eMergy: Embodied Energy

13 June 2006 at 7:21 pm 2 comments

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.


Entry filed under: art, energonomics, memes.

Totem Flow/eMergy Burn Nontheistic Existentialism

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. A Poetics of Energy Flow « Scholaris Erratus  |  1 October 2008 at 11:48 pm

    […] titled “Take This Page,” a poem that embodies the awareness of energy flow, of “emergy” (embodied energy), that my concept of energonomics tries to express.  I will post the poem […]

  • […] titled “Take This Page,” a poem that embodies the awareness of energy flow, of “emergy” (embodied energy), that my concept of energonomics (the main focus of another blog of mine, […]


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