Earth v Sky is a dynamic artwork by artist Allan Giddy, composed of the City of Sydney’s first wind turbine and new technology, which continuously samples the colour of the sky. Using this data, nine lights bathe two large Moreton Bay Fig trees in a spectrum of coloured light during sunset.
The lights appear to fade in gently and are initially barely noticeable on the trees at close range. They subtly increase in intensity over an hour, moving through a spectrum of colours in response to the sunset, reflecting the reverse colours in the sky. The lights then fade to black, along with the night sky, after 1 hour and 15 minutes. As Allan Giddy describes: “The installation is sustainably powered by the City of Sydney’s first wind turbine. As the earth seeks to balance the sky through colour opposition, the turbine balances the electricity used to create it.”
Aesthetic/Visual: To enhance the natural beauty of two prominent Moreton Bay Fig trees on the Sydney Harbour Foreshore.
Artistic Merit: To create an artwork that engages with key issues pertaining to sustainability whilst upholding artistic and personal integrity.
Innovation/Risk (Conceptual and Technical): To create a new public artwork based on technologies that did not previously exist. Giddy wanted to combine scientific and ecological practice with public art and utilise new technologies to illustrate the capabilities of renewable energies. He worked with different non-art organisations to develop a new technology with the aim of creating a world-first colour-sensitive light controller. Another aim was to develop a custom wind turbine to power the artwork and a method to enable the wind turbine to feed energy back to the grid.
Audience Engagement: To simultaneously demonstrate renewable energy technologies and inspire and educate members of the public about these through the means of public art.
Simultaneously demonstrate, inspire and educate members of the public about renewable energy and new technologies through the means of public art.
Social Activation/Debate: To engage audiences with the possibilities of renewable energies. To stimulate discussions about sustainability and inspire people to reimagine possibilities for the City.
Social Inclusion: To connect with wider audiences and encourage more visitors to the park. To realise the Glebe Point Road Upgrade (City of Sydney project) and enhance relationship between Glebe residents and their suburb.
Skills Acquisition/Personal Development: To develop a new sustainable technology that can be adapted in other fields.
Energy Efficiency/Generation: To power the artwork entirely with the wind turbine and create balance between energy production and load reduction and offset LEDs. To demonstrate the turbines capacity to be grid connected in urban situations.
OUTCOMES & IMPACTS
Methods of Evaluation
Now that the wind turbine and LED lighting technologies have been developed, the project can be evaluated through the ongoing data measurements of energy returned to the grid and also how the technology is applied to other sustainable projects.
Innovation/Risk (Conceptual): Ultilising scientific and sustainable methods an innovative and progressive public artwork was created with the additional benefits of promoting renewable energies. Interest has been expressed in the artist developing other public artworks based on the same technology.
Innovation/Risk (Technical): After five years of research and development, the wind turbine and LED lighting technology was implemented. This wind turbine was the first of its kind and size to be installed so that it returns energy back into the grid. This research into new technologies will benefit other fields and sectors.
Social Activation/Debate: The wind turbine has created discussion and debate about local wildlife habitats, with concern for the safety of animals including flying foxes and birds. This in turn has raised awareness about maintaining a sustainable environment. These debates have led to the first study into the effects of wind turbines on flora and fauna in Australia. The study runs for one year.
Social Inclusion/Community Development: This significant public artwork will become an iconic feature of the Glebe Foreshore area. The position of the installation allows people walking in the park, people on boats on the harbour and commuters travelling over the Anzac Bridge to engage with the artwork. The project will become an educational resource for students and school children learning about sustainability and regeneration.
Skills Acquisition: A new software program was developed to enable the LEDs to project the inverted colours of the sky.
Energy Efficiency: The energy generated by the artwork is entirely off-set by the wind turbine. The artwork uses 965 kW hours per year and the turbine returns 5500 kW hours per year to the grid.
