sustainability

Botanoadopt, a participatory interdisciplinary art project

botanoadopt is a participatory interdisciplinary art project among art, science and social commitment. The project defines plants as independent beeings and offers them for adoption on the internet. A hatch is available for the anonymous local handover of plants. 
The humorous contextual displacement makes it possible to question one's own definition of nature, and the adoption process establishes links with the theme of responsibility.

Author(s)

Introduction

Botanoadopt is a participatory interdisciplinary art-project among art, science and social commitment. The project shifts perspectives by humorous recontextualizations.

Botanoadopt presents plants with charming biographies as independent individuals and offers them for adoption on the internet. A plants hatch is available for the anonymous local handover of plants. The adoption contract asks adopters to send botanoadopt photos of their fosterlings. These photos are then published at botanoadopt.org offering insights into the socio-cultural environments of the whereabouts of the plants.

The humorous recontextualizations allow to question one`s own definition of nature, and the adoption process insinuates the topic of responsibility. Botanoadopt draws on alternative economic models of exchange and donation.

Thus the issue of environmentally responsible behaviour is investigated via models derived from realms beyond the boundaries of art.

Keyrole of plants, artistic statement and strategy

“Never before has the extinction of species been as massive as today. If this development will continue, it is to be feared that within a shortest period of time flora and fauna will shrink by 60-90%.” [1] At the same time plants from all over the world are merchandised as mere decoration items. Several stores offers them very cheap and as a consequence plants are seen and treated as disposables.

Here, at this massive discrepancy botanoadopt comes into play. In merchandise management  systems plants are regarded and used as decoration, as food and as supplier of material resources. Woodlands formerly considered as inviolable and to be protected are more and more subject to economic interests. Botanoadopt subverts this political and economical system by defining plants as individual beings and by taking them out of the circulation of commodities. As a result, the only possibility to obtain a botanoadopt plant is by way of adoption.

Botanoadopt is a participatory art-project with the aim of rethinking our idea of nature as such. Plants are playing a keyrole on our planet. They could live without human beings easily. Conversely, men are not able to survive on planet earth without plants. The artistic statement of botanoadopt is: plants are individuals with their own independent perception.

Plants interact with their surrounding in a very sensitive way. For example, they react extremely sensitively to negative thoughts. The book “The Secret Life of Plants” [2] explores the concept that plants may have sensations, despite their lack of a nervous system and a brain. To prove this the authors, Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, describe several scientific experiments and evoke a deeper understanding of plant life.

This undergirds our artistic theses: Every plant is to be seen as an individual being with its own perception, its own name and its individual biography. This biography deals with social, emotional, economic or ecological aspects. With the adoption project we are blurring the line between fact and fiction, in order to broaden the perspective, to leave behind common definitions of nature, to open avenues of thought leading to new and individual concepts of nature.

After having rescued several plants from the trash heap in the year 2006, we clearly became aware, that a basic knowledge about plants is not part
of our general education anymore. Withered plants are thrown away even if they were able to live on for years to come. Usually, they just need a short recovery time – a normal and necessary process within the cycle of nature. The daily life of industrial societies is no longer connected with these cycles. We think that this loss of being involved into the cycles of nature and the imperative of our capitalist society to be productive all the time and everywhere while ignoring the current critical environmental situation, is the main cause of the immense social and environmental problems of our planet.

Saving plants and giving them up for adoption with name and biography is our strategy, that people become aware of their own definition of nature and behavior. Even a small house plant which could be bought very cheap and easily is a living beeing.

baseline shifts and modules of botanoadopt

Botania

In 2006 we founded the plants village "Botania". Its name refers to the free city-state “Christiania,” [3] which is part of Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. "Christiania" was founded in 1971. It is a self-regulated state without police forces. Its peoplesʼ aim is to live in peace with each other and in harmony with nature. This idea is strongly influenced by the hippie movement. Accordingly, in "Botania" plants can recover from their sufferings and bad treatments. "Botania" can as well be seen as a symbol for the utopia of living together in peace.

Internetplatform botanoadopt.org

Nowadays life is deeply influenced by digital technology. So our aim was to realise our main idea with the aid of Internet technology, not only as a means to advertise the project all over the world, but also as a means to help nature. The Internet platform botanoadopt.org was launched at the beginning of 2009 and is a digital interactive network to organize a different and sustainable future society.

The website offers plants for adoption (Fig. 1). Plants handed in from all over Germany are given a name, a biography and an ID picture. The biographies inform about family background, preferences and the respective relationship patterns of the plant individuals. These biographical profiles play a key role in our project and exemplarily exhibit our artistic approach: the humorous shifting of contexts.

