Energy Harvesting as Public Art

Energy harvesting is an emerging technology that generates electricity unobtrusively from human activity (for example, walking, dancing, heartbeats) and from biological and physical phenomena in the world (for example, sap flowing in trees or raindrops).  The Energy Harvesting as Public Art Show explores the hopes and dangers of this technology.

The show is presented as part of the Knowledge Hacking show presented by the Worth Ryder Gallery in the Art Department at UC Berkeley.  Knowledge Hacking is an experimental research and exhibition project made by artists and thinkers in the Bay Area community working with artists, scientists, technologists and researchers at the University of California jointly sponsored with the ZeroOne Festival.  The project won a competition to support collaboration between  Stephen Wilson SFSU Art Professor  and Liwei Lin , Professor of Mechanical Engineering, UC Berkeley.  A special experimenter group of students and faculty from SFSU's Conceptual Information Arts Program created 8 projects to explore multiple perspectives on this new technology.

When and Where

September 15-October 9, 2010
Reception: Wednesday, September 15, 4-7 PM
Art/Science Panel: Friday, September 24, 2-3
Gallery Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 12-5 PM
116 Kroeber Hall, UC Berkeley
(SW corner of College Ave & Bancroft Way)

-Links to photographs of the installation and other resources related to energy harvesting art

The Installations

Stephen Wilson
Power Up the World

Power Up the World (PUTW) metaphorically addresses one of the main hopes of energy harvesting researchers - to provide inexpensive technologies for the third world that would enable these cultures to power up electronic devices.  PUTW uses NASA's "The World at Night" image as its backdrop; this famous composite image shows what is visible about the world from space at night.  All the illumination of the first and second world shows up as dense areas of light.  Because it does not have advanced electrical infrastructure to support nighttime illumination, if any, the third world shows up as mostly black. 

Energy harvesting researchers hope to provide convivial technologies in which the everyday activities of life such as walking, cooking, and carrying generate electrical power and address this disparity.  In PUTW visitors are shown an interactive digital media screen, and invited to pick among four places in the third world.  They then symbolically bring them into light by indicating an location of interest and then performing some physical activity, such as would be used in energy harvesting. In PUTW the physical activity is spinning a globe.  The activity changes the image from nighttime to sunrise to full day to people dancing traditional dances.   The system stores the state of the world they have created so they can continue to work on it later if they wish. 

The next few years will show whether these technologies are implemented in a way that genuinely serves developing culture or is co-opted into patterns of exploitation that often follows new technologies.


Michael Shiloh
Energy Harvesting: A Pastoral Perspective

There are two common simplistic views of Technology: The one holds that technology is the solution to all our problems; while the other holds that technology is the cause of all our problems. 

Technology has been part of our lives since our genus, Homo, has been in existence.  The development and application of technologies has at times been a solution, at times a problem, and often, both. Technology isn't inately one or the other: rather, it is we who have the power and responsibility to make smart, ethical choices.  Our increasing need for energy seems certain, in spite of efforts to reduce our usage. We will meet this need by improving the efficiency of existing methods, developing new sources, and by reducing our need.

  Nanogenerators are among devices designed to harvest energy. Implicit in the phrase “energy harvesting” is that the energy is generated as a by-product of some activity,and would otherwise be wasted i.e. energy harvesting reclaims waste energy. Whether man-made or natural, the “fuel” for energy harvesters is already present and is therefore considered free.

  Being tiny, each nanogenerator generates a very small mount of electricity. also by virtue of being tiny, large numbers of nanogenerator can be placed in a small space.&&  Energy generated by traditional methods must be stored, and sent over large distances, both resulting in immense losses. Nanogenerators might be built in to the devices being powered, reducing or eliminating storage and transmission losses.

  Will nanogenerators, and other forms of energy harvesting, change our lives? Will we  be doing the same things we have been doing, perhaps in slightly, or very, different ways? This installation explores those questions.

  By using well known paintings, I draw attention to our historical connection with technology, and how we absorb technology into our everyday lives. I also illustrate the integration of nanogenerators, and energy harvesting, into our daily activities



Amber Lee and Taylor Fitzgerald
 Energy-Harvesting Paintbrush

Inspiration, like energy, is in a constant chain-reaction.

The purpose of this piece is to engage artists with their environment and through that, artists can be inspired by their surroundings and compelled to translate their experiences into art. Likewise, in the realm of energy harvesting, artists can derive a useful source of energy from the movement generated from a paint brush. The possibility of a battery being charged within the brush is conveyed by the image of a battery being charged on the screen and the light emitting diodes that illuminate in succession due to the brush strokes.

