Large Hadron Collider. Photo by Maximilien Brice (detail).

To discuss energy in an enlightened way usually means to talk about conservation. Much attention has been given to the need to economize our production and consumption of energy—to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, shrink our carbon footprint and develop green technologies and lifestyles. Yet progress in design, art and the sciences depends on excess energy, the surplus beyond what is required to simply maintain life. For millennia, civilizations have been defined by their uses of that excess, uses that span a spectrum from war to art. Our civilization receives more energy than we need in the form of wealth, natural resources, heat, light, electricity and manpower. And like those before us, our identity is more closely linked to how we choose to spend that energy than how we save it. From land speed records and thermonuclear bombs to mosh pit photographs and homemade shoes, the works included in this issue of ARCADE explore how a culture’s collective identity can be formed by how it uses excess energy. In an effort to find a new, broader understanding of energy, we have adopted a methodology characterized by two stages:

1. Juxtaposition: two seemingly unrelated enterprises are paired.
2. Identification: new definitions of energy are developed based on shared characteristics of the two projects.

We chose this unusual method in order to break away from conventional ways of looking at energy. Typically, when someone begins a conversation about energy with the environmental crisis in mind, they arrive at the solution of conservation. But there are many alternative places to start that aren’t rooted in crisis. We decided to start with specifics. We found things that intrigued us: a car seemingly suspended at the surface of a lake, a guy who walked across the country to lose weight, a machine that produces different iterations of the same movie. Juxtaposing one thing with another allowed us to find new pathways in our thinking. When we set about identifying connections between mosh pit photographs and nuclear weapons, we couldn’t rely on what we had previously thought about either. We then articulated these new connections in terms of energy, a kind of unit conversion process that generated the energy equivalent of creativity. From these conjugal relations, new definitions of energy were born.

The projects included here were presented in Energy Effects: Art and Artifacts from the Landscape of Glorious Excess, an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver during the summer of 2010. They are judged not by their usefulness but instead by aesthetic, political, cultural and historical potential. They are less involved in the ethics of how energy should be used than in imagining the many ways in which it could be used. The new categories of energy include Terminal Energy, Rubbernecking Energy, Political Energy and Blind Energy, among others. They may seem odd, but in connecting works of design, art, architecture, science and industry, these terms teach us something important about energy. The combination of diverse objects from so many fields and the invention of new categorical identities link the profligate energy of creative life and the surplus energy of modern society.

Scale Energy:
The energy required to overcome big differences in size.

Tranform Energy:
The energy required to change form or state.

Destination Energy:
The energy used to move a person or object to a distant location.


Fat Man Walking, Steve Vaught, 2005. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Fat Man Walking, Steve Vaught, 2005

On April 10, 2005, Steve Vaught, an unemployed auto mechanic battling depression, set off in relative anonymity on a cross-country walk to lose weight. By the time he crossed the George Washington Bridge, he had a throng of followers and international media coverage. His website still receives thousands of hits each day. Instead of going to a health club, he conquered the continent, captured the attention of millions, and inspired countless obese Americans to walk for fitness.

Double Negative, Michael Heizer, 1969. Photo: Chris Fullmer

Double Negative, Michael Heizer, 1969

Michael Heizer’s Double Negative is an earth work constructed in 1969 in Nevada’s Moapa Valley. Heizer dug a 1500-foot long trench that spans a gap in the natural form of Mormon Mesa. As he puts it, “There is nothing there, yet it is still a sculpture.” His artificial cut, which crosses a natural one, establishes the land as the medium and scale of art. And despite its remote location, the large work is a mecca for art enthusiasts from all over the world, as shown in this photograph from Flickr.

Rubbernecking Energy:
The energy embodied in combined fascination and brutality.

Affect Energy:
The energy used to produce emotional responses.

Political Energy:
The energy required to maintain a simultaneous division and connection between people.


Total Control of Chaos, Janine Gordon, 2008. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Total Control of Chaos, Janine Gordon, 2008

Janine Gordon’s photographs suggest both violence and youthful exuberance. Taken at a live music concert, the pictures of people moshing (pushing and slamming into each other) also evoke a riot. They capture the tension between pleasure and violence that drives much crowd energy.

B-61 Nuclear Bomb, Los Alamos National Laboratory, 1968-present

B-61 Nuclear Bomb, Los Alamos National Laboratory, 1968-present

The B-61 nuclear bomb is the primary thermonuclear weapon in the US Nuclear Weapon Enduring Stockpile. When still classified, aircrew were not allowed to use the term B-61 in reference to the bombs, instead calling them “shapes” or “silver bullets.” In the context of the Cold War, nuclear weapons were designed to produce fear – and aesthetic connections between political leaders who share that fear – and thereby they are made specifically to prevent their own use. The enormous amount of energy committed to something with an aesthetic, emotional function echoes art.

Assembly Energy:
The energy embodied in complex accumulations.

Blind Energy:
The energy used to accomplish tasks with unknown benefits at the outset.

Design Energy:
The energy used to engineer material behaviors.


Large Hadron Collider, 2007. Photo: Maximilien Brice

Photo by Maximilien Brice.