Succulent “Edward Tomlinson,” [4] a plant of Argentinean origin, grew up in London and has been training Polo since he was a little child. He founded one of the first botanic Polo teams in Great Britain. This team did its secret nightly training in the Royal Botanic Gardens until unfortunately several windowpanes got broken by a club. The incident was never cleared up. Nevertheless the players moved their activities to Richmond Park, became the worldʼs best botanic Polo team and arranged tournaments in the Hyde Park once a year. With a handicap of +7, “Edward” is among the best players of his age and committed himself to achieve the official recognition of plants as professional Polo players. Furthermore, he is interested in Sinology and has a liking for red-white checked ties. Edward found a new home in Huddasfield, UK.

Money tree "Lehman" [5] is a latecomer and the youngest of four brothers. He left his extremely materialistically orientated family very early and tried to become a stand-up comedian. Due to certain language barriers and his appearance the audience regarded him as stopgap. But he kept his life’s motto: “Humour is laughing in spite of it all!”. Against his wish he was brought into a casino and explored the rules of successful gambling. He internalized them and now he helps everyone close to him to gain material wealth that is based on natural growth. Eventually, a leading employee of a German financial institution at Frankfurt/Main adopted "Lehman".

At the end of 2009 an article about botanoadopt and "Lehman" whose name and biography refers to the Lehman Brothers and the crash of the financial market was published by in the German version of the "Financial Times". This article is an example, how deep botanoadopt is interwoven with contemporary society beyond the strong boundaries of art.

Botanoadopt is an entirely non-commercial project. The "currency" adoptive parents have to pay is responsibility. The adoption is regulated by a contract and the adopting person undertakes to send a photo of his protégé to botanoadopt twice a year. These photos are published on the web, so that every visitor can follow the development not only of the adopted plants, but also of the sociocultural environment that is partially documented in the photographs.

website as adoption platform and pool of knowledge

One can easily apply for adoption by an online form. Available plants can be found by full text research and postal code. A checklist [6] for plant adoption offers an aptitude test to every potential adoptive parent. More than 350 plants have already been adopted; most of them live in Germany and some others all over Europe.

In general, the adoptive parents pick up the plant themselves – residence and first digit of the postal code are published on botanoadopt.org, so that plants in your area can be easily found and selected (Fig. 3). Adoptiv parents collect their fosterling at the plant owners home. In this way people independently from their origin, education, religion or social status meet each other. In rare cases plants will be sent by mail or by organizing a lift. On botanoadopt.org it is also possible to put plants up for adoption, a service that has been used by people from all over Germany.

The website offers a huge and versatile pool of knowledge and tagged articles, as well as online-databases on plants and biodiversity. This collection is constantly updated and can be consulted under "Fakten." Thus, botanoadopt.org can also be used as a knowledge base. In addition to biological facts about plants, many more facts about genetic engineering, farming, scientific research, new European laws or biodiversity can be found. Eventually, links to other non-commercial organisations, networks and projects are provided, that altogether aim at a new view of nature. The virtual platform contains a wide range of topics around our central theme plants life.

The page “Media” is linked to documentaries and reports like for instance a documentary film about Monsanto [7] or a report about “Smart Plants” (both ARTE). A "Forum" can be used for knowledge exchange. The whole project combines online- and offline strategies. It brings together global concerns with local actions as well as digital technologies with plants life. Conversely, locally based actions are always announced and documented on the Internet platform and published by using social networks as facebook and twitter. As we implemented the translation tool of Google on our website, botanoadopt can be visited from all over the world.

Plants-hatch

Independently from the Internet, we also wanted to create a space where everyone can hand in his unwanted plant anonymously and without restrictions, instead of throwing it away. Consequently we invented the "Pflanzenklappe" (plants hatch) in which unwanted plants can be put into similar to the human baby hatch (Fig. 2). The "Pflanzenklappe" takes place at different locations for only a short period of time of 10 up to 14 days. Its idea is derived from the baby hatch, which is very popular in Germany and Japan too. Baby hatches can be linked to the former parochial custom to care about anonymous babies abandoned from mothers in trouble. Those babies were usually left in wicker baskets at church entrances.

The idea of altruism, which is anchored in every religious system, leads to the ethical code of caring about others, particularly about persons with physical infirmities, disabilities or maladies; this code also includes the requirement to pay respect to old persons. Accordingly, adopting a plant or using the plants hatch is an act that shows respect for plants and their invaluable capability to clean our air, to nourish us, to provide resources and medicine, which helps us to relax, to smell good and to have fun.

In February 2009 the worldwide first plants hatch was officially unveiled in Schöppingen by its mayor. The word "Pflanzenklappe" lead to more than 100.000 Google-entries within 10 days. Journalists from all over the world were reporting about the plants hatch. The plants hatch 2009 and 2010 was mounted in different districts of Frankfurt/Main and in September 2010 in the botanical garden of Münster. During a period of 10 days, more than 150 plants were left in the plants hatch.

