser hold the two ends of a branch and paces across a plot of land and whenever the point of it pulls, they supposedly found something. A lot of scientist dismiss it completely, but it's worked with a great deal of success. And some work better than others, so this idea that you can be in-tune with nature and earth is an interesting concept and the dowsing becomes a symbol of that."

Being "in-tune" with nature can mean many things, and Reno explores both the connection with humans and nature and the disconnect. His subjects, the objects he chooses to focus on in any given piece, take on unusual meanings in the context of his composition and ask the viewer to reexamine his or her own relationship with nature. Reno says that it's a more simple concept than it may seem.

"I guess at the same time that it's very materially-driven and conceptually based, it's also very elemental too," he explains. "The materials are extremely significant to developing the concept. It all relates back to minimalism. The difference, for me, is that a lot of the time sculptures and drawings and are artifacts or relics of a process. I don't really want to be didactic about our relationship with nature, I just want to be aware of it."

The opening reception for human / nature begins Friday, June 15, at 6 p.m., at Hinterland (3254 Walnut Street). The show runs through July 7 with a First Friday reception on July 6. For more information, visit Hinterland's web page.

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Tiffany Fitzgerald