Powering the machine

One of the difficulties of making work about environmental change and climate change particularly that involves technology are the contradictions of using the very technology and electricity that is part of the cause, the work becoming complicit in the damage of the places we call home.

Why use technology? It is my hope that this work brings to the fore the complexity of the questions, solutions and responses we are currently facing in response to how our modern world has changed and is changing. This involves interrogating how we respond in our everyday lives, our technologies, our relations to place. One of the biggest questions of today is can technology help us or does it increase the problems? My work since 1996 has attempted to explore these questions from within – using technology to find ways to connect us back to the world, to our internal processes, our natural being in the world – to forests and trees, to our hearts, to the atmosphere, to our imaginations…

But the questions remain – does using processors and the rare metals and elements taken from places and communities that are often being exploited and destroyed to sell the increasingly cheap technology worth the impact of the work? Where possible we are using reclaimed and refurbished technology, sustainable metals and wood. We are also aiming to use the technology for at least 10 years if not 30 and are looking at ways they can be maintained to last.

The other question is whether our interactions with a machine can connect us to place, to nature, to the ineffable? My previous research shows that when technology is used as a prop to something beyond the technology, when our interactions are slowed down and technology retains a sense of magic that extends our sensory natures, points our attention back to our sensory and emotional perception of the world, to encourage multiple and complex ways to engage and create narratives and experiences, that engage us emotionally – then yes some technology can help us. These are some of the research questions we will be exploring over the next 3-10 years with this project.

In terms of power and energy I am working with the wonderful Matt Little and the rest of my technical team (Robin, Dominic and Mouse) to find ways to power the machine sustainably. Yesterday we tested the hand crank that helps power a battery, that powers the mini PC, projector, printer and arduino that are the brains, inputs and outputs of the machine. The next stage (next year) will involve building a solar parasol to connect to the hand cart that will also feed the battery during and between the events.

The tests went well, two steps forward one step backwards as developing technology often goes. After all this talk of sustainability we managed to fry the PC, it looks like one of the convertors didn’t work properly and when we plugged in the printer alongside the PC and projector, the PC power blew. This adds to the waste and makes me question further if the ends justify the means. An everyday question for much or our human activity. Time to rethink the computational devices.