Cities around the world are exploring energy self-sufficient systems in preparation for the end of conventional sources of energy such as oil: renewable energies are applied in form of public artworks giving the urban planners a new and versatile tool for sustainable energy generation into cities in both small and large scale. There is an increasing interest in designing social and environmental energy infrastructures using aesthetics and design as an ethical driver: the aim of this approach is to actualize public art that fulfils its traditional role while pushing the envelope of technology and progress at aesthetic harmony with the natural world, trying also to educate the citizens in approving and understanding the importance of renewable energy for future use.
About the broader environmental art movement in the city, it is important to cite the beautiful long history of eco-art, a movement that has a profound ethical impact over the past decades made by its pioneering practitioners. Eco-art continues to educate and inform by making people think about environmental issues in interesting and conceptual ways, and thereby arousing the slumbering environmental activist within us all. Eco-art is a contemporary art movement that addresses local and global environmental issues. In their work, eco-artists explore a variety of ideas and intentions, which may include environmental ethics, information about ecological systems and the use of natural forms and materials in art. Some eco-art is functional, striving to reclaim, restore or remediate damaged environments. Eco-art can re-envision ecological relationships and even propose new models for sustainability. Eco-art can change in a positive and educative way the attitude of citizens toward a more reflexive and ecological behaviour into the cities.
In general, there is a certain amount of disapproval by common people toward solar or wind installations in their communities, mainly because they are considered form of visual pollution. Perhaps some of this renewable art projects will change people minds, defining a more open attitude toward renewable energy. Some art installations incorporates renewable energy into the design, in permanent sculpture or temporary installation, utilizing the generated efficient power to operate kinetic aspects such as movements or LEDs lighting. These systems have the power to reconfigure the space and the identity of the city with self-sustainable lights while educating people to the new possibilities of renewable energies in their communities.
In the following paragraphs, several projects are presented in order to depict this tendency. Some of these are environmental art examples of practitioners and pioneer. Some other examples comes from the Solar Artworks Project by Nacho Zamora from Dubai (www.solarartworks.com) and are mainly solar artwork usually located in public spaces, that make use of new technologies related to solar power collection. Other are examples of wind and solar collection of energy for lighting temporary installations. Due to this attribute, these works of solar art usually play an important role by contributing clean energy, establishing a different relationship with citizens. They are functional, original and technologically-advanced models of energetic self-sufficiency within the urban landscape. Most of these projects have been created by studios of specialists from different knowledge fields. This multidisciplinary attribute further enriches projects, both formally and conceptually.
These works offer a wide variety of attractive, ecological, educational and participative proposals, with a common concept that designers want to transmit: changing our model of society towards another in which ecological awareness takes an active part in our daily lives. Artists, designers and architects around the world are developing projects that today could seem like science fiction, but it is certain that their work will take precedent in public spaces in the future.
Andrea Polli and Chuck Varga – Particle Falls 2011
Andrea Polli works at the intersection of art, science, and technology. Her artworks aim to make visible environmental issues and hazards that often go unnoticed in everyday life. She often works in collaboration with atmospheric scientists to develop systems for understanding storm and climate systems through video footage and sound. In Particle Falls, Polli and collaborator Chuck Varga use sound and video to create realtime visualization of particle pollution in Santa Clara, California. In another recent work Heart and Heartbeat in the City, Polli developed a series of sonifications in which the audience experiences oncoming climate change through sound.
CO2LED by Jack Sanders, Robert Gay, and Butch Anthony
CO2LED was a temporary installation made by Jack Sanders, Robert Gay, and Butch Anthony in Rosslyn. This trio of environmentally-friendly artists, Jack Sanders, Robert Gay, and Butch Anthony have created a temporary public artwork in Rosslyn. The project, titled CO2LED, has been erected at the traffic island at Ft. Myer Drive,North Lynn Street, and North Fairfax Drive, just north of the Meade Street Bridge over Arlington Boulevard (Route 50) at the southern entrance to Rosslyn, near the Iwo Jima memorial. On display through Labor Day, CO2LED celebrates environmental stewardship and beckons the way to the second annual Planet Arlington World Music Festival (Saturday, September 1, 4-10 PM at the Netherlands Carillon). CO2LED promotes the use of alternative energy sources: 552 solar-powered LEDs secured to rods of varying heights, each topped with a reused plastic drink bottle, illuminate the traffic island between North Lynn Street and Ft. Myer Drive. The poles’ slight flexibility, combined with the LEDs’ nebulous glow underneath the ridged surfaces of the plastic drink bottles, create a soft, undulating cloud of light. At the exhibition’s conclusion, the plants have been transplanted to sites throughout the County and all project materials will be recycled.
