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The art of the solar panel

Jun 5, 2018 - 4min read



Solar energy can power your home, but did you know it can power art too?

Sunlight has always been vital to art: the ‘good light’ needed in a painter’s studio; the magical light falling across a landscape during the ‘golden hour’ before sunset; the light projected onto a cinema screen to create moving images.

Now, with the advent of solar panels, light has become integral to art in a new way - making it possible to create installations that turn renewable energy into both the medium and the focus of the artwork. Here are eight of our favourites:

Stone Circle

Stone Circle solar artwork by Haroon Mirza

In the minimalist art hub of Marfa, Texas, British artist Haroon Mirza has constructed this Stonehenge-inspired circle from nine chunks of Mexican black marble - one of which is fitted with a state-of-the-art solar array. The other megaliths are fitted with LEDs and speakers, which come to life during a full moon to play otherworldly electronic music. Presented by art gallery Ballroom Marfa, the artwork has increased the amount of solar power generated in Marfa by 3000%.

 

Solar Saucer

Solar Saucer: a solar powered DJ booth

Engineering collective The Jenkstars create sustainable art from upcycled, repurposed or discarded electronic materials. Their Solar Saucer is a mobile solar powered DJ booth that has proved a big hit at music festivals as well as in urban environments. The Jenkstars specialise in solar and wind-powered art installations, and deliver lectures and workshops on sustainable living.

 

Sonumbra

The Sonumbra light installation was designed by Loop.pH and debuted in Sunderland in 2006. A canopy of photovoltaic cells generate energy during the day, which at night illuminates strands of light-emitting fabric which have been woven into the shape of an intricately patterned tree. With the canopy providing shade during the day, and the fabric providing illumination at night, the installation finds a curiously contradictory dual use for solar panels.

 

Dancing Solar Flowers

Alexandre Dang's Dancing Solar Flowers

Alexandre Dang’s Dancing Solar Flowers are a slightly more whimsical prospect than the others on this list, but the overall effect is no less impressive. Here, the sun powers a vast field of 10,000 solar forget-me-nots in the Royal Greenhouses of Brussels. Renewable energy gives them the power to bob back and forth like floral metronomes, and the end result is entirely hypnotic.

 

Solar Mural

A mural that is applied to solar panels

The Land Art Generator is an initiative designed to combine renewable energy infrastructure with art in a way that adds value to public spaces. Perhaps their most simple - but potentially wide-reaching initiative - is the Solar Mural; a project which quite literally turns solar panels into art by applying a translucent, customisable image onto the surface of photovoltaic cells.

 

Greeting to the Sun

Croatian architect Nikola Bašić designed this vast solar-powered light sculpture for the seafront of Zadar. Three hundred multi-layered glass plates form a 22 meter diameter circle, with photovoltaic cells attached to lighting modules beneath it. As the sun sets, the huge circle produces a dazzling light show throughout the evening - and still has enough electricity left over to power half of the Zadar waterfront.

 

Solar Window

Marjan van Aubel and Caventou's Current Window

The Current Window from solar designer Marjan Van Aubel and Caventou is unique in being the only item on this list where the very thing that makes it produce energy is also what makes it beautiful. The dye-sensitised solar cells used to construct these windows specifically use colour to better absorb ambient light, making it possible to generate solar energy in areas that traditionally wouldn’t benefit from solar panels. A USB port in the windowsill then allows users to charge their electronic devices via the Current Window.

 

Van Gogh cycle path

The Van Gogh cycle path from Studio Roosegaarde is the only example on this list not to use photovoltaic cells, but it nevertheless harnesses the power of renewable energy to create an effect that is both beautiful and functional. The path is coated with a paint that absorbs light during the day, then glows in the dark at night - lighting up the way for cyclists with a pattern inspired by Van Gogh’s The Starry Night.

 

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