What would power look like if it was art?

Original post August 7, 2009 in the Burning Man Jornal

The Shipyard has been home, storage, or workspace for many Burning Man installations; Kiki Petit’s Eugiera, Nates Smiths first Fire Vortex, Ryon Gesink’s Eye Arch, Jim Mason’s Stockpuppets v2 and ICPJake Lyall’s Riot wheel, Borg 2, Liam McNamara’s Clocktower,  Neverwas HaulLepidodgera by Rachel Norman, Mike Thielvoldt, Lira Filippini, and Jake Haskell.  Currently, projects for this year’s Burning Man, FishBug and Gee-Gnome, are busily being completed.  Non-Burning Man projects abounded here as well: Girlmark’s Jonny Appleseed processor, Kristie’s Flyer by Liam Mcnamara, Matt Synder, Peter Luka, Shannon O’Hare and Kimric Smythe, Exxon Valdez Disaster, the Peef-O-Matic powertainer off-grid solar biodiesel 3 phase power system, Destroy the Universe 4 and 2, Dan Goldwater’s Monkeylectric Project, Osseus Labyrint’s Modern Promethius performance (developed here), Barbara Kruse’s Firebirdees built as part of Therm and the Escape From Berkeley (by any non-petroleum means necessary) road rally.

At the beginning of its life, The Shipyard confounded the logic of Berkeley Building Department, by falling in love with the flexibility and durability of the shipping container. Unfortunately, in Berkeley’s eyes, the shipping containers the artists favored as architecture were not considered proper building material. This innocent misunderstanding prompted the city to turn off power to the facility. Berkeley being in the dark as to the renegade gang that occupied The Shipyard, did not realize the avalanche of creativity and power hacking they instigated by pulling the plug. The artists, scientists, gearheads, and junkyard enthusiasts, promptly started making their own power and ran the facility off-grid for five years.

A seemingly innocent bureaucratic maneuver by the city of Berkeley set off a chain reaction, which has lead to a group of artists who are incorporating power as another viable medium of art.  A key question has formed around here: “What would power look like if it was art?” Steam and Biomass become mediums for exploring power in all its sensual and artistic dimensions.

Out of this new creative power hacking, a new entity has emerged, ALL Power Labs,  an alternative energy venture by those same artists, scientists, gearheads, and junkyard enthusiasts. Predominately distributing tools for open-source energy, which include the Gasifier Experimenter Kits (GEKTM).

All things being somewhat cyclical in nature, these energy kits are now being turned into art.  For example, John Kinstler and the Art Institute of Chicago bought one of the GEKs. He took it to a very unexpected place, Milan for Salone del Mobile 2009.  John’s project was developed within the 2000 W Living studio at the Art Institute of Chicago.

John Kinstler’s Re-imagining of the GEK shown at Salone del Moblie 2009.

2000 W Living refers to the average amount of power consumed by the average person living in a non-Western, not wealthy country. The average amount of power consumed by the average American in the US is nearer to 12,000 W. The goal of this studio was to explore ways of challenging we Westerners to reduce our power consumption.

John’s project conceives a world that can re-invent itself in the face of unprecedented challenges using the base form of the GEK. He shows the importance of harvesting new sources of locally generated energy in radically re-designed cities. Of course, those radically re-designed cities will be in need of radically re-designed appliances, i.e. Biomass Energy Appliances.

Read more about John’s project Here: http://johnkinstler.com/section/103486_Biomass_Energy_Appliances.html

The Shipyard like many of the other Bay Area Container camps (American Steel, NIMBY, and The Boxshop) continues to be a wonderful mash-up of unlikely things.  It is an asset to the Burning Man culture, something to be treasured and supported.

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