“This temporary’ project promotes ‘sustainability,’ hails the availability of alternative energy sources and technologies and demonstrates the ease of recycling,” says Jack Sanders. “We will reuse all the materials used in the project–everything.”
The use of energy-efficient, solar-powered LEDs, rather than conventional incandescent bulbs, has the power to significantly reduce the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the environment. Conventional lighting, fueled by power plants which generate energy through burning fossil fuels, requires far more energy than LEDs, resulting in increased carbon dioxide emissions. Being solar-powered, CO2LED produces long-lasting illumination, free of toxic by-products. The team collaborated with local solar-power supplier Jody Solell of Solar Electrics (www.SolarElectricsVA.com) to determine the most appropriate solar panels to employ for this project and to demonstrate the local availability of such technology.
Other examples, more similar to traditional public lighting applications are the projects Flash@Hebburn (2009) and PowerPlant (2006) that seem to envision the most common expression of renewable energy for public use and benefit: they captures kinetic energy of the city and sunlight to power the lighting system in a interactive and programmable way.
Flash@Hebburn by Charles Quick
Hebburn Riverside Park, North East England.
In 2001 Charles Quick was invited to propose a piece of art work as part of the Art on the Riverside Project for the Riverside Park at Hebburn. After an initial period of research and consultation, he became aware of the almost invisible industrial history of the area, and the pride that the population felt towards their community and its past. he began to realise that in the past Hebburn had been an important industrial centre with a large number of heavy industries: – coal mining, ship building, steel works, chemical works, coke production, high voltage electrical engineering, along with many others. Flashes of light could be associated with all these industries whether it be sparks, flashes of the arc welding or the dramatic lights of the ship yards on both sides of the River Tyne.
Seven and half years later, Flash@Hebburn consists of 12 x 8 meter high columns which use solar powered, LED, radio controlled technology reflecting Hebburn’s long history of being a place of innovation and experimentation. Every 15 minutes during daylight hours a 30 second sequence of flashs is activated . Each evening two of the 15 minute sequences as developed by the groups involved, are selected at random and performed. Once a year a special midnight sequence will celebrate New Years Eve, to coincide with the ships sirens and flares along the river. This gives Hebburn a distinct identity from other riverside communities along the Tyne, which will be visible from as far as Newcastle, Gateshead and Wallsend.
‘Solar Collector’ (2008) by Gorbet Design
Waterloo Regional Operations Centre in Cambridge, Canada
Solar Collector was launched on June 21 (summer solstice) of 2008. This solar artwork is located in front of the Regional Operations Centre in Cambridge, Ontario (Canada). The sculpture was created by Matt Gorbet, Rob Gorbet and Susan LK Gorbet. Matt is the founder of Gorbet Design, a design company based in Toronto focused in the development of art and design projects by using new green technologies. The piece is composed by twelve aluminum shafts with different degrees from inclination on a covered knoll of turf. The inclination of the shafts goes in relation to its position with respect to the Sun. Of this form, the longest perpendicular axis is with the Sun in to winter solstice, whereas the shortest axis does the own thing in the solstice of to summer. Each one of the shafts has three to solar panels next to three light sources. Thanks to the photovoltaic technology, the energy picked up throughout the day is used for the nightly performance
‘Stuifmeel Ideeen’, aka ‘Pollinating Ideas’ by Zumzum
In Amsterdam East, Pollitanting ideas (www.zumzum.nl) captures the kinetic energy of park users with a baton mechanism that then powers the lights (helped by pv panels). It is the case where Human Energy Becomes Public Light. Pollinating Ideas (Polliniferous project) is a community art project about channeling human energy and ideas in support of the future of our environment. Pollinating Ideas addresses the potential of people not only to consume energy and ideas, but to generate them. Runners or walkers obtain a special relay stick (baton) which they hold during their exercise. The internal mechanism of this stick converts movement into electricity. Subsequently, the energy in the stick is transferred to the tree installation and shown as public light. The required energy for powering and illuminating the installation is complemented by solar panels, blending human and solar energy.
