Green Art, Green Energy

It’s hard to dispute that the United States is in need of more efficient energy solutions, and green energy is an appealing solution. During a November 8th appearance on The Daily Show, former President Bill Clinton predicted solar energy “within five [years] will be competitive in price with coal”. Solar energy undoubtedly has earned the attention of the energy industry, but what about the art world? To recap, solar energy is the energy created by new technologies that converts the energy of light into electricity. This article will focus on the energy created with “solar cells” or “photovoltaic cells”, which are panels that create solar power using the photovoltaic effect.

Which, to be fair, begs the question: If something utilizes solar panel technologies to create energy, therefore has a specific function, can it be art? That’s a high level question that I’m not prepared to get into, so for the sake of this article let us assume architect Louis Sullivan was correct in saying “form ever follows function”.

Upon consideration, it should be quite obvious the form that would be denote the aforementioned function of converting light to electricity: a plant. After all, nature has the best system for converting light into usable energy, why would our own solar-power generating objects assume any other form?

SunFlowers, An Electric Garden as seen at night

SunFlowers, An Electric Garden designed by Mags Harries and Lagos Heder for Austin, Texas answers just that question with 15 giant SunFlower sculptures covering a thousand feet of space along the Interstate 35 Highway. The solar flowers collect energy to power their blue LED lights at night and send the remaining energy to the city’s power grid. At the time of this article, 330,316 kilowatt hours of clean energy have been generated by the sculptures. That’s roughly the equivalent of 10,735 days of electricity usage in an average American house.

If that scale seems a little large, perhaps Darren Saravis’s SolarFlora will appeal to you. These thirteen foot flower sculptures generate solar energy to power its own light as well as outlets at the base of the sculpture that passersby can use for a quick charge. SolarFlora is from the product-development firm Nectar Design, and meant to generate energy from within the heart of a city.

Floralis Generica, open during the day

Perhaps the most stunning visualization of this is Floralis Genérica of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Built near the National Museum of Fine Arts, the giant sculpture responds to light and opens its petals during the day and shuts them at night. Four nights a year this stunning piece is lit and remains open after dark. The name, Floralis Genérica, is meant to represent all flowers in the world and its opening daily symbolizes a hope that appears anew each day. All of these solar-powered art pieces personify a future possible with clean energy sources. If creating green energy can be something beautiful, what reasons could we have not to utilize it?