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Hidden Spaces – Solar Roots – by Naomi Wright

by Naomi Wright

I’ve just come back from an artists’ residency in Norway at Brekkegarden, a small holding on one of the many islands, tucked into the mountains of the Northwest coast.[1]  This residency with 5 artists was titled ‘Hidden Spaces’, ending in a community celebration on St Olav’s day, the first Christian Patron saint of Norway.

I’ve always been interested in the process of capturing the sun’s energy through photosyntheis. But plants would not make food without roots, roots underground, away from the sun.  This residency allowed me to study the many hidden spaces of roots.

I have memories of loving the cyanotypes below by Anna Atkins (1799 – 1871), the first  ‘photographer’ of plants, algae, ferns and an amazingly curious and artistic botanist.[2]

And like photosynthesis, cyanotypes rely on chemical changes in the sun’s energy[3]. The word cyanotypes come from the Greek words for light and writing.  I’ll be drawing pictures with light – a real art and energy project.

Himanthalia lorea
Laminaria bulbosa

After Anna and many other artists, and not practised it much before, I spent a week experimenting with cyanotypes of roots.  We always seem to concentrate on the art of above ground, why not dig around and get to experience our underground.  How apt to picture the roots using the sun’s energy, with which they very seldom come into contact.

Above ground
Below ground

As I pulled, scraped, dug and washed the roots, I became more interested in them and their meaning in the Norwegian landscape.  A dictionary definition has so many dimensions of belonging, physically, culturally, with kith and kin.[4]

I filled a sketchbook of cyanotypes and thought of Anna working on the algae in a much more scientific way than me.

These roots were a mixture of species on the peaty soil of the wetter areas covered in mosses, rowans, junipers and various blueberries.

A list of things that I spent some time thinking about roots:

  • They fix and secure
  • They belong
  • They are unseen and enclose hidden spaces
  • Roots can be tap, long, shallow, wide, narrow, big and small
  • They can talk to each other through chemical change
  • Roots house fungi and bacteria and other unseen microbes that release essential nutrients
  • They grow beneath the surface, beneath the skin
  • Underground, roots reach out and feel their way,
  • They feel their friends, look after them
  • Root plants survive, rooted, humans survive
  • Rooted in culture, or life, plants and humans survive together.

I tested the process on Valeria growing across the lower lands.

I painted pieces of calico.  I wanted to make a banner of roots, across the base of the building.  Placing them as roots, both cultural and physically expressive.

I still have some of the cyanotype chemicals and as Art and Energy we would like to make some more cyanotypes in helping us tell stories and celebrate the energy creating them.

[1] Brekkegarden was set up by Nina Boe as a NaKurHel affiliate place, a movement that supports and promotes the links between Nature, Culture and Health.  She works with artists, local school children, elderly dementia sufferers and drama students in her home and on the land for the benefit that it gives.

[2] Herbook was called  Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions(1843). 

[3] Ammonium citrate and potassium ferry cyanide are mixed together.   Where the sun reaches this chemical mixture on fabric or paper it will turn dark blue after being washed in water.  Where the sun is blocked off, the chemicals do not fix, and so a negative is revealed.  The process was originally used to reproduce architectural drawings also known as blue prints.   Cyanotypes were invented in 1842 as a cameraless photography.

[4]

  1. The usually underground portion of a plant that lacks buds, leaves, or nodes and serves as support, draws minerals and water from the surrounding soil, and sometimes stores food.
  2. Any of various other underground plant parts, especially an underground stem such as a rhizome, corm, or tuber.
  3. The embedded part of an organ or structure such as a hair, tooth, or nerve, that serves as a base or support.
  4. The bottom or supporting part of something: We snipped the wires at the roots.
  5. The essential part or element; the basic  core: I finally got to the root of the problem.
  6. A primary source; an origin.
  7. A progenitor or ancestor from which a person or family is descended.
  8. often roots – The condition of being settled and of belonging to a particular place or society: Our roots in this town go back a long way.
  9. roots – The state of having or establishing an indigenous relationship with or a personal affinity for a particular culture, society, or environment: music with unmistakable African roots.
  10. The element that carries the main component of meaning in a word and provides the basis from which a word is derived by adding affixes or inflectional endings or by phonetic change.
  11. Such an element reconstructed for a protolanguage. Also called radical.
  12. Mathematics – A number that when multiplied by itself an indicated number of times forms a product equal to a specified number. For example, a fourth root of 4 is √2. Also called nth root.
  13. A number that reduces a polynomial equation in one variable to an identity when it is substituted for the variable.
  14. A number at which a polynomial has the value zero.
  15. Music- The note from which a chord is built.
  16. Such a note occurring as the lowest note of a triad or other chord.
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EcoFest Tavistock – We made a solar panel artwork in a day!