On-site activities

Furthermore, botanoadopt arranges regular on-site activities and performances in different cities, e.g. adoption offices and empathy trainings. Adoption offices were installed so far in Frankfurt, Berlin, Cologne, Schöppingen, Münster, Dortmund and London. In 2011 an adoption office offered its services at the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. The empathy trainings offer “trainees” the opportunity to test their capacity to be empathetic and – at best – to develop and increase it.

Bannwald - a  forest migration

Another botanadopt activity was the "Bannwald-Migration" at Kelsterbach close to Rhein-Main-Airport in February 2009. With the help of proactive supporters botanoadopt saved 34 beech tree seedlings from a "Bannwald", that faced clearing because of preparing works for a new airstrip.

In Germany a “Bannwald” [8] is a forest that is protected by law and has to be maintained in any case. The “Bannwald” near Frankfurt was protected by law since the early 1980s as a result of the protests against the runway “Startbahn West,” [9] which was being built in a former forest. In 2009, 25 years later, this “Bannwald” had to disappear in order to clear space for another runway.

2009 the company was really well prepared, the whole building area was surrounded by fences and protected by the police. Therefore, botanoadopt decided to intervene tactically and create a catch-22: We successfully managed to pass the police barriers unchecked, gained access to the area and collected a big bag of young beech trees, while nature activists where living in tree houses to save the forest.

Finally, botanoadopt succeeded to shift 31 of them to the grounds of a foundation in Schöppingen, where a new forest was created – a site-specific artwork called "Bannwald". The mayor of Schöppingen adopted another three beech tree seedlings.

Conclusions and future

botanoadopt saved more than 350 plants since 2009. Most of them were given away anonymously by using the plants-hatch. These plants live in their new homes  in Germany and other European countries. In general plants could be adopted by using our Internetplatform or in locally based adoption-offices, f.e. 2011 in front of Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. In 2012 we plan to install the plants-hatch accompanied by adoption-offices f.e. in Cologne. Furthermore we are developing an interdisciplinary participatory education concept, which will start 2012.

References and Notes: 
  1. KATALYSE Institute for Applied Environmental Research official website, "Das Artensterben hat in den letzten Jahren rapide zugenommen," May 2001, http://www.umweltlexikon-online.de/RUBnaturartenschutz/Artensterben.php (accessed February 11, 2009).
  2. Peter Tompkins, Christopher Bird, The Secret Life of Plants (Harper & Row, 1973).
  3. Christiania, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freetown_Christiania (accessed October 5, 2007).
  4. Succulent “Edward Tomlinson,” official website of botanoadopt, September 10, 2010, http://www.botanoadopt.org/?s=edward+tomlinson (accessed September 10, 2010).
  5. Money tree “Lehman,” official website of botanoadopt, July 12, 2009, http://www.botanoadopt.org/index.php/angebote/geldbaum-lehmann/ (accessed July 12, 2009).
  6. selftest for plants adoption, official website of botanoadopt, February 14, 2009, http://www.botanoadopt.org/index.php/blackboard/
  7. Marie-Monique Robin, "Monsanto, mit Gift und Genen," in ARTE website, January 5, 2009, http://www.arte.tv/de/1912794.html (accessed January 5, 2009).
  8. Bannwald, Wikipedia, http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bannwald (accessed January 5, 2009).
  9. Startbahn West, Wikipedia, http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Startbahn_West, (accessed October 2008).
  

Powering Ecological Futures

This article riffs off from Peter Sloterdijk’s important concept of ‘air-condition’ and Bruno Latour’s influential idea about ‘ecologizing’, which establish a theoretical framework to discuss the engagement of digital art in environmental problems. Looking at two projects – Nuage Vert by the duo HeHe and Natural Fuse by Haque Design – the article argues that digital art can articulate the complexity and ambiguities of an ecological future.

Author(s)

Powering Ecological Futures

We are living in an era where air conditions and atmospheres enter our awareness and are made explicit. Through rising awareness of global warming and of how we modify our indoors and outdoors climates, it is clear that we must redesign the systems we use for air-conditioning different spheres of our planet's air. This includes our power supply systems. French sociologist Bruno Latour claims:

“As soon as artists, designers and architects are busying themselves with the light element [Air], we are going somewhere. From the philosophical point of view, Air will take the place of Earth as the ‘fundamental element’" (2004)

 By looking at two digital artworks, dealing with air conditions and electricity consumption, this article will use the ideas of Bruno Latour and German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk to discuss what role art may play in rethinking ‘air-conditioning systems’. 

