Creative Solar Power Archive

Historical Context

Designers and engineers have been creating solar powered products since the late 1950s. The ubiquitous solar powered calculator is the most well known, but more recently solar panels have been popping up on devices as diverse as trash cans and windbreaker jackets. The first artwork involving functional solar panels that I’m aware of is Joe Jones’ 1977 solar instrument which plays chimes. He first conceived of this work in 1964, but the price of solar panels at that time prohibited him from making the piece. The idea of someone being first is contentious, not only for the difficulty in proving it and the likelihood of being inaccurate, but because larger systemic socio-economic forces render many ideas of “firstness” irrelevant here. It’s very likely that many others conceived of creative applications of solar power, but lacked the institutional and financial support to either produce or present their work.

In order to better understand the data I’ve collected in relation to broader historic trends, I’m planning on graphing my research against other external datasets showing the cost of solar and the public’s perceptions around climate change and energy consumption. The goal for considering the archive in this broader context is to underscore the relationship between material availability, cultural zeitgeist, and artistic exploration. While it could be intuited that creative use of the material would grow as solar panels become more accessible and concern over climate change grows, it is interesting to look at the data behind that assumption.

The graph below, depicts the archive contents in relation to the estimated price of residential PV. The blue line represents the price of residential PV prices in US dollars. The red dots represent the start dates of individual projects. All of the data has been normalized to better illustrate the trend.

Visualizing the Data

Two possible uses of the data are to look at the volume of projects or the volume of artists either in total up to that time or just in that given year. Each use has its own pitfalls. In the former case, when looking at how many projects started in a given year a question that arises is what is the relevance if one artist who may or may not be influential created a lot of work. The ladder case is possibly more illustrative, because it is thrown off less by the interests of a particular individual (and their ability to document their work online). The pitfall in this instance is considering whether a particular artist has continued to engage with the material after that point and whether that matters when interpreting the data.