2021 was an exciting year for artists, poets, and musicians inspired by energy and the energy transition.
Art of Energy, the world’s first virtual art gallery dedicated to all things energy, was launched in February 2021 during the inauguration of the Centre for Energy Ethics at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.
Founded and directed by Dr. Mette High, Reader in the Department of Social Anthropology at St Andrews, the Centre for Energy Ethics is an interdisciplinary research center that provides a platform for innovation and collaboration across the arts, humanities, social, and natural sciences. Its goal is to shift conversations about our complex relationship with energy – how it is produced, distributed, and consumed – in new directions.
In its inaugural year, the Centre for Energy Ethics hosted a whirlwind of art-related events that underscores its commitment to creating diverse and inclusive spaces in which students, researchers, artists, and the public can embrace uncertainty, ask questions, and push boundaries.
“From the very beginning, art was absolutely fundamental to the creation of the Centre for Energy Ethics,” explained Dr. High during a recent conversation via Zoom. “Art was not an afterthought.”
Truer words have never been spoken. Art and artists played a central role in the Centre’s first year: three virtual galleries, a curated soundscape, poetry readings, world premieres of musical compositions, climate fiction writing competition, not to mention a podcast, blog, Energy Café, several workshops, and a pre-COP Mock COP. And all this was in addition to the Centre’s ongoing research agenda, policy workshops, publications, international conferences (including COP26) and fundraising. Kudos to the entire CEE team! This is truly an impressive achievement for your inaugural year.
So while the Centre’s staff and colleagues take a well-deserved rest over the winter pause, I encourage readers to peruse the Centre’s website to fully appreciate its broad mandate and nurturing ethos of collaboration and inclusivity.
For this post, I simply want to highlight two of my favorite artistic collaborations organized by the Centre for Energy Ethics in its first year. I’m looking forward to discovering new energy-inspired art in the Centre’s second year. And there’s already a hint of great things to come: an artist-in-residence for emerging artists will be announced in the coming months for a targeted launch in September 2022. Get your C.V.’s ready!
Art was not an after-thought.Mette High
As a visual artist, I was pleasantly surprised that out of the diversity of the Centre’s inaugural artistic events, I was singularly attracted to two energy-inspired artworks that involve sound.
First, the ethereal electronic soundscape created by the brilliant psych pop duo pecq. According to Research Fellow Sean Field, this soundscape was commissioned by the Centre for Energy Ethics for its February 2021 launch. It is a hauntingly beautiful mélange of field recordings by the Centre’s researchers, superimposed over barely discernible chants from climate activists, and interwoven with electronic sounds that evoke, for me, the static discharge or vibrations of millions of invisible electrons that surround us. This experimental artwork, filmed by Ross Harrison, transported me into a subliminal dreamworld full of creative tension between hope and despair, between light and dark, between the past and the future. It is wonderful.
I was also captivated by the world-premiere of four musical compositions during the Fringe of Gold concert in November 2021. In collaboration with the University’s Laidlaw Music Centre, the Centre for Energy Ethics launched an international competition to commission original musical compositions inspired by artworks in the Art of Energy collection.
Composers were challenged to create new works as a form of musical ekphrasis, a term of Greek origin that I had to look up: the “phrasing” or re-interpretation of a visual artwork into words or music.
In response to its call for composers, the Centre received 152 submissions from around the world. Of these, a jury selected the following four winning compositions, each of which earned a £500 commission fee:
- Gaia, Mother Earth, by Emma Arandjelović – inspired by artwork by Katerina Evangelou
- Rewinding, by Tom Green – inspired by artwork by Adam Sébire
- Pylon, by Neil Tomas Smith – inspired by artwork by Ted Leeming
- Terra Cycles, by Sarah Horick – inspired by artwork by Natasha Awuku
The world premieres of these four compositions were performed by St Andrews music students during the Fringe of Gold music festival (see video above). According to the Centre for Energy Ethics’ website, this concert was “a celebration of music, collaboration and coming together to consider and address big societal questions about how to create a better energy future for us all.”
Collaboration. I can’t think of a more positive vision to usher in the new year. If we have learned anything from the global polycrisis of the first two decades of the third millennium, it is that collaboration across disciplines, across cultures, and across political and organizational divides, is at the heart of a just transition. Not just an energy transition. But more importantly, a human transition towards a new era of resilience and stewardship.
(All photos by Joan Sullivan.)
This article is part of the Renewable Energy series.
Joan Sullivan is a Canadian photographer and writer focused on the energy transition. She is a member of Women Photograph. In her monthly column for Artists and Climate Change, Joan explores the intersection of art and the energy transition. She is currently experimenting with abstract photography as a new language to express her eco-anxiety about climate breakdown and our collective silence. You can find Joan on Twitter and Visura.