Air as an Object of Design

During WWI, April 22, 1915, air lost its innocence when a toxic green cloud migrated from the Germans into the British camp in Ypres, transforming the air and environment into their worst enemy (Sloterdijk 2004, 89). According to Sloterdijk, this day marks the beginning of a new era of our anthropological history; an era in which air and atmosphere is made explicit. In his trilogy, Sphären, Sloterdijk describes our time as an age of greenhouses and climate control (2004). In order to comprehend the ecological crises and our being-in-the-world today, it is essential to understand how air and atmosphere has been made explicit. Air has moved from a passive background to the foreground of our attention. With the invention of ‘air-conditioning systems’ such as heating, ventilation, and light, humans have become masters of controlling air and atmospheres. Through these technological systems we can isolate ourselves from common air, conditioning our private spheres as we like. According to Sloterdijk, it is distinctive for current state of affairs that air is moving from being the invisible surrounding (Umwelt), something we take for granted, to becoming an object of technology and something we can deliberately design. Hence air has become the center of political disputes:

Politics, from now on, will be a section of the technology of climate-control" (Latour 2004b)

 Since CO2 emissions are linked to energy consumption, electricity supply systems counts as essential climate-control or air-condition technologies Sloterdijk 2009). With energy consumption not only conditioning our indoor climates (Sloterdijk 2004) but also our common atmosphere and environment in a rather unfortunate way, air-conditioning systems and their electrical power supplies find themselves in the midst of political disputes and redefinitions.

Various disciplines such as architecture, engineering, politics, and social science are working at full throttle to redesign our way of living. Each discipline plays an important role in outlining the contours of a range of social, political, and technical changes that point toward a more ecological future. Art and experimental design are also concerned with these challenges and contribute to the field with a special sensitivity towards the complexity and ambiguity of the problems. Through the last decade an increasing number of artists and designers have been working with energy visualization and digital technology, trying to make explicit what is still implicit to most of us. Using computer technology - with its expanding databases, interconnectedness and embeddedness – the artists and designers present and translate energy data into interactive and networked projects with the aim to direct the public’s attention to issues of energy consumption and ecological problems. Through the following presentation of two digital art projects, Nuage Vert and Natural Fuse, we will discuss how art can participate in articulating an ecological future.  

Nuage Vert

Ninety-three years after and 2133 kilometers away from Ypres, the sky turned toxic green again. This time it was vapor emissions from the Salmisaari power plant in Helsinki that was illuminated with a high power green laser animation. During one week of February 2008 the citizens of Helsinki experienced a city-scale light installation beautifully enlightening the sky and reminded the inhabitants of their rising electricity consumption and it effects on our air conditions. The installation, Nuage Vert (Green Cloud), was produced by the artist duo HeHe, consisting of Helen Evans and Heiko Hansen, together with Helsingin Energia. The power plant provides electricity for a former industrial harbor redeveloped into a residential district with growing energy consumption. Using the data from the power plant, the laser drew an outline of a green cloud onto the real cloud itself. The green cloud changed size according to the residents’ fluctuating electricity consumption. When the collective consumption was low the cloud grew larger, but shrunk when the electricity loads were high. Functioning as a public visualization of the local electricity level the residents were expected to respond to Nuage Vert by turning off electrical devises to increase the volume of the cloud (Holmes 2011, 53). 

Natural Fuse 

Another project that comments on our everyday use of electricity and carbon footprint is Natural Fuse conceived by the design studio, Haque Design. Natural Fuse is a hybrid artwork networking a series of distributed plants with energy consuming devises and participants via the Internet. Each participant gets a ‘Natural Fuse’ unit, which consists of a houseplant and a power socket. The amount of power available to the socket is limited by the plant’s capacity to offset the carbon footprint produced by the energy expended by the electrical device. If the appliance plugged into the socket draws more power than the plant offset itself, the unit will not power up (Haque et al. 2011, 65). However, all participating units are connected through the Internet. The units are able to share their capacity and determine how much excess capacity of carbon-offsetting is available within the community of units as a whole since not all Natural Fuses will be used at the same time. In this way the project is about energy conservation and also about structures of participation.

Instead of the usual on/off switch the sockets have a selfless/selfish switch. When the system is in selfless mode the energy consumption is well below the fixed quota and the unit will provide only enough power to not harm the community carbon footprint. In selfish-mode the owner of a plant can use as much energy as wished. However this mode might harm the community’s collective carbon footprint and kill other plants. The fuse takes care of the plant through a remotely activated water-controlling system but the water system only works if there is enough energy left to use in the fuse. If the owner uses more energy than the system can offset the Natural Fuse system will start to randomly kill plants. Each plant has three ‘lives’ before a ‘fuse kill’ function is activated and a deadly vinegar shot is injected into the plant. Emails are sent both to the owner of the dead plant and the owner that sent a ‘kill’ signal.

