- Associated Press - Thursday, May 28, 2015

RENO, Nev. (AP) - Laura Hellen of Reno stood in the cold rain mesmerized.

“I think you learn about people’s lives by just reading one sentence,” Hellen said, browsing through the more than 1,000 multicolored tags that dangled on New York City-based artist Scott Cohen’s Life Cube.

Life Cube is just one of the dozen or so sculptures featured at the first-ever Reno Sculpture Fest, which was in Reno’s ReTrac Plaza through Sunday, May 10.

“I wish it was more permanent than just a few days,” Hellen said, standing in the neon light of the Life Cube.

Each tag hanging from the cube, which also was adorned in chalk drawings and murals, has the wish of a student or teacher from the Washoe County School District.

“I wish the Dallas Cowboys win the super bowl 3 years in a row,” one tag said.

“I wish not to be homeless,” said another.

“I could be here all night. I’d like to read every one of them,” Hellen said.

Despite the damp weather on the first night of Reno Sculpture Fest, many other people felt the same way.

Locals and tourists alike gawked at the wide variety of sculptures, some of them climbing, posing and swinging on them.

The majority of the sculptures are meant to be active, according to Reno Art Works founder Aric Shapiro, who organized Reno Sculpture Fest and designed a sculpture that beckons observers to find their reflection in one of the live video streams that is posted on the outside of his sculpture.

The interactive elements of each sculpture on display this weekend are all different.

Jessi Sprocket Janusee’s “Espiritus” is a metal tee-pee which you can walk into and admire an assortment of ivory bones from the inside out.

Pan Pantoja created a police officer shooting a gun with a white flag while a giant smart phone records the scene, ironically placed directly in front of several police officers present on duty at the festival. Even the officers appeared to be enjoying the artwork, talking with some of the artists and those passing through.

“I guess artists have always been given a break while telling the truth,” Pantoja said.

In the center of the plaza, people grabbed onto the spokes of Mike Burke’s massive, metal, water circulating “Desert Umbrella,” a sculpture that encourages water recycling in a fun way. The creaky structure was hard-pressed to spin with the pushing of just one person but quickly became a merry-go-round with the effort of several.

Many tourists stopped for selfies with the “Believe” word sculpture placed deliberately under the iconic Reno arch on Virginia Street, sections of which were closed off to traffic.

“It wasn’t here yesterday,” Levette Allen, of Chicago, said while admiring the Jeff Schomberg piece known for its appearance at Burning Man 2013.

Allen and her husband, Jeffery Allen, posed with various letters for photos to remember their Biggest Little City trip by. They said that they try to travel regularly and were in Reno more for the quintessential casino experience but were pleasantly surprised to see the public art festival going on downtown.

“I just love art. I love history. Whatever makes people happy wherever they are,” Levette Allen said. “Believe. That’s a good message to have.”

Many of the artists were on-site watching the public interact with their pieces.

Internationally recognized visual artist Android Jones stood on the balcony of the Whitney Peak Hotel, watching others watch his projection of a kaleidoscope video onto the face of the Eldorado Hotel and Casino across the plaza. Images of butterflies, rain drops and geometric shapes and graphics swirled into each other, entrancing a still audience below.

Sculptor Brett Mohen had a good chuckle after he saw someone climb his 2,000-pound steel sculpture which also serves as a bench. The bench is made of a former City Hall step from 1906 that was salvaged and is only one of four steps remaining.

Artist Matt Schultz circled the pieces that he collaborated on while snapping photos of passersby interacting with them.

“It’s a different feeling. We’ve had some of the biggest crowds around our art,” Schultz said, referring to some of the installations, such as “Embrace,” that he has debuted at Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert. “But this is our home. It’s nice being able to inspire different groups of people.”

Schultz watched as people — some timidly and others aggressively — approached a glossy, green, life-sized toy soldier pointing a gun straight ahead. A young boy held his hands up, a woman took the soldier’s neck in a choke-hold, and one man wrapped his mouth around the barrel of the firearm.

“It’s really incredible, the different reactions,” he said.

Sebastian Toussaint of Reno stood, staring for several minutes at Schultz’s other collaborative project, the hands that complement the former “Embrace” sculpture, which burned down at last year’s Burning Man.

“Thinking about someone actually has the passion to take all the time to do that. It’s insane,” Toussaint said.

Toussaint said that Reno’s downtown could use more public art on a regular basis.

“Art kind of tops it all,” Toussaint said. “To have all this down here kind of sparks something.”

___

Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, https://www.rgj.com


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