This is a blog of ongoing projects starting with: 1) Antarctica -Dec. 2006 - February 2007 2) Work made from the experience 2008 3) Nevada Feb. - Oct. 2008

Friday, July 25, 2008


Nevada Museum of Art, Reno
August 9th – October 5th 2008

In the exhibition literature the Ann Wolfe writes:

‘Chris Drury investigates themes related to the environment, emphasizing cycles of destruction and regeneration in nature, and the ways that humans affect these processes. In Mushrooms | Clouds, Drury brings an international perspective to topics ranging from land and water appropriation to nuclear testing in the American West.

In many of his artworks – located inside and outside the Nevada Museum of Art galleries – Drury utilizes materials collected from such places as Pyramid Lake, Donner State Park, and the Nevada Test site to engage museum guests in the ongoing debates related to scientific, cultural, environmental, and political issues.

Why Mushrooms and Clouds?
As the primary regenerators of soil in nature, but also poisonous agents of death, mushrooms are a metaphor for the cycle of destruction and regeneration in the environment. From mushroom spore prints to a sculpture that takes the form of a nuclear mushroom cloud; a multiple video works that explore cloud-like properties of smoke and water, Drury makes visible the subtle connections between art and environment.’

Five works from my Studio:

Destroying Angel – Trinity (see under Shows and Installations)
3 x 187 cm square canvasses, white printed spore prints and radiating lines of text in white ink and pencil on black prepared canvas. Text reads: 'Amanita virosa- Destroying angel'

I have a continuing fascination with mushrooms and their spore prints. Up until this summer (2003) when I saw two Destroying Angels (Amanita virosa) growing in the forests of Ontario, I had never seen one. Because of this I had to use its colourful relative, Amanita muscaria for the central spore print. If you cut off the stem of a mushroom and place it on a piece of paper overnight, covered with a bowl, it will drop its spores onto the paper in the pattern of the gills. The spore print here is digitally scanned and printed in three versions and altered by changing the contrast in Photoshop. The prints are glued and ironed onto the canvas which is built up in layers of gesso to form a surface for writing.
This radiating pattern of spore lines draws you in as a mandala would, but if you take a magnifying glass and follow one line from the centre out to the periphery then you will notice that each line branches and branches again like the limb of a tree. In making these densely written works this is in fact what I do: I follow the principle of the line that branches, only in densely hand-written words, in inks of different tones, with reed pens of different thickness, gathered from the banks of the river (everything flows here) and which have to be constantly sharpened and dried. The written words are repeated and hypnotic, like a mantra. The words cease to have meaning, the concentration is on the sound. A word that has a good sound is easy to write. It flows on to the canvas. The concentration is on the sound, the shape, the size, the colour, the tone, the branches. The words are the mantra that shape the mandala.
The mushroom Amanita virosa - Destroying Angel - is pure white and utterly deadly if you are foolish enough to eat it. Symptoms of poisoning may take 24 hours to appear by which time it is too late to do anything. Severe vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pains may last a day or more and are then followed by a period of recovery. The patient may think his ordeal is over and may be released from hospital only to die in agony within a few days from liver and kidney failure.
The name Destroying Angel has a strange pull and I have long wanted to make a work with this mushroom. With the events of September 11th and the ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it seemed like now was the right time. The mushroom is symbolically paradoxical: mushrooms are agents of decay, but by breaking down organic matter into soil they create the foundation of life on our planet. I like this duality; the image of a destroying angel brings to mind the fearsome sword-wielding Shinto deity, Fudo Myoo, who by cutting through the ego, liberates rather than destroys.

Spore Grid
35 R type prints on 2mm aluminium from 2cm spore prints on glass slides. 
Each 39 x 39 cm. Overall 194 x 273 cm

Boletus Circle
Screen print of a boletus spore print in mud on paper: 120 cm x 100 cm

Spore Waves
A three minute looped video of a spore print projected onto a creek at night with its image mirrored on the adjoining rock wall. Waves and ripples from the water course through the image.


The Way of White Clouds
A three minute looped video of a white cloudy stream of water entering still black water.