Making air explicit through electricity consumption

Both Natural Fuse and especially Nuage Vert make explicit how air and CO2 emissions have become a fundamental concern in relation to power supply systems. In these two installations one can no longer talk about electricity consumption without taking into account how it affects our air-conditions and how we deal with CO2 emissions and pollution. By coloring and animating the chimney vapor, HeHe draws the public’s attention to the smoke, which is often just an unnoticed part of the cityscape. The installation also explicates how the air-conditioning in our private houses or spheres is not as isolated as we may think. Sloterdijk describes our society as ‘foam’ consisting of ‘connected isolations’ (Sloterdijk 2004, 568). Each bubble or ‘sphere’ is an isolation but the air-conditioning of one sphere always affects conditions of other spheres. All isolated air-conditioning systems are connected through their electricity use and affect each other. The green cloud artistically illustrates this and tit is made ‘deadly’ clear in Natural Fuse.

Nuage Vert is part of HeHe’s series of artworks, Poll Stream, working with smoke, man-made clouds and energy use. Like Sloterdijk, HeHe questions the popular notion that weather is ‘natural’. By visualizing the man-made aspect of weather HeHe “propose[s] climate as man-made phenomena and therefore a social-political space" (HeHe). Existing simultaneously as a visualization of the residents’ participation and the ultimate aesthetization of pollution, Nuage Vert is a complex socio-political sign of both environmental effort as well as wasted energy.

Stop modernizing, start ecologizing

Throughout Modernity air-conditioning infrastructures such as our power supply systems have been made invisible and imperceptible. Electricity use today is a passive one-way connection and only a few people pay any thought to how power plants are adjusting their production to our consumption. Both production and effects are completely detached from the use of electricity, just as individual household consumptions are totally independent of one another. The electricity system has been turned into what Bruno Latour calls a ‘Black Box’, a system we don’t need to know how works or how it is connected to the rest of the world (Latour 2007). Art projects like Nuage Vert and Natural Fuse attempt to open this black box and reveal the hidden structures of the energy system. In Natural Fuse, these structures are shown to be quite complex involving organic, electric and social systems. Energy consumption here is not controlled by production but it is directly connected to the offsetting available and the illusion of our power supply system as an autonomous back box system is shattered. Through the information technologies in the system the black box is opened up and its many attachments to the world is revealed. Natural Fuse highlights how the participants’ decisions about being selfish or not have a direct impact on the other participants and organic actors in the energy community. If people cooperate on energy expenditure the plants thrive and everyone may use more energy but if they switch to selfish mode plants will die and diminish the network’s electrical capacity. Here the electricity system is fully entangled with the energy community rather than being detached and autonomic as it is normally conceptualized.

The latter view on the electricity supply system is emblematic of what Latour describes as a modernization of the world. The modernizing way of constructing the world has been characterized by the approach:

“Go forward, break radically with the past and the consequences will take care of themselves!" (Latour 2008,3)

 Our built environment has been based on cold objectivity or matters-of-fact, as Latour calls it, and the purpose of our surroundings has been to provide us with progress and speed through smoothly working effective systems that we would never have to pay attention to. Modernization has been a project of emancipation and detachment. It has been all about freeing objects and designs from their various attachments and complex relations to, and effects on, the rest of the world. But this way of designing, says Latour, has turned out to be not only highly unsustainable but also quite a deception (2008), because ‘we have never been modern’(1993). While we might have believed that we were emancipating and detaching, we have in reality been producing ever more hidden attachments and effects  – such as the complex network in Natural Fuse suggests. Those ignored connections are today revealing themselves as rambunctious monsters, traveling around the planet and coming back to hunt us, such as climate change and energy shortage (Latour 2009, 7). Therefore, says Latour, if we want to deal with global warming we will have to stop pretend that we are modernizing and instead start ‘ecologizing’ (1998).

While modernizing was about emancipation and detachment, ecologizing is about drawing things together, about attachments and entanglements, and about a precautious attention to and explication of details (Latour 2007). By explicating the connections between electricity use and offset, Natural Fuse presents a complex conceptualization of energy systems where our usage is not only highly entangled in other people’s consumption but also thoroughly attached to non-human actors such as the plants. The often unnoticed effects of our unrestricted use of power is drawn directly into the living room and made clear through the dying plants.

Politics of Artifacts

Latour criticizes Modernism and Humanism for focusing too much on human actors.

“To define humans is to define the envelopes, the life support systems, the Umwelt that make it possible for them to breathe. This is exactly what humanism has always missed." (Latour 2008, 8).

