Experiments In Motion Blog

The Curator's Blog


The Energy Issue Mottoes

"The greatest of all environmental powers is thought."

—Reyner Banham (1969)


Capturing the Impossible: Scientists Catch Schrödinger’s Cat with Quantum Physics

Schrödinger’s cat, the famous thought experiment devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935, was a way of illustrating a bizarre phenomenon of quantum mechanics called superposition. The experiment proposes a situation in which a cat might be simultaneously alive and dead—until we try to observe it, in which case it appears as either alive or dead. The concept demonstrates the apparent conflict between what quantum theory tells us is true about the behavior of matter on the microscopic level and what we observe to be true on the macroscopic level. Recently, however, scientists at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna have found a way to actually capture these simultaneous states and make them visible to the human eye. They created a combined image (GIF-ified here) where a cat-shaped stencil was bombarded with “entangled” photons. When two separate particles are entangled, their physical properties appear to correlate and they share a single quantum state (the simultaneous states described above). This means that the photons that generated the image never actually interacted with the stencil; instead, separate photons (which shared the same quantum state as the ones that hit the camera) arrived there. When the researchers, who created yellow and red pairs of entangled photons, fired the yellow photons at the stencil, only the red photons were sent to the camera. Spooky. Interestingly, this mysterious behavior could offer a huge array of benefits, including highly advanced data security and quantum communication.



The Zero-Carbon TV Commercial

As an increasing amount of the world’s energy is fed into powering the virtual realm, WWF Canada tackled the issue of how recycling might be addressed in the internet age. Creating “the world’s first zero-carbon TV ad,” the organization went above and beyond to solve how the carbon footprint created by each step of the production process might be offset. In the spot, fittingly titled “Zero Carbon,” the WWF assembled recycled video clips—some as old as 60 years—created during online collaboration sessions. For any in-person meetings, project collaborators took public transit to reach one another. Finally, the organization brought on environmental consulting engineer Steve Lapp to conduct an emissions audit on the production. For all other energy use discovered by Lapp, the WWF bought carbon off-sets. The experimental rigor of the project, which treated environmental consciousness as a serious responsibility and feasible business strategy, serves as inspiration for the way we might think about and address virtual production in the future. 


Unlikely Symbiosis: Coalmines and SANAA’s Zollverein School

Japanese architecture firm SANAA, led by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, designed the first building to be constructed for the new Rem Koolhaas/OMA masterplan on the historic Zeche Zollverein coal mine site. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001, the Zeche Zollverein, located just outside Essen, Germany, is a monumental array of mine heads, coking plants and coal-washing units scattered over an area of several hundred acres. As the vein of coal expired, the site was gradually decommissioned in the mid-80s. Spurred by the renewed international interest in the site, however, the city of Essen laid out plans to transform the Zeche Zollverein into a primary pole for design, architecture and art within Europe. SANAA’s Zollverein School of Management and Design, a bright white, perforate cube, stands out in stark contrast to its surroundings. But its design is not simply aesthetic: its ultra-thin concrete walls were made possible by pumping warm water from nearby operative coal mines through the facade, doing away with the need for thick insulation. The innovation allowed for the recycling of abundant, naturally heated wastewater from mines and drove the overall cost, both in terms of implementation and day-to-day use, lower than if conventional insulation had been used.


Rolling Coal: From Anti-Environmentalists in the U.S. to the ISIS in the Middle East

If you missed the media frenzy earlier this summer, “rolling coal" is the term for a rising trend among anti-environmentalist conservatives in the U.S. who alter their truck engines to emit massive black clouds of exhaust, often from smoke stack-like attachments. Owners of coal rolling trucks, who often hail from regions historically associating with coal production, see the trend as a very direct statement against sustainability—and its stereotypically liberal ties. A seller of smoke stack kits for trucks describes rolling coal as a “a way of giving them [liberals] the finger. You want clean air and a tiny carbon footprint? Well, screw you.” Now, in a bizarre cultural crossover, Vice News has captured members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a hardline Sunni jihadist group that formerly had ties to al Qaeda, “rolling coal” in a military tank. The group, intending to place Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the leader of a restored caliphate, began making shockingly rapid advances across Iraq and Syria in June. Armed with cash and US weapons seized during its advances in Iraq, and exploiting control over critical water and energy supplies, the ISIS continues to exercise a stranglehold over the region. 