Shattered Peace, Broken promises – real time
Shattered Peace, Broken promises – slow time

Two looped videos, in real and slow time, of the effect of the sound of three explosions on a thin column of smoke from a sage brush bundle.

Maidu Clouds
The reflections of the sky during intervals throughout one day, in the acorn tea filled depressions, of both a Maidu grinding rock and the stone pool in the Cloud Chamber.
These are projected into the corner of a room, and re reflected back into a square pool of water placed beneath them.


Cloud Pool Chamber
12’ x 10’ digital print of the chamber at For-Site, Nevada City.

Winnemucca Whirlwind
10’ x 15’ digital print of The Winnemucca Lake desert drawing.

Life in the presence of Death 1
24” x 18” digital print of Frenchmans Flat from the air and a magnified image Microcoleus vaginatus, an organism found in the soil of the same place.


Life in the presence of Death 11
A Partial gene sequence (559 letters) stenciled along the length of a 60’ wall, like 7 tomb stones, in Test Site earth and PVA.

559 Shelter Stones
559 stones from near Pyramid Lake, built into a random scattered arrangement of stones which group in the middle into a small fragile shelter.

Dust to Dust, Ashes to Ashes
A 12’ diam. wall work in dust from the museum and ashes from the burned off-cuts of The cloud Pool Chamber, in the pattern of a mushroom spore print.

Destroying Angel
6’ diam. by 12’ high
513 strands of nylon fishing twine stung between hooks from floor to ceiling and arranged in the plan pattern of a spore print, holding fragments of sage brush which go to create the 3D. clouded image of the mushroom, Amanita virosa, which of course resembles a nuclear mushroom cloud.

Cloud Pool Chamber
The reconstructed log Chamber from For-Site on the roof space of the museum, where passing white clouds from off the Sierras will be mirrored in the interior stone pool.

Touching the Eye of the Storm
A 10’ diam. drawing which mirrors the Winnemucca Whirlwind drawing in the desert, made by the accumulated earth fingerprints from visitors to the museum.


The exhibition is made in collaboration with For-Site in California and the Nevada Museum of Art and will be a show about place, referencing climate, ecology, history, land use and appropriation. The title itself references The Nevada Test Site, but gives me the excuse to explore in more depth these two natural phenomena (mushrooms and Clouds) which have preoccupied me for over 25 years and to use them as a focus to find connections which link them to this high desert and its history and to the wider cycle of life and death.

In February this year I visited both ForSite in the gold mining Sierra Nevada foothills near Nevada City and the Museum in Reno, where I was able to see the space and talk to scientists at the Desert Research Institute who have offices in the city and also in Las Vegas, where I also able to visit the Atomic Testing Museum which is linked to it.
The result is that I have been corresponding and talking to Lynne Fernstermaker, a microbiologist working for the DRI and together we have explored ways to make visible a micro-organism growing in the soil on Frenchmans Flat, the area where atmospheric nuclear tests were made. Lynne has produced a microscopic image of Microcoleus vaginatus which looks very similar in form to the dried wash of Frenchmans Flat seen from space. These images will make one work, and we will write the partial gene sequence (559) for the organism in large stencilled letters along one 60’ wall in soil from the Test Site. In seven blocks of 80 each they will resemble tomb stones. Together with the photographic images, this will make the works ‘Life in the Field of Death I & II.’

We will then take this number – 559 and reproduce it as 559 random stones built into a low primitive shelter on the floor of the gallery. The stones will be collected from the land close to Pyramid lake on the Paiute reservation.

The Work at For-Site in the Sierra Nevada foothills

In May I began work at ForSite, Nevada City, where we made 4 works:
Cloud Pool Chamber (2)
Maidu Clouds
Shattered Peace, Broken Promises (real time)
Shattered Peace, Broken Promises (slow time)

The Cloud Pool Chamber is an octagon log Structure, built over a granite boulder which holds a pool of water in the carved dished upper face, acting as a mirror for the interior structure and the sky and trees seen through the top opening of the log structure. Each log has been notched and numbered and the work sat between two large granite outcroppings.