Following popular demand, we’ve been exploring ways that we can make solar panel artwork making accessible by lots of people in one day.

We tried out our approach to involving large (ish) numbers of participants over the course of the wonderful EcoFest in Tavistock, and throughout the day, around 75 people aged between 4 and 70 helped us in a variety of ways to make a solar panel artwork live!

The resulting artwork ‘Eyes to the Future’ is able to  charge mobile phones and we’ll be looking for an appropriate home for it later this autumn.

Participants were able to paint, glue, cut, choose, solder, tab up solar cells, build the electrical circuit and then connect everything together.

We would LOVE to do this sort of participatory demonstration again at festivals or events, so if you can think of somewhere appropriate for this sort of activity, please let us know.

Thank you to everyone who got involved, and thanks particularly to Ursula and Trudy for organising such a brilliant event!

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Exhibition of Art and Energy works at The ESI in Penryn

Chloe and Naomi have been collaborating with post-doc researcher Katie Shanks over the past year to challenge the aesthetics of silicon solar PV in order to re-imagine solar panels as places for artworks of the future.

Using the solar labs at the ESI, we’ve been able to build and test some of the first solar panel artworks of their kind, and in this talk, we will share some of the process and learning from our creative exchange, as well as our plans for future collaboration.

An exhibition of the works developed together will be on display at the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter in Penryn from September 5th until October 11th.

Please visit the exhibition during the ESI’s opening hours, and if you’d like to meet Chloe, Naomi and Katie, then please book a place at this talk at 4-5pm on Friday 27th September.

During the talk, we will share some of our learning, give you a demonstration of the construction techniques and have some light refreshments! 

Places are limited, so please ensure you book early.

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Inspire Talk at KWMC The Factory

12:30 – 13:00 Tuesday 3rd September

Please come along to KWMC’s The Factory and hear Chloe talk about Art and Energy and the invention of solar panel artworks.

The Factory is an innovation space for making, digital fabrication and product design in the heart of South Bristol.

Further Details:

Date: Tuesday 3rd September 2019
Time: 12.30-1.30pm Please bring along your lunch

Venue: KWMC: The Factory, Unit 24, 1 Filwood Park Lane, Bristol, BS4 1ET

Directions: info: https://kwmc.org.uk/thefactory/visitingthefactory/ Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/aMTJVUXxphr 

NOTE: Parking on-site is quite limited! Other local parking available at Hengrove Leisure Park, Hengrove Way, Bristol, BS14 0HR (charges may apply), about 5 minutes walk away.

RSVP: Please RSVP to sarah.barnes@kwmc.org.uk so we can have an idea of numbers. 

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Solar charger making workshops in Totnes this September

Totnes Renewable Energy Society (TRESOC)’s  aim is to empower the local community to develop and control its own renewable energy supplies and to ensure that the maximum value resulting from the development of local resources is retained by the community.

So it’s really exciting that they’ve invited Art and Energy to run two solar charger making workshops for TRESOC members and the wider Totnes community this September.

September 16th – Solar Charger Making Workshop – TRESOC members and friends

September 28th – Solar Charger Making Workshop – TRESOC members and friends

 

During these 2 x day long workshop which will take place at The Pulse in The Mansion in Totnes, you will get hands on with solar power.

  • learn how solar panels work,
  • explore what goes into making one,
  • handle the tools and components involved
  • test your device

At the end of the day you will be able to take home your own solar panel to charge your devices.

All materials are included and no experience is necessary.

Sensible 10+ year olds are welcome if they are accompanied and supported by an adult.

