If someone asked you to describe energy, what would you say? Physics defines it as the capacity of a physical system to perform work, but it’s forever changing, it never really exists apart from in fluctuation, so even science doesn’t really fully understand what it is. And in addition to being problematic to define, the matter and means of producing it is a contentious issue as well, with ecological rows raging over how we can use it more efficiently and generate it without wiping out the planet. It seems energy poses plenty of problems but not many solutions. Perhaps such a complex issue deserves a more experimental approach?
That seems to be the thinking behind the Architectural Association School’s Beyond Entropy: When Energy Becomes Form exhibition, which starts in London today and runs until May 28. Forming a kind of creative and intellectual melting pot, the exhibition brings together scientists, artists, and architects who were tasked with producing a series of collaborative works exploring our understanding (or lack of) of energy, tackling not only our misconceptions about energy, but also challenging the idea of a singular understanding of how the world works. Each installation looked at a different type of energy—electric, mechanical, potential, mass, sound, thermal, chemical, and gravitational—seeking to highlight how a cross-discipline route of inquiry fosters diverse thinking, freeing the participants from their standard viewpoint to look at energy in previously unseen ways—spatial, mystical, technical—which didn’t amount to solutions but did show how these different disciplines—scientist, architect, artist—can learn from one another and cross-pollinate their ideas.
The works can start from quite an abstract and theoretical place but through the process of collaboration become kinetic sculptures, multimedia pieces, sound art; merging cultural, scientific, and technical ways of thinking. Here’s a selection of some of the installations on show:
A multimedia self-balancing machine which aims to create a state of unnatural equilibrium while exploring ideas related to mass energy. Film projectors are attached to a giant pendulum which projects an image of a building being simultaneously built and destroyed—the motion of the pendulum changes the footage, with the building retracting or seeming to grow from the ground, it becomes a Shiva-like kinetic sculpture showing the destructive and creative force of energy and the constant balancing act occurring between the two.
This was purported to be a time machine, which can only go forward but not back in time. The idea is based on proto-surrealist Alfred Jarry’s pataphysics, the “the science of imaginary solutions”, which he used to create a theoretical time machine. This is a scaled down version of his original idea, which featured a cube of giant mechanical flywheels—by winding up them you create a kind of stasis in the centre that resists all forces and detaches the person from their place in space-time.
This works like a giant theremin, with the ring made from brass and a circular antenna that picks up electric signals. The artwork isn’t the instrument itself but the sounds produced as people approach it, turning our electromagnetic fields into sound via speakers. The work usies our body’s invisible fields to create an orchestra of translated energy.
Beyond Entropy 3 – 26 May 2011, AA School, 36 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3ES
Photo credit: Valerie Bennett, The Architectural Association School.