Pollinating Ideas is a community art project for the people of Amsterdam . Pollinating Ideas refers to the process of pollination, in which biological form, i.e. ideas about plants which are carried by pollen, travel through time and space to find new opportunities to manifest themselves. Stuifmeel Ideeën promotes the generation of ideas about sustainability and then helps mature these ideas into tangible projects in Amsterdam East. The project investigates the relationship between movement, energy and creativity in a playful manner. Many people read or talk about sustainability; but all too few are really engaged in doing things about it. Stuifmeel Ideeën relates to the DIY (do it yourself concept) that encourages people to build, modify and repair things themselves, regardless of whether they make mistakes in the process. Stuifmeel Ideeën also demonstrates in a simple way how people and their energy may be connected. The running staff helps us to pool energy from different people and visualize it as light.
Powerplants by UeBERSEE (2006)
PowerPlant is a kinetic light sculpture that is a catalyst and a symbol of transformation of a post-industriale urban development area in Pasadena, CA. It is a land art project for the site of a former power plant in Pasadena, which is being redeveloped as a new expansion for the Pasadena Arts Center, as well as for a planned development park consisting of high-tech businesses and offices. This transformation from an old power plant to what has been named the “Glenarm Innovation Corridor” was in need of an artistic strategy to visually accompany and support the ongoing urban (re-)development over the years to come.
A modular concept of art and ecological installation was developed: the proposal is a conceptual strategy superimposing new, modular and interconnected structures on the remains of old industry. The structures bridge the gap between industry, nature and information technology. They are a new breed of Powerplants, with slender stalks reaching about 55 feet into the sky, the same height as the famed palm trees of Southern California. Each topped by a cylindrical light tube, they emit soft and pulsating light signals powered by solar energy stored during the day. The metal structure is reminiscent of the site’s industrial history and allows movement via light breezes, swaying gently in the wind like the palm trees. It is, however, strong enough to withstand storms and earthquakes.
Because of their sculptural qualities, Powerplants are effective as single objects as well as in small or large groups. Connected via a wireless communication network, they are programmed to exchange light impulses with each other, create abstract light configurations or glow in unison. Because they are physically independent from each other and electrically self-sustainable, there is no need for wiring, thereby making it possible to “plant” and “replant” them in any given sequence and arrangement. They can therefore react flexibly to the area’s development, which is set to occur over the next two decades. They can expand, reproduce, or retract piece by piece, or be concentrated in one area. After successfully constructing a prototype Powerplants was put on hold for administrative reasons.
Phosphor Field by Jason Bruges Studio (2008)
Location: Poole Dorset
Gentle blue lights shine from spheres atop a field of graceful carbon fibre masts on the shoreline in Poole. The wind blowing across the gateway site in Poole generates a floating field of dancing phosphorescent light. Integrated energy harvesters are concealed inside each sphere which harness the energy from the movement of the masts in the wind.
Wind to Light by Jason Bruges Studio (2007)
Location: Southbank Centre, London
In collaboration with onedotzero and Light Lab for Architecture Week 2007 of which the theme was, ‘How green is our space?’ The festival focused on critical issues of climate change and sustainability, with the aim to inspire people to think creatively about the spaces around them. ‘Wind to Light’ was an idea that visualized wind movement across the built form with the use of mini turbines and LEDs and draws attention to the potential of harnessing wind power as a source of energy. Visit the Blog for this project at http://onedotzero.com/windtolight/
Greeting to the Sun by Nikola Bašić (2008)
The Greeting to the Sun is a public art installation located in the city of Zadar (Croatian coast) since 2008. This work has been designed by the international acclaimed architect Nikola Bašić, together with a team of multidisciplinary specialists. This solar artwork is a huge circle of 22 meters of diameter which has integrated hundreds of small solar cells within a structure of glass plates, and people can walk on it. The photovoltaic cells provide clean energy to the lighting system of over 10.000 LEDs, converting them into an impressive full-color display controlled by a computer. The work “reacts” to the presence of the public by different light patterns, causing amazing sensations to people who are walking over the installation.