The work was photographed on site (work 1) and then the whole structure has been dismantled and re erected on the flat roof space of the museum, where the mirror pool will reflect the white puffed clouds coming off the Sierra Nevada (work 2)

The land around ForSite was once inhabited by Maidu people who tended the land for optimum production of oak trees. They ground the acorns into a flour in what are now called grinding rocks. These are granite boulders pitted with deep indentations which acted as querns. There are native peoples still alive today who could remember their grandparents doing this. The land however was grabbed in the gold rush and decimated. Today the rivers are still polluted and gold mining is ongoing. The land has been logged and most of the oaks gone, and scrub has invaded what was once productive pasture with much biodiversity. It is still however very beautiful.

Having filled both the dish in the log chamber and one of the grinding rocks with a brown liquid from boiled acorns, I have filmed passing clouds in these mirrored pools over the course of a day. These will make up a video projection within the museum (work 3).

‘Shattered Peace, Broken promises’ (work 4) is another 6 minute looped video of a thin line of smoke from a sage brush bundle (used by native Americans as a cleansing smoke), which is subjected to the sound of 3 explosions (inaudible in the projection). The work is projected and played in real time and also in a slow time, where you can see just how the line of smoke particles are broken down by the waves of sound. This piece connects to another which we will install in the gallery which will be hundreds of small fragments of sagebrush suspended on nylon threads, floor to ceiling, in the shape of the mushroom Amanita virosa (Destroying Angel) and resembling a nuclear mushroom cloud.


From ForSite we moved to the desert around Pyramid lake on the Paiute reservation where we made ‘Winnemucca Whirlwind’ in collaboration with the Pauite Indians. The Paiutes used to consider that land their hunting and fishing territory back in the 1800’s when it was in fact a lake. The US government redrew their boundaries, gave them the larger Pyramid Lake and took Winnemucca. Having done this, they diverted some of the Truckee river into the desert to grow crops. The result was that Pyramid Lake dropped 80’, they lost the Salmon runs and Winnemucca dried out and became the white salt pan it is today. The Paiutes took the government to court recently and won compensation, but nothing that will really compensate for the loss of an ecosystem.

Winnemucca in the 1800's. The boat must be more or less over where we made the drawing

The drawing is from a coil basket design, and is made just over the fence on Government land, but can really only be seen from a nearby high vantage point on Paiute land. So in a sense it is a symbolic reclaiming of the lake. It was made by raking the salt surface ( a tough job as the surface is rock hard and has to be broken each foot of the way). The weather was so hot during the day and the sun so blinding on the white surface, that we came back at sunset and worked on late into the night by the light of a full moon. We camped on the lake and were up again at 5.00 am. Finishing the raking by sunrise. That evening we returned to take photographs which we did in the light of an approaching storm. By the following day the rain had brought the salts back to the surface and the drawing had disappeared.

Sketchbook drawing for Whirlwind

Raking the drawing just before sunset

It had been our intention to encourage visitors to the museum to drive out to Winnemucca, pay the stopping fee to the Paiute and leave a finger print in the visitor book, held in a tin on the viewing butte above the drawing. They would also add their fingerprints to the growing earth whirlwind drawing in a wall in the museum. It turns out however that this drawing is a rainmaker, as the staff at the museum went out in June/July and re-raked it, only to have the same thing happen again – washed out in a flash flood. All that remains is the 12’ x 15’ digital image on the walls of the museum.

From Pyramid we went south to Vegas and took the free tour of the Test Site, which since the Test Treaty, only conducts very small tests underground. Having read up a lot of the material behind and around nuclear testing in Nevada, I knew a bit about, the damage it had caused, including radiation deaths to witnessing troops and farmers downwind in Utah, to say nothing of the summary appropriation of Shoshone hunting grounds. During the tour and in the museum, people are fed what I can only mildly describe as a diet of propaganda and disinformation. The tour was in fact a window onto the whole sorry saga of the misuse and degradation of a vast area of desert.

In August I will return to install the show over a two week period where the public will be able to see some of the works being made in situ. There will be 15 works comprising sculpture installations, wall works, photoworks, drawings, prints and videos.