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Art and Energy at the International Festival of Glass 2019

23 – 26 August 2019

The International Festival of Glass celebrates the spectacle, drama and excitement of glassmaking every two years across the Stourbridge Glass Quarter.

Since its inception in 2004 the Festival’s aim has been to celebrate and showcase the skill and innovation of the glass industry and makers, both historic and contemporary, local and international

We will be showing examples of our first solar panel artworks and a demonstration of how we made them and how they work.

Please come along and see us at Ruskin Glass Centre, The Glasshouse, Wollaston Road, Amblecote, Stourbridge, DY8 4HF

We will also be running two workshops.

TEENAGE SKILL UP Extinction rebellion! Powerful teenagers

23rd August, 2019 at 10:00am – 4:00pm

During this day long workshop you will work with solar panel artist Chloe Uden and master glass craftsman Ian Hankey to make a solar artwork on the theme of Extinction Rebellion.

The solar panel artwork we produce will be displayed throughout the rest of the festival. You can collect your artwork at the end of the festival to take home. 

 

WORKSHOP: Pretty Useful! Make your own solar panel artwork

25th August, 2019 at 10:00am – 4:00pm

Join solar panel artist Chloe Uden and make your own simple solar panel artwork that you will be able to take home at the end of the day to charge your phone.

During this day long workshop you will

  • Learn the basics of solar energy
  • Work on the surface and reverse of the glass to create a unique solar panel design
  • Tab up solar cells
  • Connect the electrical components
  • Test your pieces
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Dartington School of Social Entrepreneurs – Graduation day

Art and Energy is a collective of people that want to use their skills to respond to the climate emergency through art and craft. We want to open doors of hope and imagination.  

Through our work, we’ve re-imagined solar PV as an art material, we’ve made beautiful solar panel artworks for special places, and we’ve taught people new skills to help them connect with energy through craft.

Art and Energy CIC is what happens when artists decide to join the energy debate.

In our journey to make our work ‘work’, Chloe has been exploring a whole host of organisations that support the growth of social entrepreneurs.  One of which is Dartington School of Social Entrepreneurs.

DSSE has a range of programmes that help you take your idea and take the next steps in turning it into a reality.

“going along this journey with other people who are experiencing similar challenges in bringing their visions for a better future into reality is motivating, comforting and helpful. I want everyone to have the chance to live their dream…” Chloe Uden

Over the course of the year, we explored, business models, financial planning and management, legal and organisational structures, time management, action learning, stakeholder analysis, social impact strategies and a whole host of other stuff.

Each business is so different and all of them have been inspiring to see how they’ve evolved over the last 12 months.

With help from 1 to 1 coaching, as well as a mentor from Lloyds, it has been possible to evolve our plans quite fast.

 

Are you a creative thinking about how your work can have greater social or environmental impact?

Do you have an idea for a business that will make a difference, but don’t know where to start?

If so, then maybe you should come along to the Dartington SSE Graduation at Devonport Guildhall on Thursday the 17th October, where you’ll see 20 new start-ups from across the South West outlining how they took the plunge, and showing off their new services and products.

Chloe will be there with some of Art and Energy’s solar panel artworks.

“I really want to talk to people about their ideas for putting art and craft at the heart of how we create a better society and systems for our well-being and the health of the planet.” Chloe Uden

If you would like a free ticket to this event – Please contact Chloe

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Demo session – Ocean Studios Making Table – Friday 12th July

The Big Bang Fair at Westpoint Arena near Exeter was fairly mind-blowing! Around 6000 children from across the South West visited the event, and about 175 people participated in helping us make solar panel artworks.

Some of the Art and Energy team, Chloe, Naomi and Jenny will be working on the next stage of making these pieces (etching, engraving and painting) in a public demonstration at Plymouth Ocean Studios’ Making Table on Friday the 12th of July from 10am – 3pm.

 

We would love to see you there if you’re able to make it! 

We are very grateful to Exeter Science Park for the opportunity to showcase our work at the Big Bang Fair, and also to meet so many inspiring and enthusiastic people and we look forward to displaying the finished artworks later on in the year.

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Energy and communication at The Science and Industry Museum in Manchester

It’s so exciting when you let things go and then they return!

