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Artists install immersive, environmental art for Life is Beautiful

One of the most striking sculptures at this year’s Life is Beautiful festival was created by a Girl Scout.

After spending most of her last seven birthdays at the annual music and art festival, this year soon-to-be 19-year-old Tahoe Mack will display her life-size Monumental Mammoth for the first time.

In its seventh year, Life is Beautiful is expanding its art lineup to include more 3D installations, immersive works and interactive pieces. To that end, the 18-foot-tall mammoth is in good company.

“She came up with the idea to do the mammoth out of debris and other recyclable materials,” says Samantha Rayburn, manager of festival operations for the event. “She’s a young visionary and we’re so excited to have her.”

When Mack was 15, Sherry Grotheer, director of the nonprofit organization Protectors of Tule Springs, spoke to Mack’s Girl Scouts troop and shared the history of the group of women who, beginning in 2006, gathered informally to protect the Tule Springs area.

“They heard that they were going to put development over the fossil beds, which would’ve been completely lost and destroyed. So they made a stand to protect the land starting in 2006,” Mack says.

In December 2014, Tule Springs was made a national monument, but the area remained a popular location for illegal dumping.

For Mack, the piles of metal debris were inspiring.

“It’s really cool in Las Vegas, and especially at Life is Beautiful, there are a lot of pieces made out of recycled trash, like Bordelo last year with his meerkat car,” Mack says. “It’s just so cool being in a city where they reuse materials.”

For her prestigious Girl Scouts Gold Award, Mack needed to execute a project that would be independent, sustainable and require no fewer than 80 hours of work.

She conceived a life-size mammoth — an animal that long ago roamed the wetlands area north of Las Vegas — constructed from the abandoned light fixtures, bullet casings, car parts, broken tools and clock parts strewn about Tule Springs.

Mack started by reaching out to local artists for help, and ended up finding an entire community of assistance.

Luis Valera-Rico, the welder who created “Radial Symmetry” on Main Street, taught Mack how to draw up a sketch using computer-aided design, and weld the mammoth’s interior skeleton. Artist Dana Albany helped Mack design the exterior using recycled materials.

“I would go to school until 2:30, then put on my welding outfit and work until 8 or 9,” Mack says.

Fresh off a jaunt to Burning Man, she hopes Life is Beautiful festivalgoers will be just as inquisitive as burners regarding the mammoth’s environmental significance.

“The art there is out of this world. We would present to every person or group who came and tell them about the project and conservation,” Mack says.

Sometime next spring, the Monumental Mammoth will be permanently installed at Ice Age Fossils State Park.

Lasting impressions

Another local artist, Eric Vozzola, was contacted by Life is Beautiful organizers to create an installation for this year’s festival.

While he has contributed to murals in downtown Las Vegas, the 25-foot-tall and 140-foot-long wall is his largest ever single surface.

In his mural, “An Allegory of Natural Beauty,” he depicts what he finds beautiful: patterns, plantlife and the balance of black and white.

The lower part of the mural features a handful of patterns in different color palettes.

“I wanted to create backgrounds and moments for people to interact with,” he says. “I’m curious to see how people photograph with it or crop it.”

After drafting a digital sketch of the mural, he largely free-handed the design, navigating a cherry picker across the wall to paint a bending line.

His mural is across a parking lot from a 2017 mural by Spanish artist Okuda San Miguel and opposite an immersive installation of a European market by Portugese artist Akacorleone.

“It’s nice for visitors to see that mix of international artists and local pieces. It gives some weight to the art community,” Vozzola says. “It kind of speaks to the melting pot of the city. We’re all just artists making work whether we’re from here or not.”

Immersive forest

Albie Alexander, founder of the immersive experiential art pop-up 29Rooms, is partnering with Brooklyn artist Sam Cannon to create a temporary exhibit inside the Western Hotel.

The experience will invite visitors to explore a forest of silhouetted trees before reaching a clearing of grassy knolls. There, they can lie on the grass and take in projected images Cannon filmed in parks near her home and on vacation in Hawaii.

“The installation is centered around kicking off a discussion with attendees about the climate crisis,” Cannon says. “We’re partnering with Sierra Club to create this moment of respite and meditation.”

Other innovative works making an appearance at this year’s event include a kinetic yarn sculpture by Hot Tea; a towering mural made to look convincingly like a shadow box of butterflies by Mantra; and an installation that utilizes shadow to create projected typography by Indian artist Daku.

Most of the internationally-sourced artworks are curated by Justkids, a creative house that coordinates comprehensive art projects.

“For the past seven years, Justkids has really helped shape downtown,” says Rayburn.

While, like most years, some installations will only be accessible during the festival, the murals will be here to stay.

“When you’re thinking about Life is Beautiful as a whole, the mission is to transform the community,” says Life is Beautiful CEO Justin Weniger. “Every year, downtown gets slightly more beautified with more murals, more walkability.”

Weniger lives downtown. He remembers even four or five years ago it would have been unthinkable to walk down Fremont Street from Las Vegas Boulevard to Maryland Parkway.

“It’s amazing,” he says. “Now you see people doing art tours and having this sense of pride. From the start, the mission was to spark this sense of art and culture and community.”

Contact Janna Karel at jkarel@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jannainprogress on Twitter.

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