Experiments In Motion Blog

The Curator's Blog


Olafur Eliasson’s “Riverbed” Converts a Museum into a Natural Landscape

Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, known for his large-scale installations employing elemental materials like light, water, earth, and even atmosphere, transformed an entire wing of Denmark’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art into a riverbed for his first solo exhibition. The work, which uses rocks, soil, and running water to precisely emulate a natural landscape, stands in stark contrast to the white walls of one of Denmark’s most important Modernist buildings. Originally designed in 1958 by architects Jørgen Bo and Wilhlem Wohlert, the Louisiana’s staggered, irregularly sized portals create an experience that highlights movement through space. By filling the Louisiana with a landscape its galleries might have replaced, Eliasson heightens the haptic qualities of this experience and points to the reality of the museum as an institution and a physical locality. The work raises the question of how natural and built environments might intersect, though it is up to the viewer to decide whether this tension is constructive or destructive.


Space Origami: NASA’s Foldable Solar Array

When sending things into space, cargo is limited and costs are high. That’s why Brigham Young University researchers and NASA are using origami to develop ways of making solar arrays more compact. The current design allows the array to expand from 9 ft. to a whopping 80 ft. in diameter once it’s deployed in outer space. The array is expected to generate 150 kW of power, a significant increase over the 84 kW currently produced by the International Space Station. The absence of sliding parts in the solar array also decreases the likelihood of malfunction since scientists would only need to launch, deploy and monitor a single system.  


Whole Earth Catalog: The Counterculture Google

The Whole Earth Catalog, founded in 1968 by Stewart Brand, was a breed of its own: an encyclopedic, grass-roots meeting-place in print where a variety of tools were made accessible to newly dispersed counterculture communities and innovators in the fields of technology, design, and architecture. Steve Jobs called it the “bible” of his generation, “like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along.” Much like its modern counterpart, the catalogue quickly exploded in popularity, becoming a formidable cultural phenomenon. The growing series developed into a wide-ranging reference for new living spaces, sustainable design, and experimental media and community practices. Brand also became responsible for publicizing the first photograph of the whole earth from space, which had been unreleased by the government until that time. Brand placed the now iconic image on the first issue of the catalog in 1968, seeing it as a unifying force in the management of global ecological challenges. The Whole Earth Catalog would continue to feature a variety of earth images, which are now rendered here in full animated glory. 


Image of America: Ed Ruscha’s Standard Station Series

Ed Ruscha, an American artist associated with the Pop Art movement, has become known for the deadpan irreverence of his paintings incorporating words and phrases and for his many photographic books. His work is informed by the vernacular of Los Angeles and Southern California landscapes, including Hollywood and car culture. He has held a particular fascination with gas stations, those quotidian emblems of American pop culture and suburbia. His painting of a Standard Oil station eventually became a long-running series, with variations including “Mocha Standard” (rendered in coffee tones), “Cheese Mold Standard with Olive” (self-explanatory), and “Ghost Station” (mixografia print). Ruscha further explored seriality and repetition in his book Twentysix Gasoline Stations, which fittingly included informal snapshots taken by Ruscha of 26 gas stations. 


Nature vs. The Internet: How Google Protects Its Undersea Cables from Shark Attacks

Footage from a recent survey of Google’s undersea fiber-optic cables revealed that shark bites are a very real threat to global telecommunications. Indeed, a Google spokesperson noted that the company actually coats its cables in a Kevlar-like material to protect against sharks. Interestingly, sharks seem to have more of a taste for fiber-optic cables than the old-fashioned coaxial copper wires. A report from the United Nations Environment Programme and International Cable Protection Committee Ltd. speculates that sharks may be "encouraged by electromagnetic fields from a suspended cable strumming in currents." In other words, sharks, which can sense electromagnetic fields, may mistake the cables for live prey. The phenomenon highlights the ways in which technology and nature can intersect, and the strange new interconnections between the energy of the natural world and our man-made grids. 


Ecological Minimalism: Shigeru Ban’s Paper Architecture

Winner of this year’s Pritzker Prize, the most prestigious award in modernist architecture, Japanese architect Shigeru Ban has forged a career based on his revolutionary yet restrained use of humble materials. Ban is perhaps most famous for his innovative work with paper, particularly recycled cardboard tubes. He has noted that he is attracted to paper because it is cheap, recyclable, low-tech, replaceable, and produces very little waste. Indeed, his DIY refugee shelters (used in Japan after the Kobe earthquake, in Turkey, Rwanda and around the world) composed of recycled cardboard tubes are very popular and effective for low-cost disaster relief-housing. Even the structures Ban has designed for prestigious cultural and institutional clients are built with low-cost, sustainable materials and are often meant to be recycled. Ban’s Japanese pavilion building at Expo 2000 in Hannover, Germany, a 72-metre-long gridshell made with paper tubes, for example, was ultimately recycled and returned to paper pulp. His structures do not announce themselves with the typical hallmarks of sustainability; rather, they seem to quietly embody it. This design approach, which dignifies and normalizes ecological mindfulness, appears especially innovative at a time when environmental issues are still “othered.” 