The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester is a source of inspiration and knowledge for anyone who’s interested in humanity’s interest in harnessing elemental forces to help us do work.

We went on a trip to the museum right at the beginning of our Art and Energy journey to stimulate our thinking and make connections. But because we’ve been so busy, we let our thread of early connection drop.

 

 

However, today we’re feeling excited today because we’ve agreed to participate in a symposium about energy and communication on 24-25 July.

The knowledge exchange event will give us a chance to explore questions about communication and culture that feel relevant in our work and for our times and we look forward to demonstrating some of our artworks and sharing what we’ve learned so far about the importance of creativity and crafting to help people connect with energy systems.

AND we’ll get a chance to visit the museums exciting new exhibition about the sun! (It will be on display until Jan 2020 if you fancy a trip)

Text from the symposium organisers:

Energy is a topic that encompasses challenges and opportunities of tremendous scale and consequences. Environmental problems loom large in global discussions among energy experts and in public debate, with the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change facing the challenge of implementation and international policy alignment, especially with regards to the use of fossil fuels.

Changing the impact of our energy consumption through decarbonisation and a transition to renewable energy is crucial for overcoming the climate crisis, but achieving behavioural change is a highly complex and difficult process.

The energy landscape in the UK is undeniably changing. There has been a surge in renewable energy use, while an increasing proportion of the energy provision business is being decentralised.

Technological developments such as smart grids, smart meters and electric vehicles are transforming the ways energy users consume resources and understand the ramifications of their consumption habits. Yet, technology is just one among many factors that bring about an energy transition.

Change requires synchronised adjustments to energy supply and demand and the latter is dependent on modifying consumers’ behaviours, attitudes and beliefs.

As energy consumption incorporates practices that are shaped by knowledge and information available to users, communication plays a significant part in influencing social change. Communication is also crucial to enable energy users to make informed decisions on broader social and environmental concerns related to energy policy and provision at local, national and global scales. Improvements in energy related communication are vital in facilitating transition to a sustainable energy path

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Girl power

To be fair, no-one ever told me I couldn’t make solar panel artworks.

There were plenty who were skeptical, but, the majority of my experience to date has been of exceptional, unexpected, generous and enthusiastic support from people who want us to succeed in our venture. 

But you know, I’ve been in a few technology and engineering colleges….and there aren’t very many women there.

It made me think…..Women are invited….in fact, we are encouraged and needed, to participate in every aspect of humanity’s response to the climate emergency and studies show that diversity in the work environment can increase innovation.

 

When I look back, I wonder – Why didn’t I go into STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Maths ) straight away?

I remember 100% test results in my electronics class; all those satisfying maths problems; beautiful graphs and diagrams; playable data; intriguing science experiments; mind-blowing discussions about the nature of the universe…. I really loved STEM stuff. So why did I decide to do something else?

Maybe because I was also good at other stuff that I got more praise for: Like singing, dancing, acting, drawing.

Maybe it was something to do with freedom: I remember thinking at 16 – If I study art, I can explore science in my work, but if I study science, it will be harder to explore art.

 

When we first made a solar panel artwork at the kitchen table, I realised that playing with energy is MUCH more fun and creative than I had realised before… and also MUCH easier.

That’s not to say that it is without any risks…you have to be careful with the kit!….and nothing ALWAYS works…but, that’s part of the fun. Working with solar cells requires careful attention, and if you give it that, then you can make your own electricity and use it to power something in your life.

Rewarding!

Over the weekend, we ran a solar charger making workshop with a brilliant group of girls between the ages of 9 and 11 and their grown-ups.

Thank you to Exeter Community Energy for supplying the kit to run the workshop!

What was so noticeable for me was how skillful, focused and thoughtful this young group were.

It was really heartening to see parents supporting their girls to experience things they wouldn’t necessarily get to do at school: Soldering, using sharp tools, and power tools.

Each of them came away having learned a bit more about solar power, they achieved something tricky, found solutions to problems, and developed skills for resilience.

Their solar panel chargers will be something that they can use, share and tell a good story about.

I hope we’ve helped these young women to see themselves getting creative with STEM for the future.