Night Garden by O*GE Architects (Gaston Zahr and Merav Eitan) (2009)
location: Jerusalem, Israel
Creating an hypothetical exhibition of solar artworks (as far as we know, it hasn’t been realized yet) supposes an incentive for all publics, offering them an extensive didactic experience, and capturing both people interested in art and technology. One reference is the festival that every year is celebrated in Israel, titled Light in Jerusalem, where in the 2009 edition the artwork Night Garden was exhibited, designed by the team of architects O*GE. O*GE Architects is an architecture studio where design and the application of sustainable solutions are the main points in each one of their projects. The team is composed by the architects Gaston Zahr and Merav Eitan, but they have a strong artistic point of view in their philosophy of work. Founded in 2007, O*GE Interactive Group researches the possibilities of the combination of art, architecture, design and responsible solutions to the environment.Night Garden is one of the best examples of solar artwork, due to the quality of the work and the positive impact on the public who could visit the installation. This work combined perfectly an artistic vision along with technological elements which take part of solar artworks. Night Garden changed the city place where it was located, bringing citizens the possibility to enjoy an innovative artistic experience, and showing them that renewable energies can contribute to create attractive urban landscapes.
The installation was composed by a group of sculptures, shaped like flowers, which had light and movement that they produced by themselves thanks to the solar power collected during the day. This characteristic was the reason why the best time to see the installation was at night. As we can see in the video, the artwork created a really attractive ambient for visitors, inviting them to stay watching the changes of lights and the movement of the different elements. To intensify this “magic” ambient, the work was completed with several music creations by two famous local artists.
The Verdant Walk by North Design Office (Alissa North and Peter North) (2008 – 2010)
location: Cleveland, USA
The Verdant Walk was created by the Toronto based studio, North Design Office, as a proposal for the prestigious event Cleveland Public Art. This temporary project (2008/2010) offered another point of view on a urban place, reminding people of the industrial origins of the city of Cleveland, and the strong promotion of renewable energies by the local government. In addition to the sculptures, The Verdant Walk renovated a large space, called Mall B, bringing native grass from different parts of local landscapes.
Sonumbra by Loop.pH (Mathias Gmachl and Rachel Wingfield) (2006)
Sonumbra is an interactive proposal by the collective Loop.pH, a London Art & Design Studio founded in 2003 by Rachel Wingfield and Mathias Gmachl, from United Kingdom. They are researching with new materials combinating design and science to create eco-friendly installations. Loop.pH has specialized in the creation of experimental textile and innovative resources related to the incorporation of renewable energies within artistic installations. In addition, They organize activities with local citizens to promote the environmental awareness through artistic experience. Loop.pH has created a complex form of textile which has integrated solar cells, called Sonumbra. This work goes beyond the relationship between people and the sculpture, using movement detection technology that can “feel” the presence of people and respond to them with a spectacle of light and sound.
PV Stained Glass by Sarah Hall
Sarah Hall is a Canadian artists who is pioneer in design and creation of stained glass featuring by photovoltaic technology. In her work, Hall has managed to combine in an almost perfect way traditional elements with XXI century technologies. Her creations are a source of creativity and quality of finish, giving to the building where it is projected a special attraction, one singular aspect as Hall tells because her works are designed for specific sites. The work of Sarah Hall is an really interesting example about the variety of uses and creative applications that the solar artworks can offer.
“The combination of solar cells and art glass is a new and exciting way to ‘green’ a building using proven technology. The solar cells are embedded between two panes of tempered safety glass. This provides a durable surface – easy to clean and maintain. Essentially, this is a double glazed unit that enhances thermal insulation while it collects energy. The cells we use come in a multitude of colors, from blue, to silver, to shining gold, and they become part of the artwork. Within the work, they can be arranged to offer varying degrees of transparency and sun-shading. The solar energy collected by the panels can illuminate your building’s interior at night, or be directed into any number of designated illumination requirements. Along with the solar panel is a layer of art glass that is treated and colored to create beautiful and dramatic visual effects behind and around the solar cells. The art glass can be seen from both sides, and creates a glorious interior effect without compromising the collection of solar energy. This additional layer also enhances the insulating qualities of the installation.”