Pilot Captures Mysterious Glow Over the Pacific: Cause Yet to be Found

Commercial airline pilot JPC van Heijst recently captured a series of unusual photographs he had taken while flying in the North Pacific, just south of the Russian peninsula Kamchatka, late Saturday night. Calling it “the creepiest thing so far in my flying career,” he described the phenomenon as an intense flash of light “directed vertically up in the air.” Twenty minutes later, a cluster of large, red, glowing lights appeared, which seemed to be emanating from the ocean. Baffled, van Heijst reported his observations to Air Traffic Control to investigate the cause. Though an explanation has yet to be found, the predominant theory links the bizarre sighting to massive underwater volcanic eruption. Indeed, the flight path crossed over the “Ring of Fire,” a circular area in the Pacific where over 75% of the world’s dormant and active volcanos are located. 


Imaging Energy with Infrared Thermography

Infrared thermography (IRT), or thermal imaging, utilizes cameras that can detect radiation in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum. Since infrared radiation is emitted by all objects above absolute zero, thermography makes it possible to see one’s environment even in the dark. In other words, thermography allows us to see the world as embodied energy. Thermal imaging has traditionally been reserved for applications like clinical diagnostics and military surveillance, but it has also come to be used for everything from Predator-vision and videos of Formula-1 race cars burning rubber to, most recently, iPhone camera add-ons. The technology raises the question of what other types of “energy imaging” might be possible in the near future, and whether these innovations can help us to more holistically understand our world as a highly dynamic and energetic place. 


Oil Tanker Surfing

Massive oil tankers, which began traversing the Gulf of Mexico during the Texas Oil Boom in the early 1900s, have turned Galveston Bay into an unlikely surf break. The large ships create waves that can be a mile long, providing an unusually long ride for surfers. James Fulbright, one of the pioneers of so-called “tanker surfing,” brought attention to the phenomenon almost 20 years ago when he and his friends were features in Dana Brown’s surf film, Step into Liquid. Now, it has evolved into a thriving subculture. Photographer and surfer Kenny Braun, who has documented this community of surfers in his book Surf Texas, described the surprisingly ideal wave conditions in Slate:

"For tanker surfing, Galveston Bay is perfectly shaped geographically. Fully loaded oil tankers come steaming in at full speed and travel approximately 30 miles before entering the Houston Ship Channel. The ship’s wake produces a beautiful shoulder high wave that can be ridden for 20 minutes. The average ocean wave ride is 20 seconds.” 

Tanker surfing, a sport that directly stems from the expansion of global fossil fuel production and trade, highlights the ways in which culture and communities are intimately tied with energy. In this case, the phenomenon is an inspiring example of how culture might evolve in surprising ways and disrupt the way we think about energy going forward. 


Surveillance for the People: James Bridle’s “The Right to Flight”

The Right to Flight,” the newest project from artist and writer James Bridle, involves flying a large, military-grade “helikite” balloon from the roof of Bold Tendencies, a multi-storey car park and art space in Peckham, South London. Bridle, known for his work touching on issues of technology, surveillance, and data, has equipped the balloon with a variety of payloads, from darknet routers to aerial cameras. However, instead of being sent to some secret NSA data center, the results are shared publicly and online. In this way, the project investigates how the power of surveillance and omniscience might be returned to the surveilled. Three silo-like aluminum rooftop structures, built especially for the project by architecture and design studio TDO, function respectively as a workshop, a hangar for the balloon, and an exhibition space. “The Right to Flight” takes its name from an 1866 treatise written by the Parisian photographer and balloonist Nadar, who proclaimed that mankind had a right to ascend to the heavens. Nadar was the first person to take aerial photographs, and he led the daring effort to break the Siege of Paris in 1870. But ballooning has also taken a darker turn: from the Zeppelin raids of the First World War to the use of surveillance balloons in Iraq and Afghanistan. With this project, Bridle attempts to rediscover Nadar’s utopias in the possibilities of contemporary technologies.


America’s wind flow patterns mapped

Wind is an invisible, ancient source of energy that surrounds us— wind energy powered the first explorations of the new world, and may be a key to the future.

More GIFs at Experiments in Motion

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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.