Archive for June, 2006

eMergy: Embodied Energy

I wanted to invoke Howard T. Odum’s concept of “eMergy” in the title of my sculpture to bring some attention to this idea. It is simple but significant: Odum wants to recognize and acknowledge the energy that is embodied in all things. He writes,

Citizens who think of energy as simply one commodity, separate from matter, information, art, and human spirit, must learn that everything has an energy component. The more intangible and valuable something is the more it costs in energy. . . . Most people use the word energy for inputs to their bodies or their economy, and thus think about energy as food, fuels, electric power, atomic power, and so on. However, components of energy are necessary for the action of all the processes of the universe. To understand the energy basis of man and nature, we must learn how energy is necessary to everything we do. (Energy Basis for Man and Nature 3, 25)

Odum wants to trace the energy that is involved in thinking, education, religious feelings, and information storage as well as the more common associations we have about energy such as solar heat flow, photosynthetic translation, caloric ingestion, and fossil fuel consumption. He sees highways, libraries, skyscrapers and power plants as enormous storages of high-energy assets, as concentrations of energy. Education is a perfect example: “Because much energy is used in developing one’s abilities, intellectual activity is a very high-quality use of energy; intelligence and learning are concentrated potential energy” (34). Odum’s approach to systems ecology, viewing as it does systems of energy flow–ranging from chemical reactions to stellar evolution–will be a cornerstone of my concept of energonomics.

A simple application of this idea can be considered in terms of the art piece itself. Totem Flow/eMergy Burn was the result of a certain amount of caloric output on my behalf as I twisted the copper wire around the copper pipe (that took a bit of work!). But we should also consider the energy that went into conceiving the idea itself: many hours of reading went into the composition of the catalog description, for example, not to mention the foundation of an advanced graduate degree. As an act of communication, the sculpture is a form of stored energy waiting to light up calorie-burning memes in the minds of others. I’ll stop there. I could go on, pointing out how, as an American citizen in a country with 5% of the world’s population, we consume 25% of the world’s energy, channeling it away from Others and towards our own citizenry. . . . but I’ll stop here for now.

13 June 2006 at 7:21 pm 2 comments

Totem Flow/eMergy Burn

Well, the sculpture opening has been postponed until tomorrow because of all the rain we’ve been getting here in New England.  It gives me a bit more time to think about what I want to say to introduce my piece.  I’ll probably start by saying that I’ve been trying to develop a new form of economics that focuses on energy flow and that this piece tries to represent some of the ideas I’ve had over the past five years as I investigate the science, social science, and humanities of energy flow.  Coiled copper wire has always given me the impression of flowing energy, so by chaotically coiling the wire as I have in each of these works  I am visually representing the movement of electrons and photons.

Totem Flow/eMergy Burn: detail Totem Flow/eMergy Burn: detail

In Totem Flow/eMergy Burn, I have wrapped Solid #4 copper wire around 3/8″ copper pipe.  In terms of the catalog description (see my post from June 9th for this), one could imagine the copper pipe flowing slowly through time in a gradual coiling motion, while the copper wire racing around it moves at a much higher speed (the theme of the show, by the way, is “Movement”).  Or, in terms of the example of glass that I use in the catalog description, the copper pipe could represent the slow flow of glass over centuries, while the copper wire represents the relative flow of water, for instance.

The title is an attempt to transmit as much information about the concept of energonomics or energenesis as possible.  “Totem Flow” sounds like “totem pole” and is meant to invoke a religious or spiritual dimension to the work.  In a very real sense, I have come to worship energy as a manifestation of the divine, and the fact that everything is an embodiment of the energy from the original explosion of the Big Bang means that the divine is infused throughout the creation.  In the words of Manuel DeLanda:

In a very real sense, reality is a single matter-energy undergoing phase transitions of various kinds. . . . Rocks and winds, germs and words, are all different manifestations of this dynamic material reality, or, in other words, they all represent the different ways in which this single matter-energy expresses itself.  (from A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History p. 21)

The concept of “eMergy” is complicated enough to deserve its own post, but I will simply introduce it by saying it is a concept of “embodied energy” developed by Howard T. Odum.  I copied the way Odum spelled the word in an online article titled “eMergy Evaluation.”

10 June 2006 at 12:05 pm 1 comment

Totem of Energy Flow

Tomorrow is the opening for the Maudslay State Park Outdoor Sculpture Exhibit in Newburyport, Massachusetts.  I entered a piece called Totem Flow/Emergy Burn which is pictured below. 

 Totem Flow/Emergy Burn

It is a representation of the concept of energonomics or energenesis that I have been trying to develop in this blog all along. The catalog description says the following:

Totem Flow/eMergy Burn attempts to capture differing relationships of speed and slowness:  glass, which appears to be solid, is an extremely slow-moving fluid taking centuries to move, for example.  As a representation of matter-energy flow, the sculpture embodies the lesson of Einstein’s famous equation:  matter is slow light and light is fast matter.  The concept of emergy, or “embodied energy,” draws our attention to the energy that is hidden in all things. 

I have done one other sculpture along these lines, called "The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower."  (My title comes from the poem by Dylan Thomas.)  This one is pictured below.

 The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower

Lest you think I'm a sculptor, I'm not. . . . unless doing these two works makes me a sculptor.  This is all that I've ever done.  I certainly have wanted to create sculpture for many years now, having been a huge fan of contemporary art since my cousin took me through the Guggenheim in New York when I was sixteen.  I've called myself a "conceptual artist" for many years, since I've had lots of ideas but have never executed any of them.  (A friend of mine said, "It's the doing that makes you an artist.")  I'll talk more about the ideas behind these in a subsequent post.

9 June 2006 at 6:30 pm Leave a comment


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