Earth v Sky was selected for the City of Sydney’s Glebe Point Road Upgrade project in 2007. It was first scheduled to be installed in late 2008, but due to compliance, development application (DA) and technical issues, it was delayed almost four years to be launched in April 2012. The major constraints were related to practical and physical restrictions of installing a wind turbine and using the Moreton Bay Fig trees to create an artwork.
There were difficulties in sourcing a wind turbine that was suitable for the specific project as there were no other wind turbines installed of this kind anywhere in Australia. Finding the right wind turbine took a considerable amount of time. There were difficulties with installing the wind turbine in Bicentennial Park because the location was reclaimed ground consisting of rock, rubble and concrete placed in the harbour to extend the foreshore. Additionally, it was difficult to find a legal way for the turbine to be connected to the grid; there was no method for connecting small scale wind turbines to the grid and electricity companies were hesitant about engaging with the project. This issue was eventually resolved.
Concerns for local flora and fauna were raised. A City of Sydney arborist conducted a study to determine the work’s likely impact on the trees, particularly to resolve whether the increased amount of light on the trees would cause long-term effects. It was decided that the LEDs would not impose any more light than the surrounding streetlights. However, the placement of the LEDs was changed from a position directly under the trees to one outside the ‘drip zone’ or tree root zone so that there was no impact on the health on the trees. The value of protecting the trees out-weighed the artist’s preference to locate the lights under the trees so as to create a greater intensity of colour and light.
Local residents were concerned that flying foxes and native birds would be injured or killed by the wind turbine propellers. A scientific study on this topic had never been conducted to determine the real risks, however, an initial report by the Australian Museum indicated that the wind turbine propeller would be unlikely to cause harm to wildlife.
Resolutions for each concern were reached and the overall project actually benefitted from the time delays. During this period significant advancements in technology enabled a more efficient and effective lighting system to be developed, enhancing the overall aesthetic and sustainable outcomes of the project.
IMPACTS OF ARTWORK PRODUCTION
The intended outcomes of Earth v Sky were judged to outweigh the environmental impacts of the materials used to create the installation. The extensive period of time between conception and delivery of the project allowed for additional research into and development of ‘green’ technologies. The City of Sydney engaged an independent consultant to conduct a feasibility study on the renewable energy aspect of the project. Furthermore, the study also established the appropriately sized wind turbine that would only operate the LEDs for up to two hours each evening.
The energy efficiency benefits of the wind turbine and LEDs improve the long-term sustainability and overall environmental footprint of the artwork’s production. Compared to other types of lights, the manufacturing process for LEDs uses less energy and fewer resources and LEDs contain fewer hazardous than other lights. The energy required to manufacture a wind turbine is off-set through the energy it generates once it is installed.
The installation and use of a wind turbine and LEDs rather than electricity from the grid and other types of lights makes the work more environmentally friendly overall. An attempt was made to source a wind turbine within Australia, but the industry and product does not exist locally; therefore a turbine was purchased from China, creating an environmental impact in the form of the carbon emissions associated with shipping this from overseas. However, the physical infrastructure of the work is highly sustainable, with the turbine expected to last up to twenty-five years. The projected ongoing maintenance of parts is minimal; the LEDs last much longer than regular incandescent bulbs.
When the project was scheduled to be installed, the City of Sydney was conducting digging work at the park. The original plan was for the electrical cabling to be installed during this period, but due to other project delays it was not done. This meant that a trench had to be re-dug at a later date to lay cables causing additional environmental impacts.
City of Sydney. “Earth V Sky.” City Art. www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/cityart/special/earthsky.asp (accessed May 8, 2012).
Environment and Heritage Committee. “Earth V Sky: Glebe Point Road Public Art Project—Installation of Wind Turbine, 29 June 2009.” City of Sydney. http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/Council/Documents/Meetings/2009/Committee/Environment/290609/090629_Ehc_Item04.Pdf (accessed May 8, 2009).
Giddy, Allan. Interview by author, May 8, 2012.