Metro Weekly

Spotlight: Sam Nester’s ‘Arcadia’ at George Mason University

A groundbreaking installation that puts the background environment into the foreground

Yassmin Salem with Don Russell and Sarah D'Alexander
Yassmin Salem with Don Russell and Sarah D’Alexander — Photo: Evan Cantwell/Creative Services/George Mason University

All year long, George Mason University presents a technology-enabled audiovisual installation that bridges the realms of art, nature, and self-care and is rooted in the natural, real-time biorhythms of plants.

Sensors attached to plants in the Mason greenhouse provide data that is then applied to produce real-time sound through a variety of digital instruments and LED light based on pitches from those instruments, as part of the groundbreaking Arcadia, presented by Mason’s College of Visual and Performing Arts in partnership with the School of Art’s Murals at Mason and Mason Exhibitions initiatives.

With a title referencing Greek mythology — specifically, the domain of the god of music and the wild — and the utopian ideal of natural harmony, New York-based artist and musician Sam Nester, in an official statement, characterizes his installation as one that puts “the environment from the background around us into the foreground from our increasingly urbanized existence [and] aims to be an Edenic return to nature and humans in balance.”

In addition to helping “cultivate green consciousness” among all those who view it, Arcadia is helping to inform and inspire a variety of cross-disciplinary activity and research at Mason. The virtual exhibition is currently being used as the backdrop for 30-minute guided meditations every Thursday via Zoom led by the university’s Center for Well Being.

And the constant monitoring of plants and biodata generation is aiding scientific research into plant propagation and food security issues as they relate to native Virginian species, everything from ginseng and echinacea, to dwarf thornless raspberries and currant shrubs. It will also serve as a test site for inquiry into medicinal plants native to the commonwealth such as Black Cohosh, Wild Indigo, and Pink Azalea.

On display through December 2021 through an always-on livestream, viewable from @masonarcadia on Twitch or by visiting www.masonexhibitions.org.

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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @ruleonwriting.

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