Earth is a Charged Body Floating in Space

Two stories from the scientific career of Nikola Tesla provide good illustrations of the connection between science on one hand and capital and marketing on the other. In the first, Edison decided on the advertising ploy of executing an elephant to prove that the alternating current that Tesla had invented was terribly dangerous. Although direct current required for its transmission the construction of infrastructure facilities every 50 metres, he pushed his own invention, attempting to discredit the alternative current that could be more easily transmitted.
The need for profit was also the reason why Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower, which was within reach of attaining its end, collapsed so miserably. The principal backer, after the first major investment, withdrew his money, because rumours had begun to circulate that wireless consumption of electricity would be impossible to measure and so to charge. Not only did he cease to invest in the project, but also dissuaded other potential investors from putting money in.
Although there must be a thousand such examples, these two historical illustrations from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries show how much science was even then dependent on investment and on the economic interests of individuals. Art on the other hand, sometimes has the ability to create in a kind of area of freedom, and has thus been able to open up certain questions and set off debates where they are needed. Great scientific discoveries can be exciting and incidental, and combined with the perspicuity and fascinating perspectives that art provides, will once again, as part of the Touch Me Festival subtitled Energy Ab/Use, create a story on a unique topic.
In the first two versions of the Touch Me Festival we were engaged with the topics of the abuse of intelligence and of the imperative of happiness. This year we shall deal with the newsworthy theme of energy. No matter which side you have opted for − whether you are among those who fear the complete destruction of humankind and all other species because of the immoderate consumption of unrenewable sources of energy, or those who think that nature is indestructible and that mankind will never be able to dream up something powerful enough to overcome it, or among those sceptics who believe it’s all just hype and that there is no proof of the ozone hole or of the possibility of depleting all oil reserves or of electric cars really being able to work in traffic and so on, among the artistic works brought together at this festival you will see diverse approaches to the same topic − to the various policies on energy use.
It seems that the sub-topic of food in the meaning of energy for living species is the most widely represented at the exhibition. But it too is discussed from various aspects.
The most philosophical and probably the most complex project belongs to the Australian group Tissue Culture & Art, which with its work has very astutely anticipated events that, if we are to judge from the latest editions of Scientific American, are knocking on the door. In 2003, when they presented their project in Nantes, as part of the curatorial project of Jens Hauser, they wanted in fact to open up a debate about laboratory-produced victim-less flesh. We might even be able, by multiplying our own tissue cells, to raise steaks from ourselves. According to most recent research, if we went over to this way of “culturing” meat, it would mean a 35-60% reduction of energy, an 80-95% smaller greenhouse effect, and a 98% smaller use of land. Along with practical questions related to the survival of domestic animals, taboos on cannibalism, the actual taste of food produced in petri glasses, an ethical issue arose, related to the rights of these tissue creations, which Tissue Culture & Art call “semi-living beings.”
Do you remember the food chains of primary school? Grass is eaten by stag, stag is eaten by man, posthumously man is eaten by grass, and so on ad infinitum. Everything would be fine if only man had not spoiled things by growing animal and plant species just for himself while putting himself outside the food chain. Amy Youngs and Ken Rinaldo recall this problem and offer a work with a lucid set of combinations. In their work Farm Fountain they make possible a very healthy lunch consisting of fish and salad, creating a perpetual motion machine in the form of a mini-self-contained-food chain. The plant grows in the water, the food is obtained from fish excreta and the flesh is fed on the plant. People, who have thought up and designed all this, also feed on both, revelling in their beautiful and functional aquarium.
Andy Gracie has submitted for our consideration a similar situation of the microcosmic world per se using almost the same elements − fish and plant, but this time there is also a computer-controlled robot. In his work Fish, Plant, Rack Gracie endeavours to decide whether the fish is capable of controlling the robot that feeds and waters the plant and whether the plant is capable of communicating its wishes to the fish. Unlike Ken and Amy, who deal with the nutrient economy, the work of Andy Gracie deals with nutrient communication.
The photographs of Jasenko Rasol also deal with food. They are of the winter gardens that came spontaneously into being on patches of urban waste land. The interest in this “non-urban” behaviour woven into the tissue of the city tells both of the economy and of human needs.
The documentary film of Valentin Thurn deals with food in an activist way. In his interesting production the German director studies the statistics of wasted food, particularly as related to the big supermarkets, and puts forward a suggestion − that we should eat waste.
Apart from food, the artists have in very different way become engaged with alternative forms of energy. mischler’traxler have turned our enjoyment in that aromatic but from every other point of view fairly useless beverage, coffee, in its contemporary version, Nespresso, into a generator. In experimental computer poetry, Ines Krasić and Ivan Nikolić Lesh have harnessed lemons. Dubravko Kuhta Tesla enables people to turn footwork into electricity.
One of the themes presented is the transformation of one form of energy into another. In their performance, Bojan Gagić and Miodrag Gladović transform light into sound energy. By contrast, the Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand team carries out chemical processes in which at certain temperatures and with certain combinations of gases sound waves can be turned directly into light. This magical work brings us up close to certain phenomena in space, such as sunlight, for example. Tao G. Vrhovec Sambolec tautologically turns wind into wind, creating in an indoor space a totally artificial response to the wind outside. This is a work from a series that ultimately aims at being united into a single work recreating all the atmospheric effects of outdoor space in the interior.
As part of the festival, two performances will be held, both interesting in their own individual ways. American artist Barry Schwartz will put on for us a spectacular clash with electricity. Controlling and sometimes being controlled by high voltage electricity, Schwartz presents us with a much more directly corporeal relationship with electricity than we are used to.
HeHe, a group from Paris, puts an ecological question mark against industrial production, creating at the same time wonderful urban pictures of fluorescent colours. To date they have coloured city horizons making use of the smog in the big cities, and have infiltrated into the traffic little toy cars that let off colourful smoke bombs. In the Touch Me Festival, factory smoke will be made multi-hued.
The work that tries to anticipate the position of humanity in the near future needs mentioning. The project of Marija Knezić is optimistically oriented to the search for solutions to the problem. If the danger from radiation increases up to 2050, Marija anticipates a new cosmetic product − a patch that obviates all the consequences and actually restores energy.
And unless a new Tesla is born who transforms the Earth into a gigantic dynamo that projects unlimited wireless electricity available anywhere in the world, we will have to deal with the topic of energy, its politics and economy, its use and abuse.