In 2014, multimedia artist Alex Nathanson co-curated a venture known as Nightlight that turned a backyard in Queens into an interactive mild exhibit. The group had hoped to energy the exhibit by operating a cable out, however that turned out to not be possible, and “solar energy was the answer.”

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Since then, Nathanson has been within the intersection of solar energy and artwork. He managed Sundown, a Central Park artwork set up that consisted of a solar-powered ice cream truck, and he now teaches lessons on artwork and engineering. Throughout two latest Sundays, college students at Pioneer Works, an artwork area in Brooklyn, realized to make sun-powered robots and low-voltage sound sculptures.

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The upcycled photo voltaic cells used within the initiatives.

In keeping with Nathanson, many giant “photo voltaic installations” are literally linked to the grid, so it’s vital to him that something claiming to be “solar-powered artwork” really makes use of useful photo voltaic cells as a substitute of merely speculating about how the cells might be used, or utilizing the cells solely as ornament. To take action is greenwashing that erases the potential of utilizing photo voltaic supplies to find out about bodily craft and doable options to local weather change, he says.

In Nathanson’s class, the scholars — who don’t want prior engineering expertise — used upcycled photo voltaic cells from Jameco that got here in quite a lot of shapes. The sound venture had three components: construct the sound circuit, construct the photo voltaic panel itself, after which join the 2. To execute this, the scholars realized engineering ideas (like collection and parallel circuits, volts and amps, calculating output) in addition to technical expertise (reminiscent of how one can use a soldering iron).


College students learn to assemble a sound circuit on a breadboard.



A pupil makes use of a soldering iron to construct the photo voltaic panel, which is hooked up to the balsa wooden sculpture.

The ultimate product makes an array of digital sounds when positioned in daylight, relying on how the circuit and panels are constructed.


Alex Nathanson holds the venture that his college students made in the course of the second week: a sculpture hooked up to a sound circuit that makes numerous sounds when positioned within the Solar.

The sculptures got here in numerous sizes. Some, just like the one above, are manufactured from acrylic and look extra like mosaics. Others had been manufactured from balsa wooden and had been extra triangular in form.

The week earlier than, the scholars had constructed a unique artwork venture: little solar-powered robots that moved.


Photo voltaic-powered robots that transfer.

Nathanson additionally maintains Photo voltaic Energy for Artists, an archive of different initiatives. These vary from Low Tech Journal, a publication run on a mini-computer powered by off-grid photo voltaic power, to the 1957 Photo voltaic Do-Nothing Machine, which is without doubt one of the first examples of utilizing daylight to generate electrical energy, which then powers a whimsical artwork set up.

“Understanding the bodily craft is an enormous a part of understanding how one can transfer to sustainable power,” Nathanson says. “Many individuals didn’t know how one can solder earlier than this class. I wish to give them the instruments to experiment and make issues that perform.”

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