Large Hadron Collider, 2007

The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland cost $9 billion to construct and uses twice the electricity of nearby Geneva when it is operating. Despite the astounding resources dedicated to it, nobody can predict with certainty what new knowledge it will produce. The investment in that mystery shows the depth of human curiosity. Famous photographs of its elaborate interior have become iconic images of scientific achievement today.

cummulus_1664, Ciro Najle, 2010. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of the artist.

cummulus_1664, Ciro Najle, 2010

Ciro Najle’s cummulus_1664 is an elaborately formed catenary surface suspended in the MCA Denver atrium. The 42’ long woven installation comprises a nebulous texture of 1024 individual tiles and over 800,000 knots. The piece is an experiment in what Najle calls “irrational engineering”—taking an engineering principle to a point of material excess, which in turn yields new principles. In this case, structural optimization gives way to atmospheric performance. The installation’s material effects respond to changes in the outside environment (sun angle, weather) and in turn create dynamic effects within the atrium (acoustic, visual). It oscillates between extremes of structure and surface, light and dark, cloud and solid, efficiency and excess.

Stretch Energy:
The energy used to extend human presence or perception.

Scale Energy:
The energy required to overcome big differences in size.

Destination Energy:
The energy used to move a person or object to a distant location.

Stage 2 Titan IV Rocket, Lockheed Martin, 1968-1989. Photo: Wes Magyar

Photo by Wes Magyar.

Stage 2 Titan IV Rocket, Lockheed Martin, 1968-1989

This Stage 2 Titan IV rocket, designed and built by Lockheed Martin, was slated to go to Saturn, but the Titan program was abandoned before it could be deployed. Space travel, and its ambition to overcome the vast difference in scale between the human being and the universe, requires a relatively impractical expenditure of resources. Much of the energy that the rocket burns in flight is used to simply transport enough fuel to get to the outer reaches of our solar system.

Sentinel, Don Stinson, 2010. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Sentinel, Don Stinson, 2010

A familiar part of the landscape, gas pumps are rarely seen for what they are: the visible markers of the distribution system that makes long-distance automobile travel possible. Don Stinson renders the pumps as part of the landscape, as natural as the vegetation that surrounds them, in order to draw a connection between the distribution infrastructure and the land from which the petroleum originated. The pumps enable an energy relay, from gas station to gas station, across the continent.

Transform Energy:
The energy required to change form or state.

Replica Energy:
The energy used to make copies.

Epic Energy:
The energy accrued over extraordinary lengths of time.


Chaussures, Viviane Le Courtois, 1991-present. Photo: Wes Magyar

Photo by Wes Magyar.

Chaussures, Viviane Le Courtois, 1991-present

In Viviane Le Courtois’s lifelong work, she hand weaves her own sandals and wears each pair until they fall apart. Transforming the activities of daily living into art, she has worn these sandals exclusively for 17 years. She documents the biography of each pair of shoes, tracking where she made them, where they went and when and where they “died.” She saves every pair and displays the series in its current state of completion.

Terrestrial Physics, Jim Sanborn, 2009. Photo: Wes Magyar

Photo by Wes Magyar.

Terrestrial Physics, Jim Sanborn, 2009

Artist Jim Sanborn works on an island off the coast of Maryland, recreating large-scale machines and environments used during the birth of atomic energy. His latest work, Terrestrial Physics, is a functioning replica of the first particle accelerator. It was originally operated by the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, DC, where it was used to fission uranium for the first time in 1939. When running, it generates 2.5 million volts of static electricity.

Narrative Energy:
The energy used to formulate a story.

Manifest Energy:
The energy used in making the invisible visible.

Assembly Energy:
The energy embodied in complex accumulations.


Autobiography ver.1, Ward Shelley, 2006. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Autobiography ver. 1, Ward Shelley, 2006

New York artist Ward Shelley illustrates ideas as complex assemblies of personalities, events, concepts, books and artworks, among other things. Whether to trace the development of the avant garde or to map his own life, his inventive histories synthetically combine phenomena from a variety of cultural and intellectual categories into whimsical diagrams.

Cliff Hanger, Jeff Shore and Jon Fisher, 2009. Photo: Bill Carlson

Photo by Bill Carlson.

Cliff Hanger, Jeff Shore and Jon Fisher, 2009

Texas-based electronic artist Jeff Shore teams with music composer Jon Fisher to create elaborate sound and image displays. Tiny cameras capture the motion of numerous small mechanisms among the wall-mounted system of wires, circuit boards and other devices. The video streams from the individual cameras are combined to make the film displayed on screen in real time.

Terminal Energy:
The energy used to propel a person or object to a limit.

Surreal Energy:
The energy used to create a sense of the impossible.

Singular Energy:
The energy required to design a unique use for an object.


Entre La Vida y La Muerte, Gonzalo Lebrija, 2008. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Entre La Vida y La Muerte, Gonzalo Lebrija, 2008

Guadalajara artist Gonzalo Lebrija explores issues related to travel, freedom and modern capitalism. To capture this impossible image, he developed an elaborate process. He hoisted a restored muscle car above a lake with a crane and then dropped the car into the water while filming it with a high-speed camera. This image is a single frame of the film, caught just as the car is about to break the lake’s surface. While in reality the car was in motion, in the image it appears to be suspended in time.

ThrustSSC at the Speed of Sound, Richard Meredith-Hardy, 1997

Photo by Richard Meredith-Hardy.

ThrustSSC at the Speed of Sound, Richard Meredith-Hardy, 1997

When the ThrustSSC broke the supersonic barrier and set the land speed record, nobody knew what photographer Richard Meredith-Hardy had captured from above. Flying in a microlight glider above Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, he caught the light in a way that makes the car’s shock waves visible. Reaching speeds of nearly 800mph, the vehicle pushes such a massive column of air in front of it that it produces shock waves capable of being seen with the naked eye.