According to a recent report by the International Energy Agency, renewable electricity generated by solar and wind sources could eclipse coal as the world’s largest electric power source by 2025. The breakthrough of renewables will profoundly change the visual environment of cities and rural landscapes. What role does public art play in this context? The American artist Michael Jantzen, one of the pioneers in sustainable design and eco-art, tries to find the answer.
“When renewables meet art, together, they connect science and society through the power of storytelling. Artists and designers can help create an aesthetic that responds to people’s needs, educates and inspires them, raises awareness about environmental issues, and encourages them to think outside the box. The artist should take this on as a challenge and design renewable energy projects in ways that are not only functional but also beautiful, interesting, and exciting,” says the American artist Michael Jantzen, who experiments with sustainable design in the built environment for almost 50 years. “My first introduction to sustainability came to me in the early 1970s in the form of architecture and people like Buckminster Fuller. My early architecture designs incorporated solar heating and cooling and solar electricity, energy, and efficiency. Being an artist and not an architect, I just started to incorporate solar and wind technology into my sculptures as a natural progression from my architecture design work.
Early on, I was fascinated with the idea of a sculpture that could also make energy from renewable sources. Sizeable public art projects can also help address the practical energy needs when they incorporate technology that produces electricity from the sun and from the wind fed directly into the local power grid for everyone to use. Inspired by the statues being taken down all over the world and by the unprecedented period of environmental destruction and global climate change, I have explored many ways in which my art can play a significant role in expanding the awareness of these issues in the minds of those who encounter the work. Perhaps it is time to build monuments to the use of sustainable energy sources instead of individual heroes.
“Only the free-wheeling artist-explorer, non-academic, scientist-philosopher, mechanic, economist-poet who has never waited for patron-starting and accrediting of his co-ordinate capabilities holds the prime initiative today.” – Buckminster Fuller
Public art that integrates renewable energy technologies makes these innovations approachable. If the art is designed well, it can be used in a very effective way to celebrate the use of alternative energy in the built environment. I see the art usually being less practical in producing alternative energy and more about positive symbolism. Artists can come up with innovative solutions to global climate issues that business leaders and politicians can’t. We need to think in very creative ways today if we are going to solve these problems, and artists are best equipped to think out of the box if they are supported and allowed to take on the challenge.”