Last year in central Michigan I took part in what was billed as the world’s first large-scale exhibition of 20 solar powered works of art commissioned internationally by the Fall In… Art & Sol Festival. I was first introduced to the project through discussions with Nacho Zamora, and subsequently with the festival’s director Diana Tomlin. The basic concept was to curate a regional exhibition, to highlight two unique aspects to central Michigan: a rich and thriving art scene and a history of innovation in the field of solar power. Dow Chemical was quickly established as a leading supporter and contributed significant funding for the project. Throughout the year more local businesses joined in and excitement grew in anticipation of the exhibition.
Nacho Zamora, Andrew Woodard, and I began collaborating in the middle of 2012 on an educational initiative to teach public school students about art and solar power. For me, this was a significant part of the Art & Sol project and was an exciting opportunity to introduce innovative curriculum to the public school system through the combination of art and science. Over the course of the project, over 1000 public school students participated in the project and made solar powered lanterns as well as kinetic solar powered sculptures. I was amazed at the quality of some of the works and the creativity of the students to find artistic solutions within a fixed set of tools and supplies. For instance, one student used the solar motion kit to animate a brightly painted paper mache sculpture of a dog peeing on a fire hydrant. Perhaps this sounds terribly kitsch, but the craft and mechanical creativity as well as the simple sense of humor made this a really successful work of art.
The festival itself opened in downtown Saginaw on September 28, 2013 and ran through the month of October. The kickoff was an all-day event with live music, art activities, competitions, and viewing two of the larger solar installations: Sol Dome by Loop.pH, and Night Garden by OGE Group. Sol Dome was one of my favorite works in the exhibit due to the material mastery of the object in a physical and conceptual sense, along with the aesthetic elegance experienced in such a light and ephemeral form. Furthermore, LED lights illuminated the structure and changed color based on local carbon dioxide levels. For me, this is a highlight from the field of contemporary art that exemplifies the rich and varied discourse and multi-disciplinary approach than many contemporary artists are working with today. Sol Dome is at once an educational public artwork that presents a design prototype for ultra-light structures and is a model of a carbon molecule, as well as a data visualization tool, all while having a strong presence as a sculpture.
The Art and Sol Festival was successful in many ways, but for me what stands out is this unique example of art branching out and engaging a wider population in the community. I hope that more communities will be empowered to engage their local citizens as well as local businesses to collaborate on creative initiatives to expand the presence of art and sustainability in the world today.