Humans can only be defined through the objects surrounding us and these non-human actors therefore have agency; or in Latour’s words, ‘artifacts have politics' (2004b). Both artworks portrayed here articulate a sensitivity towards the artifacts – what Latour calls the ‘missing masses' (1992) - which constitute part of the power supply systems. When the black box, i.e. the power supply system, is opened up it becomes clear that it does not consist of cold materiality but that it has been designed. The black box is always a result of political discussion and it determines our use and therefore envelopes our being in the world. Artifacts go from being ‘matters-of-fact’ into becoming ‘matters-of-concern’. Objects become ‘things’; that is complex and contradictory assemblies of conflicting humans and non-humans (Latour 2007, 6; 2008, 7). When ecologizing, the non-human actors have to be given a voice in our political ‘parliament of things' (Latour 2004b) and participate in the discussion of our collective lives (Sloterdijk 2004, 67).

“Democracy can only be conceived if it can freely transverse the now dismantled border between science and politics, in order to add a series of new voices to the discussion, voices that have been inaudible up to now [...] the voices of non-humans" (Latour 2004b,64).

To this purpose, we argue, art has a capacity to transverse the border and represent the entanglement of humans and non-humans. By giving voice to the various non-human actors of the system - e.g. plants, electricity devises, water systems - Natural Fuse and Nuage Vert are concrete manifestations of how power supply systems are not merely matters-of-facts but always matters-of-concern and how they are deeply affected by political, environmental, and ethical issues. Both art projects in this way function as small laboratories, where artists and designers experiment with visions of new ecological futures and carefully try to redesign the complex connections between humans and non-humans. 

Carefully radical, radically careful

Ecologizing is a slow process paying attention to the details and ways things are connected in hybrid networks or ‘interconnected foam’, to use Sloterdijk’s term. Referring to Sloterdijk, Latour says that a redesign of our life support systems has to be ‘radically careful and carefully radical.’ The ‘radical’ here refers to the fact that we have to take non-human actors into consideration and the ‘careful’ referring to paying meticulous attention to how we design connections (Latour 2008, 8). We are still in the midst of articulating a new narrative for a more ecological future. However there are no easy shortcuts only detours. We can never be certain that we take the right direction; that we have chosen the right solution. A redesign of a more ecological energy system therefore needs to be open, reversible and adaptable. We argue that this is where art and experimental design can contribute.

As Usman Haque, Haque Design puts it:

The point is that there is no ‘easy energy future’. [...] It is often expressed that it is the task of designers to “make things simple for people” – which I find patronizing and counter-productive. If anything, it is the task of designers to show how complex things are, and to help build tools for dealing with that complexity" (Haque 2011, 86). 

The Natural Fuse system is clearly not a implementable or desirable design solution but rather an explication of how complex a redesign of power supply system becomes when Co2 emissions, carbon offset, and structures of participation enters into our awareness. Instead of giving us easy answers it encourages us to discuss how it is possible to ecologize energy usage.

Through the aesthetic choices Nuage Vert also refuses straightforward answers. People are encouraged to ‘feed’ the cloud by turning off electricity devises: the less electricity usage the bigger and more beautiful the cloud becomes. However large amount of chimney vapor normally signifies the exact opposite of environmental friendliness so this equation might be puzzling to some. Furthermore, the illuminating acid green of the cloud gives associations to toxic wars and pollution just as green has become the iconic color of sustainability. Nuage Vert stays ambiguous and doesn’t offer simple moralistic messages.

 Art is distinguished by a close relations to the time out of which it arises and by often taking the vanguard in sensing, recording and expressing the changes and conflicts lurking underneath the surface of society. Without giving a ready-to-go manual, Nuage Vert and Natural Fuse power a discussion of how we can rethink the future of energy consumption in a more carefully designed ecology with a attention to details and attachments. Both artworks formulate a new way of comprehending the world, which with homage to Latour, could be termed ‘ecologization’ where humans are no longer sole actors but part of a larger collective with our fellow species and neighboring artifacts.

References and Notes: 

Due to lack of space for full reference list this can be aquired by request to the authors: imvasw [at] hum.au.dk  or leaschick [at] itu.dk
  

Solar artworks

Solar artworks combines art, architecture, design, science, and a common objective: how to make our cities more sustainable through public art. In this conference we will see some of the most interesting examples of solar artworks studied in the frame of The Solar Artworks Project to date, in particular how different the projects can be, and why they have been created.

Author(s)

Introduction

The Solar Artworks Project arises as an answer to this question: What can public art do to give something back to public in the context of the XXI Century urban landscape.

Solar artworks are an illustrative example of how far could go the relationship between art, architecture and the new technologies related to renewable energies, in this particular case, solar power. 

These artworks provide an aesthetic attraction to the place where are constructed and, at the same time, they use their capability to produce solar power and employ it.

Almost all solar artworks designers have a common objective: how to make our cities more sustainable through public art. We can find designers from different parts of the world, and they are generally multidisciplinary groups of specialists.

In this conference, I would like to talk about several examples of solar artworks that I have studied within this research project. We are going to see how different the projects can be, and the opinion of their designers about key aspects of these artworks.

