'Aesthetic Power Plants' to Make Energy from Art

land art generator initiative site photo

Ready for some art. The end of Dubai Creek is site #1 for the Land Art Generator Initiative competition.

The United Arab Emirates have made their wealth from oil, a fossil fuel environmentalists are trying to consign to the past, but if two American artists have their way, these Persian Gulf states will become pioneers of a new source of power: art installations that generate energy.Drawing their inspiration in part from the land art tradition -- generally large works created in, and often out of, the natural environment -- Dubai residents Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry have created the Land Art Generator Initiative and launched an international design competition for the best "outdoor public art work that is conceptually engaging while at the same time produces real, usable renewable energy."

A Wave-Energy-Generating Coastal 'Necklace'
As examples to inspire other artists, designers, and engineers, the pair -- she a graphic-design instructor at a Dubai university, he an architect who has consulted on Masdar City, among other projects -- have come up with a few concepts of their own for what they are calling "aesthetic power plants," including:

  • the Korfakhan Necklace, a series of "832 wave-energy collecting devices that resemble, in their above-water sculptural form, the individual ornaments of a necklace" and could generate enough energy to power the 15,000 households in this Gulf of Oman town;

  • the Glacier Bay Projection, a video LED wall streaming live footage from Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska to a roadside location between Dubai and Abu Dhabi that would incorporate enough PV panels to run itself and power the gas stations and streetlights along the highway; and

  • the Ibn Al Haytham Pavilion for Mushrif Park, a tribute to the Arab inventor of the camera obscura that would include a 150KW concentrated solar photovoltaic system.

camera obscura concentrating solar image

Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry's conceptual design for a camera-obscura-inspired concentrated solar PV system. Image via Land Art Generator Initiative.

Entrants in the competition are being asked to design their artwork for one of three specific locations -- the site of a future visitor center to the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary in Dubai; and an airport road near Masdar City and a sandy stretch of waterfront, both in Abu Dhabi. The projects must generate energy from wind, solar, or wave power without creating any other emissions and having no negative impact on its natural surroundings.

Viewing Platforms to Draw Tourists
A panel of jurors that includes representatives from acclaimed design firm IDEO, New York City's Exit Art, the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council, the Architectural Association in London, and the Dubai Electricity & Water Authority will judge the entries "first and foremost as art installations ... [with] the consideration for energy generation ... a very close second." Monoian and Ferry envision the competition to be just the start, as they write on their website:

The long-term goal of the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) is to design and construct a series of land/environmental art installations that uniquely combine aesthetic intrigue and artistic concept with clean energy generation. The LAGI viewing platforms will be tourist destinations and educational facilities, drawing people from around the world to experience the beauty of the collaborative artworks. At the same time, the art itself will continuously distribute clean energy into the electrical grid, with the sculptures having the potential to provide power to thousands of homes in the United Arab Emirates.

While the oil-dependent emirates may seem like an unlikely place for such a vision, in other ways, they are a perfect fit:

"Even the landscape itself, with its perpetual sun and windswept sand, has been conducive to thinking about sustainable art on a grand scale," the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National wrote about the project. "'Here, the city ends and the desert begins. In New York, the city turns into the suburbs, turns into the exurbs, turns into -- eventually -- the countryside,' said Ferry. 'Here everything is open after you leave the city. It's a huge canvas.'"

More about environmental art:
What the Heck is Eco-Art? 10 Ways to Appreciate It
Man and Nature: Art in the Age of Climate Change
Fake Trees Art Installation is a Home for Migrating Birds in Chile
Climate Change Art: Art of a Changing World
Going Once... Twice... Green Art for a Good Cause
Radical Nature Comes to the Art Gallery
Art or Oil: Drilling Near Utah's Famous 'Spiral Jetty' Earthwork

'Aesthetic Power Plants' to Make Energy from Art
The United Arab Emirates have made their wealth from oil, a fossil fuel environmentalists are trying to consign to the past, but if two American

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