Renewable energy sculpture

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A renewable energy sculpture is a sculpture that produces power from renewable sources, such as solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric or tidal.

Such a sculpture is functionally both a renewable energy generator and an artwork, fulfilling utilitarian, aesthetic, and cultural functions. The idea of renewable energy sculptures has been pioneered by ecofuturist visionaries such as artists Patrice Stellest, Sarah Hall, Julian H. Scaff, Patrick Marold [1], architects Laurie Chetwood and Nicholas Grimshaw, University of Illinois professor Bil Becket, and collaborations such as the Land Art Generator Initiative. Echoing the philosophy of the environmental art movement as a whole, artists creating renewable energy sculpture believe that the aesthetics of the artworks are inextricably linked to their ecological function.[citation needed]


Artist Sarah Hall is a glass artist who has recently been embedding solar photovoltaics in her artworks. The solar cells are an integrated part of the artworks, and the energy generated by them can be used for lighting or other purposes. Hall believes that "Incorporating colour, light and art with solar energy inspires us to think about our future in a new context."[1]

Swiss artist Patrice Stellest is an ecological artist who created the first solar sculpture ever made, The Solar Head, in 1992. The Solar head was the first sculpture of a series of sculptures using renewable energies, part of his movement Trans Nature Art; art for nature, integrated in nature. As he says: “Art is a pioneer that moves ahead on the frontline towards a more realistic consciousness of energy.”[2]

Artist and filmmaker Julian H. Scaff has been working for several years with creating wind turbines that are also public artworks. In 2006 he proposed turning a planned wind farm in Nantucket Sound, Massachusetts into an enormous public artwork by dazzle painting the wind turbines and transforming the visual quality of both the machines and the landscape.[3] His Venturi Towers designed for the island of Crete incorporate the scientific principle of the Venturi effect into sculpted towers. Scaff says that "We should think more freely about the aesthetics of wind turbines."[4] Scaff's proposed Carbon Sink Sculptures[5] are public artworks that utilize solar energy for carbon capture and storage.

Artist Alexandre Dang has developed his creation incorporating solar energy into his kinetic artworks. The Dancing Solar Flowers have become an iconic work of his eco-friendly commitment. Each Dancing Solar Flower consists of an engine running thanks to a solar photovoltaic cell which converts light into electricity enabling the flower to move as long as there is light. These flowers move even in the shadow or in presence of indirect or artificial light. "In his installations, individually simple but extraordinarily complex as a whole, Dang integrates new technologies friendly to the environment within them, using solar power as a way of expression."[6]

Patrick Marold's [2] in Vail, Colorado developed out of the artist's desire to create a visual map of the wind as well as to harness its behavior. On the slopes of the Rocky Mountains he installed hundreds of small windmills, each with a light whose intensity matches the intensity of the wind. Marold explains:

"This sculpture momentarily embraces the wind allowing for a more attainable vision of this natural element, systematically creating a slight delay in the viewers’ sense of time. Some people have compared the visual representation to that of a flock of birds collectively swarming in the sky, or the uniquely animate northern lights. The impressive living body of light provokes a deeper perspective of the wind as it passes by."[7]

Artist Christine Corday's international project "Instrument for the Ocean to Play" utilizes tidal energy to produce a new sound through a temporary installed nautical work of monumental sculpture. The sculpture's intent is to inspire the imagination of a yet undiscovered sound, however its technology brings attention to a renewable energy.

Further examples of this approach to renewable energy is British artist and inventor Dan Hughes McGrail, [3] who has taken an aesthetic sculptural approach to solar thermal technology. His background includes sculpture, heritage and eco building. He is a practitioner of Ecodesign. He believes, with the power of computerized design tools and the research resources now freely available, that aesthetics in design should be seen not as luxurious but as a normal priority: "There is no excuse to not make it beautiful", and "Form needn't follow function anymore. We have the power to model, visualize and consider them one and the same."[citation needed] The artist Ralf Sander`s World Saving Machine project [4] utilizes solar energy to produce ice. The sculpture's intent is to inspire the imagination and it is an awareness producing device. However its technology brings attention to renewable energy. His machines negotiate environmentalism and climate change. He proposes solutions of a thought-provoking sense of humour to visualize human potential.

On a larger scale, potentially able to power entire cities, the Land Art Generator Initiative, a collaboration between artist Elizabeth Monoian and architect Robert Ferry and a project of Society for Cultural Exchange, merges renewable energy sculpture with public art. The project's first international design competition in 2010 invited interdisciplinary teams of artists, architects, scientists, landscape architects, and engineers to design large scale renewable energy sculptures for sites in the United Arab Emirates. The second Land Art Generator Initiative competition was held for Freshkills Park (the former Fresh Kills Landfill) in New York City. Jurors for the 2012 Land Art Generator Initiative included professionals such as Bjarke Ingels (BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group) and Dr. Henry Kelly (Acting Assistant Secretary and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy). The competition is now on a biennial schedule with LAGI 2014 in Copenhagen being held for a site at Refshaleøen, an old shipyard across from the Little Mermaid in the Copenhagen Harbor. In support of LAGI 2014, Connie Hedegaard,[8] European Commissioner of Climate Action speaks about the need for creativity in the conception of renewable energy infrastructure. WindNest,[9] a submission from LAGI 2010 will be the first built “land art generator.” The design team is reworking the concept for a site in Pittsburgh. The WindNest proposal utilizes low-impact, lightweight materials chosen in consideration of the full life-cycle of the project from material production to construction, maintenance and even after its role as a public art installation. The wind-tunnel tested tensegrity structure will utilize UV resistant TENARA® (Teflon) fibers, which are extremely thin to give the work an ethereal and lightweight presence. The project is designed to be easily dismantled and updated with replacement technology.


Architect Laurie Chetwood created a 10.5 meter tall (35 foot) tree-like structure on Clerkenwell Green in London that is called the London Oasis.[10] Also deemed a kinetic sculpture, it is powered by solar cells, a hydrogen fuel cell, and wind energy. Interacting with the environment around it, the London Oasis provides shade, light, and energy. In addition, it offers what Chetwood calls "People Pods" which people can pull down over the heads. The pods block out noise, provide clean filtered air, and play music and birdsongs.[11]

Architect Nicholas Grimshaw, designer of the Eden Project, has designed an enormous sea-based wind turbine sculpture called the Grimshaw Aerogenerator. The double-masted structure rotates very slowly compared to typical wind turbines, only three times per minute, yet generates up to nine megawatts of power.[12]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • The Art Gallery of Renewable Energy,
  • Kastner, Jeffrey, Land and Environmental Art, Phaidon, copyright 2005
  • Grande, John K., Balance: Art and Nature, Black Rose Books, NY, copyright 1994
  • Grande, John K., Art Nature Dialogues: Interviews with Environmental Artists, State University of New York Press, copyright 2004
  • Strewlow, Heike, Ecological Aesthetics: Art in Environmental Design: Theory and Practice, Birhäuser Basel, copyright 2004
  • Koh, Rachel; Monoian, Elizabeth; Ferry, Robert, The Time is Now: Public Art of the Sustainable City, Land Art Generator Initiative, Page One Publishing, copyright 2012
  • Monoian, Ferry, Klein, Regenerative Infrastructures: Land Art Generator Initiative, Prestel Publishing, copyright 2013
  • Monoian, Elizabeth; Ferry, Robert, New Energies: Land Art Generator Initiative, Prestel Publishing, copyright 2014