What would power look like if it was art?

The Shipyard has been home, storage or workspace for many Burning Man installations; Kiki Petit’s Eugiera, Nates Smiths first Fire Vortex, Ryon Gesink’s Eye Arch and Fuck Machine, Jim Mason’s Stockpuppets v2 and ICP, Jake Lyall’s Riot wheel, Borg 2, Liam McNamara’s ClocktowerNeverwas Haul, Lepidodgera by Rachel Norman, Mike Thielvoldt, Lira Filippini, and Jake Haskell.  Currently, projects for this year’s Burning Man, FishBug and Gee-Gnome, are busily being completed.  Non-Burning Man projects abounded here as well: Girlmark’s Jonny Appleseed processor, Kristies Flyer by Liam Mcnamara, Matt Synder, Peter Luka, Shannon O’Hare and Kimric Smythe, Exxon Valdez Disaster, the Peef-O-Matic powertainer off-grid solar biodiesel 3 phase power system, Destroy the Universe 4 and 2, Dan Goldwater’s Monkeylectric Project, Osseus Labyrint’s Modern Promethius performance (developed here), Barbara Kruse’s Firebirdees built as part of Therm and the Escape From Berkeley (by any non-petroleum means necessary) road rally.

Egeria by Kiki Pettit photo by meuon
Egeria by Kiki Pettit photo by meuon

Clockworks by Liam McNamara and crew photo by Gabe Kirchheimer
Clockworks by Liam McNamara and crew photo by Gabe Kirchheimer

Eye Archway by Ryon Gesink Photo by Mike Woolson
Eye Archway by Ryon Gesink Photo by Mike Woolson

In the beginning of its life, The Shipyard confounded the logic of proper Berkeley Building Department etiquette, by falling in love with the flexibility and durability of the Shipping Container.  Unfortunately, in Berkeley’s eyes, the shipping containers the artists favored as architecture were not considered proper building material.  This innocent misunderstanding prompted the city to turn off power to the facility.  Berkeley being in the dark as to the renegade gang that occupied The Shipyard, did not realize the avalanche of creativity and power hacking they instigated by pulling the plug.  The artists, scientists, gearheads and junkyard enthusiasts, promptly started making their own power and ran the facility off grid for five years.

A seemingly innocent bureaucratic maneuver by the city of Berkeley set off a chain reaction, which has lead to a group of artists who increasingly are incorporating power as another viable medium of art.  A key question has formed around here: “What would power look like if it was art?” Steam and Biomass become mediums for exploring power in all its sensual and artistic dimensions.

Out of this new creative power hacking, a new entity has emerged, ALL Power Labs,  an alternative energy venture by those same artists, scientists, gearheads and junkyard enthusiasts. Predominately distributing tools for open source energy, which include the Gasifier Experimenter Kits (GEK).

All things being somewhat cyclical in nature, these energy kits are now being turned into art.  For example, John Kinstler and the Art Institute of Chicago bought one of the GEKs . He took it to a very unexpected place, Milan for Salone del Mobile 2009.   John’s project was developed within the 2000 W Living studio at the Art Institute of Chicago.

John Kinstler's Re-imagining of the GEK shown at Salone del Moblie 2009.

2000 W Living refers to the average amount of power consumed by the average person living in a non-Western, not wealthy country. The average amount of power consumed by the average American in the US is nearer to 12,000 W. The goal of this studio was to explore ways of challenging we Westerners to reduce our power consumption.

John’s project conceives a world that can re-invent itself in the face of unprecedented challenges using the base form of the GEK to build from.  He shows the importance of harvesting new sources of locally generated energy in radically re-designed cities. Of course, those radically re-degined cities will be in need of radically re-designed appliances, i.e. Biomass Energy Appliances.

Read more about John’s project Here: http://johnkinstler.com/section/103486_Biomass_Energy_Appliances.html

The Shipyard like many of the other Bay Area Container camps (American Steel, NIMBY, and The Boxshop) continues to be a wonderful mash-up of unlikely things.  It is an asset to the Burning Man culture, something to be treasured and supported.

About the author: Jess Hobbs

Jess Hobbs

People have often described Jessica Hobbs as someone trying to lead a compulsively artistic life, which is more or less true. She started off her adventure in a small Sierra Foothill town and eventually meandered her way to the San Francisco Bay Area. Along the way Jess has worn many hats; running and creating community art programs, counseling teenagers, curating, exhibiting, designing, photographing and creating monumental interactive art experiences. She is an MFA graduate from the San Francisco Art Institute and has been wandering and creating in the dust fest for well over a decade. Collaboration is her magic ingredient for success in work, community, art and life. This can be seen through her founding and directing work with the Flux Foundation and All Power Labs.

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