Solar Sail, by The Solarsail Society, created in 1998 in Müsingen (Switzerland), was the first solar artwork that I found, when I was searching for information about these projects.

I was very impressed, because this kind of work was completely different from the public artworks that I had studied before in my career. 

Solar Sail improved the aesthetic conditions of it’s location and, at the same time, this work provides clean energy for a building. 

Stephan Kormann, from The Solar Sail Society, describes the advantages of this artwork:

“The elegant shape of the sail is a metaphor for movement and lightness. It stands as a symbol for the sympathetic treatment of the fundamentals of our lives.” [1]

Since then, I have been collecting information about these works and their designers, shaping the Solar Artworks Project. 

I’m going to talk about several examples of solar artworks, classified according to, in my opinion, their most relevant contribution to the public spaces where they have been built.

New aesthetic proposals

We can see physical characteristics which make them different from “traditional” public art. 

I consider these qualities as a new aesthetic kind of proposal.

The temporary project The Verdant Walk by the Canadian The North Design Office, created in the United States, offered another point of view on a city place at night. 

This work reminds us 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 restored a large space, called Mall B, recuperating native grasses from different parts of local landscapes in the area.

Alissa North, one of the designers, say about the reaction of the people with this work:

“Visitors were attracted to the forms, children and adults, wanting to come up to them and touch them. People were intrigued by the solar aspect, and were interested to understand this component of the project.” [2]

Interaction 

Perhaps the interactive factor is the next step to explore within public art. Solar artworks offer a great opportunity to research and develop participative ideas, involving citizens within the creative process.

Solar Collector, by Gorbet Design, is completely interactive with the public.

Located in a traffic island in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, this work provides citizens with the possibility to interact with the sculpture, giving them the opportunity to change the look of the lights and create their own performance each night, by using simple computer commands at the sculpture’s website.

Matt Gorbet, one of the creators of Solar Collector said:

“By collecting the creative output of people during the day along with the sun's energy, and combining them into a graceful nightly performance, the piece connects people to the power and beauty of nature.” [3]

Educational intention

One other objective that almost all these works have is an educational intention. In this sense, solar artworks invite us to learn, to be curious, and concerned about the environment.

Rein Triefeldt has been developing solar artworks for more than a decade. Triefeldt's work is an example of how art can be a good way to impart knowledge about the qualities of the renewable energies for new generations. This artist has provided workshops for students regarding art and sustainability projects.

He thinks that:

“Solar artworks can generate public dialogue, addressing and even resolving community problems.” [4]

Triefeldt is founder of the Solar Tree Project, an educational proposal in which they:

seek to give participating students primary knowledge in the field of solar energy and practical experience in design and creation of fine art and sculpture.” [5]

Hybrid projects

Solar Artworks are, first of all, an extensive field where their designers are looking to innovate with new materials and their applications. Architecture and art find new ways of collaboration with hybrid projects that combine the best of each other.

The New York studio SMIT, has developed the project Solar Ivy. 

Inspired by the Ivy leaf, this work can be adapted to almost any kind of vertical structure. Each leaf is an independent solar power sensor, and the total energy produced depends on the quantity of leaves in the installation. This work offers many possibilities of configuration, design, functionality and adaptability, mixed into a product that is currently available today.

Samuel Cochran, one of the founders of SMIT, says about their work:

“Solar Ivy is functional in it purpose and artistic in its drive to change the connotation of what a solar panel can be.” [6]

Message of Solidarity

As we have already seen, solar artworks can be used in many different applications. We have also recognized the objective of solar artworks’ designers, to spread a sustainable message.

The work of Alexandre Dang, maybe is an exception within this group of artworks, closer to a temporary installation than a piece of public art. Dang has created many different versions of The Dang’cing Flowers around the world. 

In common with all the particular characteristics of his installations, this work presents a whimsical vision of the necessity to incorporate renewables energies within our lives. 

However, The Dang’cing Flowers have a strong power of attraction for everyone who sees them in motion, having an hypnotic effect on the public.

The meaning of Dang’s work, and the initiative that he represents, Solar Solidarity International, are looking for a better future in which the use of new green technologies, are synonymous with sustainable development.

Organizations

We can find several interesting organizations that are dedicated to research, promotion and some even produce projects which could be considered solar artworks. However, it’s difficult to find an initiative more committed to this issue than The Land Art Generator. 

The Land Art Generator Initiative is, today, the perfect example of the public art research centre of the future. This project, created by Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry, has become a reference for all those who want to learn about the possibilities of combining public art, architecture and renewable energies.

This organization is also a platform for artists, architects and designers who want to innovate with their work, by providing them with an exclusive space on the Internet.

