Can art be environmentally friendly without limiting artistic freedom? — FlightBulb

“The art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires art.”
John Lasseter

Coming from a theatre background I have always been interested in the interactivity of art and how it can be fuelled by technology as it is constantly taking up more and more space in our lives. I got my chance to learn about it during an internship with Invisible Flock and their project Baby-BEETA (Business, Engineering, Environment, Technology, Art) where i created my own work with the help, the techniques and the equipment of the company.

My time consisted of general training with the company and how to run it day by day and working around other Baby-BEETA events like the potluck lunches. I helped coordinating accommodation and travel for international makers and artists working with Invisible Flock on new projects. I also accompanied members of the company to site visits for new work.

While I was there, the idea of BEETA was also further developed considering what exactly it should offer for young artists and makers. The aim of BEETA is to give artists opportunities to try out new media and technologies they might struggle with and to connect them to an international community of makers. It will also be a place where artists can explore these technologies and relate them to ‘old school’ practice.

My Own Project:

Like I mentioned before I also could develop my own project which could be anything that is connected to BEETA (Business, Engineering, Environment, Technology and Art).

I chose the broad theme of environment. Sustainability and protection of the environment are omni-present in our lives. We recycle, we might buy organic food and we limit our plastic bag use.

Consequently, it’s just natural to ask if art should not be environmentally friendly and accordingly how that could be done without limiting artistic freedom. I wanted to look at Invisible Flock and how their work is already environmentally friendly or how it could be made even more sustainable. East Street Arts, where their studio is based, is almost exclusively working with renewable energy which reduces the impact of the work in the studio such as prototyping to a minimum. As an internationally acclaimed company Invisible Flock’s work is frequently produced or shown abroad which leads to frequent air travel.

Air travel is one of the biggest causes of emissions like CO2 that enhance climate change. Due to their work, however, members of the company must travel by plane simply because of the distances and/or to not lose a lot of a working day, thus abstaining from air travel all together is not an option.

In recent years compensating your carbon footprint became popular. This method calculates how much CO2 a single person or a company emits and then the emissions can be offset through donations that led to different actions that will save CO2 in other places or offset CO2 emissions through trees being planted.

‘Flightbulb’ is designed to show how much CO2 is emitted by Invisible Flock through flights. To comply with the Paris Agreement and not increase the Earth’s temperature of more than 2° C, every human being can only emit a certain amount of Co2. (This also takes an increase of the world population into account).

I wanted to create an installation that shows how much CO2 Invisible Flock emits in relation to the people that are part of the company.

The left lightbulb displays how much CO2 is emitted through flights taken by the company and the right lightbulb shows flights that are shorter than 400 miles (which are flights taken within Europe that could have been avoided by using other means of transportation). The left lightbulb will light up more LEDs the more CO2 is emitted, the bottom ones are green and as more CO2 is used more LEDs will be lit up, the top ones in red to indicate that the company used more CO2 per person that is suggested by the Paris Climate Conference Agreement. As soon as the company sets this off the lightbulb will show fewer LEDs lit up.

I am interested in interactive art which is also a part of ‘Flightbulb’. The distances of flights are entered in a spreadsheet which then responds to the LEDs of the installation. However, coming from a theatre background I needed to understand what steps I need to take in order to create an artwork that is interactive through technology.

After my initial idea, that my piece should have something to do with the environment and how to protect it, I needed to assess the possibilities of what part of that I wanted to display and how. CO2 emitted through air travel seemed an easily measurable impact in that respect. Subsequently, I needed to decide on how to display the emitted CO2 which I wanted to do with different coloured LEDs. The whole process was constantly overseen by members of the companies. I was helped by Ben Eaton, the company’s technical director to make the LEDs respond with the increase of CO2 emissions for instance.

The lightbulb frames were 3D printed. The form of the lightbulb serves here as an antithesis because normal lightbulbs use more energy for heat instead of actual light. This made the old fashioned lightbulb quite inefficient. The frame reminds of that fact whereas the LEDs are now way more environmentally friendly in that respect.

In the end, it is all about finding the balance between offset and emission as we cannot avoid completely producing greenhouse gases in our work.

What’s your take on that? Can art be environmentally friendly? Does it have to be or is it something we could deem negligible?

By Simone Glatt