Energy Effects of Glorious Excess

[Ciro Najle’s cummulus_1664 is an elaborately formed catenary surface suspended in the MCA Denver atrium. The 42’ long woven installation comprises a nebulous texture of 1024 individual tiles and over 800,000 knots. The piece is an experiment in what Najle calls “irrational engineering”—taking an engineering principle to a point of material excess, which in turn yields new principles. In this case, structural optimization gives way to atmospheric performance. The installation’s material effects respond to changes in the outside environment (sun angle, weather) and in turn create dynamic effects within the atrium (acoustic, visual). It oscillates between extremes of structure and surface, light and dark, cloud and solid, efficiency and excess.]

[“The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland cost $9 billion to construct and uses twice the electricity of nearby Geneva when it is operating. Despite the astounding resources dedicated to it, nobody can predict with certainty what new knowledge it will produce. The investment in that mystery shows the depth of human curiosity. Famous photographs of its elaborate interior have become iconic images of scientific achievement today.” Image source]

[Chaussures.  In Viviane Le Courtois’s lifelong work, she hand weaves her own sandals and wears each pair until they fall apart. Transforming the activities of daily living into art, she has worn these sandals exclusively for 17 years. She documents the biography of each pair of shoes, tracking where she made them, where they went and when and where they “died.” She saves every pair and displays the series in its current state of completion.]

[Michael Heizer’s Double Negative is an earth work constructed in 1969 in Nevada’s Moapa Valley. Heizer dug a 1500-foot long trench that spans a gap in the natural form of Mormon Mesa. As he puts it, “There is nothing there, yet it is still a sculpture.” His artificial cut, which crosses a natural one, establishes the land as the medium and scale of art. And despite its remote location, the large work is a mecca for art enthusiasts from all over the world.  Image source]

ARCADE’s current  issue, Energy Effects: Art and Artifacts from the Landscape of Glorious Excess is well worth a view for a novel take on energy and landscape:

“To discuss energy in an enlightened way usually means to talk about conservation. Much attention has been given to the need to economize our production and consumption of energy—to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, shrink our carbon footprint and develop green technologies and lifestyles. Yet progress in design, art and the sciences depends on excess energy, the surplus beyond what is required to simply maintain life. For millennia, civilizations have been defined by their uses of that excess, uses that span a spectrum from war to art. Our civilization receives more energy than we need in the form of wealth, natural resources, heat, light, electricity and manpower. And like those before us, our identity is more closely linked to how we choose to spend that energy than how we save it. From land speed records and thermonuclear bombs to mosh pit photographs and homemade shoes, the works in this issue of ARCADE explore how a culture’s collective identity can be formed by how it uses excess energy…They are judged not by their usefulness but instead by aesthetic, political, cultural and historical potential. They are less involved in the ethics of how energy should be used than in imagining the many ways in which it could be used.”

The above examples are a small sampling of the exhibition (held in Denver this year).  Of course we are partial to the curatorial method of disparate juxtapositions and the productive definitions such methods can produce, including a lexicon of energy modifiers:  Rubbernecking energy (the energy embodied in combined fascination and brutality), design energy, blind energy, singular energy, etc.  Here we are deploying an efficiency of borrowed narrative energy or the energy used to formulate a story.

[all captions courtesy of ARCADE]


  1. this sounds super interesting. Have you seen the Landscapes of Energy book? It seems like it might be a more conventional take, but it pique my interest also.

    There was a great article on energy in the New Yorker recently; discusses the Jevon’s Paradox and the efficiency dilemma, something we have been fascinated by for a while and which needs to be a part of the energy discussion, especially with our tendency to idealize of efficiency and our transparently self-serving interest in “green” technologies.

  2. Yes – I liked Landscapes of Energy. Did you happen to read the article in there by Robert Sumrell and Kazys Varnelis called “Personal Lubricants: Shell Oil and Scenario Planning“? It fits in well with these links.

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