Eyes in Outer Space: Walt Disney’s Military Satellites and Weather Control

Walt Disney’s “Eyes in Outer Space” (1959) was part of a series of short films, including "Man In Space," "Man And The Moon," "Mars And Beyond," and "Our Friend The Atom,” exploring the world of the future. Produced in cooperation with the United States Department of Defense, the film uses music and animation to speculate on the use of space satellite technology, along with a coordinated defense network, as a means to modify weather. Buoyed by an optimistic and fantastical belief in the possibilities of technology and space travel, the notion that we might be able to literally wage war on natural threats appeared both feasible and desirable. To emphasize this point, the film opens with a menacing sequence of natural disasters—from floods and hurricanes to tornadoes and lightning storms—destroying homes and cities. Though the efficacy of rainmaking techniques like cloud seeding is debatable, “Eyes in Outer Space” portrays it, along with a array of other mysterious apparatus and weaponry, as part of a comprehensive system of weather control. Thanks to a host of weather-tracking satellites in space, the military is also able to predict weather patterns and plan coordinated attacks against nefarious natural phenomena months in advance. Though these forecasts have yet to come to fruition, the film captures our ongoing cultural fascination with technology and the way our views define our relationship with nature. 


Kirlian Photography: Revealing Nature’s Electrical Aura 

Kirlian photography is the term used to describe the techniques used to capture the phenomenon of electrical coronal discharges. It is named after Semyon Kirlian, a Russian electrical engineer, and his wife Valentina, who in 1939 discovered that if an object on a photographic plate is connected to a high-voltage source, an image is produced on the photographic plate. They developed Kirlian photography after observing a patient in Krasnodar hospital who was receiving medical treatment from a high-frequency electrical generator. When the electrodes were brought near the patient’s skin, they noticed a glow similar to that of a Neon Discharge Tube. Afterwards, the Kirlians conducted experiments in which photographic film was placed on top of a conducting plate, and another conductor was attached to the a hand, a leaf or other plant material. The conductors were energized by a high frequency high voltage power source, producing photographic images typically showing a silhouette of the object surrounded by an aura of light. Though the Kirlians reported the results of their experiments in 1958, their work remained virtually unknown until 1970, when two Americans, Lynn Schroeder and Sheila Ostrander published a book, Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain. While Kirlian photography has been the subject of mainstream scientific research, it has largely been co-opted by promoters of pseudoscience, parapsychology, and paranormal health claims. In many ways, the technique has effected greater mass influence because of these associations, and speaks to the ways “energy-culture” enters popular thought. 


Self-Powered: Speculating the Future of Energy-Harvesting Wearables

Taking a cue from both our current obsession with wearables and an increasing anxiety about the future of energy, industrial designer Naomi Kizhner imagined devices that would harvest energy from our own bodies. For her final project, Energy Addicts, at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Academic College Kizhner created a theoretical line of wearables that would store the energy produced by blinks, blood flow, and synaptic pulses from the brain. A video shows how these devices might be used in a fictive, vaguely apocalyptic near future. In one scene, a woman puffs vigorously on a cigarette to raise her blood pressure as a wrist-mounted gadget containing a hydraulic turbine of gold—one of the best conductors—powers what appears to be a ubiquitous energy grid. “I wanted the project to provoke a debate,” Kizhner says. “Technically, there are developments today that can make these devices real, but theoretically speaking, I don’t know if we’re willing to sacrifice our bodies this way to make energy. It kind of dehumanizes us—it uses the body as a vessel.” On the other hand, the notion that we might all contribute—literally and viscerally—to our global energy store appears as a powerful and moving alternative to our current state, in which those who reap the benefits of energy are often not those tasked with creating it. 


The Energy Issue Mottoes

"Criticism may have its limits, but culture does not!"

— Malcolm McLuhan (1957)

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This blog chronicles the project from the perspective of the curators. Be sure to follow the individual studio blogs for studio-specific updates, and the student blogs to follow individual's work.

Christopher Barley

Independent curator and partner in the firm Therrien Barley.

Troy Conrad Therrien

Partner in the firm Therrien Barley, and Chief Architect, Cloud Communication Software at Columbia GSAPP.