The competition which The Land Art Generator organizes, held in 2010 in Dubai and to be held next January 2011 in New York City, is an opportunity, not only because of the innovative projects that we can expect to find, but also because the events take place in large public spaces, aiming to transform them into:

“a symbol of renewal and an expression of how our society can restore balance to its landscape.” [7]

Some Conclusions

With these examples of solar artworks, we have seen that, although these works are in an early stages of their existence, we can anticipate spectacular projects in the coming years.

The evolution of solar artworks will be determined by the artistic vision of their designers as well as by the advances that we expect in the field of solar power technology.

In addition, we can extract some final conclusions:

Solar artworks are a completely new artistic product. Far removed from the public art that we have seen before.

There is an international artistic movement of artists, architects and designers, whose artworks are being planned for some of the most emblematic places of modern architecture.

Solar artworks are an excellent means for governments to increase public awareness about the value of renewable energies.

These works are functional, original and technologically advanced models of self-sufficiency within the urban landscape. 

Solar artworks remind the observer of the compromise with and respect for our environment. 

Although we can say that solar artworks remain great unknowns, It is certain that, step by step, these works will become part of the urban landscape in our cities.

Solar artworks offer a wide range of possibilities and attractions that should be taken into account by governments when they invest in the public art of the XXI century.

You can find all the most interesting information about this research project on the project’s website: www.solarartworks.com

References and Notes: 
  1. Stephan Kormann, “Energy Extra 3.04 Report,” June, 2004, http://solarsail.ch/publikationen/ (accessed August 1, 2011).
  2. Alissa North, “Interview for The Solar Artworks Project,” April, 2011, http://www.solarartworks.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=83&Itemid=120&lang=en (accessed August 1, 2011).
  3. Matt Gorbet, “Interview for The Solar Artworks Project,” November, 2009, http://www.solarartworks.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=84&Itemid=131&lang=en (accessed August 1, 2011).
  4. Rein Triefeldt, “Interview for The Solar Artworks Project,” November, 2010, http://www.solarartworks.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=73&Itemid=123&lang=en (accessed August 1, 2011).
  5. Rein Triefeldt, “Interview for The Solar Artworks Project,” November, 2010, http://www.solarartworks.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=73&Itemid=123&lang=en (accessed August 1, 2011).
  6. Samuel Cochran, “Interview for The Solar Artworks Project,” February, 2011, http://www.solarartworks.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=76&Itemid=119&lang=en (accessed August 1, 2011).
  7. Extracted from the Land Art Generator Initiative Web Site, “Competition Section,” August, 2011, http://www.landartgenerator.org/competition.html (accessed August 1, 2011).
  

Eco Sapiens Round Table

Dates: 
Saturday, 17 September, 2011 - 11:00 - 12:00
Author(s): 
Ian Clothier
Author(s): 
Nina Czegledy
Author(s): 
Andrea Polli
Author(s): 
Sophie Jerram

We know we have built a civilisation which is unsustainable. How are we developing today the new culture that will allow us to create a sustainable civilisation?

Roger Malina, Astrophysicist and Editor of Leonardo

The great work of our times, I would say, is moving the human community from its present situation as a destructive presence on the planet to a benign or mutually enhancing presence. It is that simple.

Thomas Berry, Cultural Historian And Geologian

Cosmopolitics of Food Interactions: Design Fiction on Food Cults

We will build design prototypes and document design fiction related to future “diet-tribes” and “food-cults” that use emergent technologies for novel dining and social practices related to food.
Dates: 
Monday, 19 September, 2011 - 10:00 - 18:00
Secret Cooks Dinner Sous Vide Dinner in Singapore
Authors: 
Denisa Kera
Authors: 
Marc Tuters

Workshop Leader: Denisa Kera, denisa [at] nus.edu.sg
2nd Leader: Marc Tuters, mtuters [at] gmail.com

Share Workers: The Techniques and Meanings of Sustainable Digital Networking - Open Discussion

This panel brings together a set of experts in the practical and theoretical use of digital networks and infrastructures for sharing. Working across a range of areas from visual art to music, performance and beyond, they are united by their use of collaborative digital tools and driven by their propensity for positive social change.
Dates: 
Monday, 19 September, 2011 - 09:00 - 10:30
Chair Person: 
Charlotte Frost
Presenters: 
Bridget McKenzie
Presenters: 
Jack Hutchinson
Presenters: 
Dougald Hine
Presenters: 
Marcus Romer
Presenters: 
Ruth Catlow

Chair: Dr. Charlotte Frost

The information sharing abilities of the internet has vastly extended a pre-existing capacity among artists to communicate with each other about their work and lifestyles. With the arrival of social media and the wave of internet use known as Web 2.0, the ability to share has grown exponentially, becoming a subject in and of itself, and generating experts in the techniques and meanings of sharing. And now, economic down-turn and drastic cuts to funding, these free networks have become invaluable for helping people sustain their practice.

Syndicate content