We have all probably heard or maybe even been involved in the debate surrounding the aesthetics of clean energy. It holds particular relevance in the case of wind turbines, in which appeals for clean energy have, in case after case, been rejected because residents refuse to sacrifice their views to giant windmills. The irony of choosing the long-term destruction of the world’s natural beauty in exchange for the short-term satisfaction of the pleasure we receive from such beauty is almost Shakespearean, but it points to an important question: how do we preserve natural beauty in the long term without sacrificing it in the short term?
Based out of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) was formed as a project of Society for Cultural Exchange (SCE) in order to address this very question. Since 2009, LAGI has been combining art and interdisciplinary creative processes to create sustainable design based solutions to sustainable energy infrastructure. Founded by Elizabeth Monoian, artist and Executive Director of SCE, and Robert Ferry, an architect with a focus on net-zero buildings, the project is structured into four areas of focus: events and design competition, education, outreach, and the eventual construction of renewable energy infrastructure as public art. Their latest competition, held earlier this year in New York’s Freshkills Park (the former Fresh Kills Landfill), drew 250 submissions from artists and architects all over the world.
We connected with founders Elizabeth and Robert and asked them a few questions about the organization and the importance of creative minds for the future of clean energy.
Q: What do you think are the challenges/opportunities in the renewable energy infrastructure field?
Recent trends in public acceptance of renewable energy infrastructure have shown that resistance to a transition from fossil fuel and nuclear dependence often takes refuge in arguments that hinge on questions of aesthetics. These questions pertain to both our public visual and audial environments, and they are most relevant as installations come into closer proximity with urban centers and residential and commercial districts. The renewable energy revolution will undoubtedly have a resounding influence on the aesthetical norms of public space in the coming decades and we are already seeing the effects with the 21st century proliferation of utilitarian wind turbines and solar farms that have elicited reactions of “not in my backyard” from many people who would otherwise be in favor of a shift away from fossil fuels.
The benefits of distributed generation to a base-load renewable grid will require an integration of energy infrastructure within our cities. So it is incumbent upon designers and artists to visualize new futures in which we can live in harmony with our new energy generation landscape. As new technology evolves to be more responsive to the sophisticated needs of the user, it creates a great opportunity for interdisciplinary collaborations towards this end.
Q: What do you think was the key factor that contributed to the success of The Land Art Generator Initiative?
The time seems to be ripe for an art initiative of this nature. Many different disciplines are embracing the competition call—from artists to engineers to city planners—all seeing the innovation benefits and multi-purpose efficiencies of this cross-pollination. Art has a great power to stimulate collective thought and inspire the future, and the context of the LAGI project is somewhat of a perfect storm for harnessing that power to help address some of contemporary society’s most pressing issues. LAGI draws on the rich and continuing history of eco-art, land art, environmental art, art as social practice, new media, and tactical media art. At the same time it benefits from the recent technological breakthroughs in renewable energy science and systems integration that have allowed for the potential of using these new materials as part of the media for the creation of public art.
Q: What does it take to build a sustainable company centered on using creative processes to conceptualize renewable energy infrastructure?
Interdisciplinary collaboration and partnerships are very important when engaged in an endeavor that combines the creative processes of design and the arts with the objectives of emerging applied science, engineering, architecture, and public policy.
Q: What is your vision for LAGI?
The long-term vision of LAGI is to see a proliferation of the design competition in cities around the world, while also seeing to the construction of aesthetic clean energy power plants in these (and other) cities. It’s important to us that the tremendous results from the design competitions not remain hypothetical—they must be realized. We also hope to see a widespread embrace of the learning curricula that we are developing around the project and to see the project have an influence on the future aesthetic norms of our renewable energy infrastructure.
Q: What would be your advice to entrepreneurs looking to get into the social/green entrepreneurial sector?
The health of our environment and of our social systems depend on dedicated individuals continuing to rise to the challenge and find new ways of solving the global issues that we face. Be ready to take chances, put in long hours, and persevere over internal and external obstacles. The reward of doing the right thing for the planet will be well worth whatever stresses and struggles you will encounter along the way.
Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, build partnerships, and learn from the experiences of others. If we are to succeed collectively, we must work closely together.
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