Energy is everywhere, embodied in all our materials, present in every movement, in every ray of light. We waste energy and we ignore vast potential. Climate change has resulted from our hunger for energy and the cheap, dirty sources we’ve chosen to exploit. In these artworks, energy is a key theme either through its generation from innovative use of solar power to the use of waste to power sound, light and movement or the provocation of the work. Artists are revealing the power and power structures evident in society and presenting alternatives.
Buried light was a collaborative installation, by artist-designers Rachel Wingfield, Hiaz Gimachi and Greta Corke, at the V&A museum in London using dynamic wallpaper to represent domestic energy consumption in Britain. An immersive experience, participants could turn appliances on and off, which in turn affected the patterns and colour of the wallpaper.
Sun Boxes is an immersive environment of sound and site. Consisting of twenty speakers operating independently each powered by solar panels, there is a different guitar sample in each box playing simultaneously in an evolving composition. Participants are encouraged to walk amongst the speakers creating a unique self-guided experience. There are no batteries involved, the Sun Boxes are reliant on the sun. When the sun sets the music stops. The piece changes as the length of the day changes, making the participants aware of the cycle of the day.
KiloWatt Hours, by Sydney based artist Tega Brain, uses lasers to inscribe in space the fluctuations of energy used by the surrounding building over time. KiloWatt Hours thus converts energy meter data into the readable form of an ‘energy clock.’, and the audience is prompted to consider the invisible consumption of energy in everyday life. Over time the laser light fades, and KiloWatt Hours forgets itself, in the same way we let our own energy use slip from memory.
Nuage Vert, or Green Cloud, is a public art installation by artists HeHe performed in Helsinki in 2008 in collaboration with Helsinki Energy. By projecting green light onto the smoke emitted from a city power station the changing output of the station is visible. This provided a means for communicating the results of efforts to reduce energy use in the district, whereby campaigns to turn off lights, and so forth, had visible effect.Helsinki Energy initiated a release of real-time energy information as a result. A clever and simple way to provide a feedback loop to the public, Nuage Vert looks is seeking funds to do the same in Paris.
Solar ballerinas – or audio tutus – is the work of Benoit Maubrey, who has developed a number of electro-acoustic scupltures. The tutus respond to the sun’s intensity by emitting sound that corresponds to the level of light. The tutus also pick up on local sounds and feed these back, generating sound loops. As the dancer moves the white noise and sampled sounds change, creating a performance that is fascinating and hard to ignore.
Tidy Street is the name of a residential street in Brighton and also the name of a project that engages residents in reducing their energy consumption. The high-tech – smart meters in every home – is combined with the low-tech – chalk sprayed on the road surface, to demonstrate the community’s progress in cutting carbon emissions. Local artist Snub was commissioned to do the artwork, which showcases significant progress – up to 30% reductions in some homes – and creates a great conversation piece for passersby.
Tiffany Holmes’ installation Dark Sky juxtaposes a table of lamps that can be turned on and off by visitors of the gallery with an animation of fireflies on a black screen. The flow of electricity from the collection of lamps determines the activity of the fireflies. When all the lights are on the fireflies are still, when all off they are numerous and in flight – and everything in between. A poetic way of visualising the impact of our energy use on the environment.
Every one, Every day
Priscilla Bracks and Gavin Sade took their studio name from the Japanese idea of kuuki which considers ‘things we take for granted but cannot live without.’ Interestingly, the literal translation is ‘atmosphere.’ Cleverly combining these ideas, Every One, Every Day is a 27m3 cube, which is roughly equivalent to the amount of greenhouse gas produced by, yep, every one of us, every single day. Made from recycled plastic supplied by Visy (and returned to Visy at the end of the festival), the temporary installation is animated by an internal LED-lit sphere which responds to energy grid data from the Australian Energy Market. As part of the Vivid Festival, Every One, Every Day is a big hulking reminder of the impact we each make on our life sustaining planet.
Handcar: On the Grid
Maria Michails is a Canadian artist working at the intersect of ecology, technology and society. Her Handcar Projects are interactive works that employ the dynamism and historical context of the handcar to literally take the viewer on a journey to explore themes such as energy, industrial processes and mining. Through activating the human powered handcar (and in another project a rowing machine) the installations provide a direct relationship between energy consumption and expenditure. In On the Grid (pictured), the work examines the conflicts between competing uses of land for energy, housing and food.