If nano- energy harvesting applications were applied to the painting displayed, how much energy could have been harnessed? Furthermore, how much energy could have been harnessed from all the paintings done by Renaissance artists such as Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael?


Matthew A. Dalton & Jacob Rogers
hi-fi V

"Ideally, high-fidelity equipment has minimal amounts of noise and distortion and an accurate frequency response."       -Wikipedia

  Open up any given electrical appliance and most people will tell you they have no idea what they're looking at. Electrical circuits are a deceptively simple system that have long been plagued by a seemingly impenetrable fog of complexity. If we as a culture ever hope to implement the exciting possibilities presented in this exhibit, it is important to educate ourselves on how basic electronics work.

 Energy is energy is energy. All forms of energy, be they electricity, motion or heat, are all essentially the same. An engine turns heat into motion, a generator turns motion into electricity and a toaster oven turns electricity into heat. No matter what form it takes, energy is still energy; why then can't we turn the motion and heat all around us, every day, into electricity? If windmills can power a city, can a bicycle power a cell phone? Can people walking up and down stairs power a lightbulb? What power is there in a handshake? Certainly there's some motion involved. The trick is in turning that motion into electricity we can use.

  Research into the field of energy harvesting allows us to translate the power of that handshake through a special nano-fiber glove, which can convert the motion into an electrical voltage. This voltage must be stored somewhere, so the electricity is passed through a set of wires to a battery. Once the electricity is in the battery, it can be used for anything!


Andrew M. Bramer
“Acts of Negation”

Similar to a black hole these spheres are intended to act as a negation of our world. Intersecting with our bodies the fabricated orbs become a part of us, and a removal of us. Drawing on the possibilities of recent developments in power generating nano-fibers, these spheres are meant to take this avenue of research to its epoch. Growing from us like a cyst, these orbs become a power out of our control, imposing itself on our actions. If our movements are able to produce energy, might it then be possible that this energy be used to restrict the very movements that created that energy. These orbs hope to allude to this paradoxical line of thinking while simultaneously leaving room for the participant’s interpretations.


Judy Aime' Castro
“The Brain on Energy”

 My piece is a dialogue between the past and the future. It represents the development of technology of the late eighteen hundreds and the new development of nano-fibers. The piece looks at history and design through the lenses of innovation.

 My installation was inspired by a previous project in which I was being shocked by static electricity from the constant friction of fabric on a bare hollow metal structure. The accidental experience motivated me to create a machine-installation with a new technological approach, a romantic historical view, and a steam punk style.

 The installation consists of two structural legs and a hand crank that spins one dish covered by nano-fibers against another stationary nano-fiber covered dish. The resulting friction bends the nano-fibers, generating electricity. The distorted top porting of the installation is the brain of the machine, representing the continual process of ideas, and the light bulb indicates maximal creative flow.


Sean Bennett, Stephanie Sherriff
Energy Harvesting Instrument

Energy Harvesting Instrument is a project that conceptualizes apossible use of future energy harvesting technologies in art. The installation is made to allow the user to have a self- controlled sensory experience. The hand controls simulate the bending and stretching of embedded microfiber technology to capture the energy produced by the bending of your fingers. Users are then able to manipulate lights and sounds from the real world, thus altering their sense of reality.
Lauren Bjelde
Animal Electrics

As technology is constantly extending the senses, biotechnology is extending the adaptability of our species by integrating electronic medium into the living body. Kinetic energy from live organisms is being explored as a new resource for electricity. Pain is being managed by internal neurostimulators that polarize nerve signals via electric impulses.  Bionics and other artificial organs and mechanisms are replacing organic ones in patients across the world.

Animal Electrics explores what lies under the lens of a future anthropologist analyzing the remains of today's technological progress. The excavation of a single organism may reveal energy harvesting devices, bionic limbs, and MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) wired to the nervous, musculatory, or skeletal systems. Adaptation is a catalyst for evolution. As Homo Sapiens re-wire themselves to adapt and interact with the world more efficiently, they are engineering their own evolution.


 Liwei Lin ‎& Hanbing Wu
Nanogenerator Research

These nano-sized generators have "piezoelectric" properties that allow them to convert into electricity the energy created through mechanical stress, stretches and twists.

"This technology could eventually lead to wearable 'smart clothes' that can power hand-held electronics through ordinary body movements," said Liwei Lin, UC Berkeley professor of mechanical engineering and head of the international research team that developed the fiber nanogenerators.


links to photographs of the installation and other resources related to energy harvesting art

michael shiloh pictures

Anu pictures

Matt & Jake, & Judy pictures from Cindi  

Steve Wilson visual survey of Energy Harvesting Research

Energy Harvesting as Public Art Design Group Wiki