On the Nevada Museum of Art’s online events calendar, one of the newest installations has an abnormally long run date of Sept. 1, 2022, until Sept. 1, 2030. This is just an estimate though—properly maintained fruit trees will live far longer than just eight years.
“Monument to Sharing” is a new installation from artists David Allen Burns and Austin Young, who operate together as the Fallen Fruit Collective. The piece is comprised of 21 fruit-bearing trees, various edible pollinator plants, and a berry patch, and is currently being installed in the Wilbur D. May Sculpture Plaza on the grounds of the Nevada Museum of Art.
“It is a sculpture garden, and we think of all the plants literally as sculpture—they just happen to be alive,” said Burns. “And so the idea of a monument is less thinking about monuments needing to be a physical object that represents an idea or a noun. And instead, what happens if a monument is an action or a gesture?”
Ostensibly, “Monument to Sharing” will look and function as an edible food garden, with the public encouraged to harvest any of the produce that it bears, although the artists estimate there won’t be any fruit for at least a few years. The artistic ethos behind the sculpture comes from examining themes of resource management, community, and how public space is used—ideas that the Fallen Fruit Collective has spent almost two decades exploring in projects all over the world.
“We started in 2004 by mapping fruit in public space in Los Angeles,” Young said. “We were just looking at this ignored resource that existed in public space at the time. We started thinking about how to connect people in the community through this resource and thinking about public and private space and how we could use public space as a way to share resources. So sharing has always been a core theme of our work.”
That original work still exists as part of the Endless Orchard, an online collaboration that allows people to map out publically available fruit trees in their area. The Fallen Fruit Collective has since created other projects that use fruit-bearing plants to build community and encourage participation, like “Urban Fruit Trails, Omaha” which used a network of apple trees to create a walkable path with bilingual signage encouraging people to take the apples when ripe, or another iteration of “Monument to Sharing” in the Los Angeles State Historic Park—32 orange trees in individual planters bearing quotes collected from people who live in the surrounding neighborhood. Members of the public are invited to help plant the trees, maintain them, and share their fruit.
“Our work has always been about trust because public space is normally managed by fear and fear of what people will do,” Young said. “We always want to turn that on its head and think, you know, we should trust each other and we can share.”
A Living Portrait
According to Burns, even though each project can look “chaotic and maximalist” in the end result, each plant and element of the sculpture is carefully chosen not just for its aesthetic appeal or ecological necessity, but viewed through a local cultural and historic context. For the NMA installation, the artists referenced the Truckee Meadows’ Indigenous heritage and the history of European colonialism and trade.
“It’s a balance of plants that are selected that are native indigenous to this Sierra Nevadas and the Coastal Plains—sort of crossing a couple of hundred miles,” Burns said. “And then that is being combined with things that were brought here in the past couple hundred years that are primarily European and some are Asian, so plums or quince or pomegranates or figs. It’s about creating this kind of new way of looking at how plants could tell a story about Reno.”
New to this installment, however, is the addition of edible pollinator plants, Burns said, an homage to the trail that once ran between Reno and San Francisco.
Fallen Fruit Collective often spends weeks, if not months, researching of the city they are building in. The artists read historical material and, more often, simply talk with residents first-hand. In the case of the NMA’s “Monument,” however, both artists had a preexisting knowledge base.
“It’s kind of just good luck that Austin was raised here,” Burns said. And Burns has visited Reno many times. The artists also sought the advice of local expert Tom Stille from River School Farm.
The project also includes a written aspect in the form of Fallen Fruit Magazine—a collaborative collage made by members of the community which the artists will collate and print.
“We create writing prompts,” Burns said. “Like, one’s about myths and legends, and then one just says, ‘When I was a kid, dot, dot, dot.’ But what they are, more than anything, is to hopefully invoke someone to feel compelled to share something that is personal about Reno. We are less interested in a plain fact, but like a poem would be cool, or something you would overhear in a coffee shop.”
Participants at the museum’s First Thursday event on Sept. 1 were invited to contribute to the collage. The invitation will continue during First Thursdays over the next six months.
Most of the Collective’s association with the NMA takes place long-term. “Monument to Sharing” is considered a permanent installation, and in fact, it is being timed to hopefully produce its first batch of fruit in 2025—when the museum’s 50,000 square foot expansion is slated to open.
Burns and Young hope to have most of the plants installed by the end of October. After that, it will be up to museum patrons and passersby to decide on how the resources will be distributed, if there is enough to go around, and what a simple piece of food can represent to the person who receives it.
“Fruit is always political,” Burns said. “You might come to the museum and instead of just seeing something and telling your family or your friends, you might leave the museum and be like, ‘I’m going to pick a few things and then go do something with them.’ So that the ideas that you learned in the museum get re-triggered because you just have a handful of rosemary. The rosemary has nothing to do with what you saw upstairs, but now they’re connected.”
Fallen Fruit Collective’s “Monument to Sharing” is on view indefinitely on the ground of the Nevada Museum of Art.