Consumers or stewards: Do our energy transitions really define who we are?

By Jesika Briones, Advanced Energy Centre, MaRS Discovery District

This article was originally published on MaRS blog. It’s been reposted on our blog with the author’s permission.

I recently decided to start communicating with youth about the inevitable connections between our energy consumption, our economy and our climate, as well as the existing technological solutions to related problems (yes, there is hope!). While the youth of today are a slightly different crowd than I am used to working with (that is, electrical utilities and corporations), they will inherit our environmental legacy, and so they have the right to know, to decide and to act on what is best for them.

While I was trying to decipher how to get my message across to this new audience, a book landed on my desk that helped me to connect the dots between society and climate, and also to understand where our aversion to change comes from. That book was Art and Energy: How Culture Changes written by Barry Lord, co-president of Lord Cultural Resources and one of the world’s leading museum planners. Art & Energy is published by The AAM Press and distributed by the University of Chicago Press. If you’re interested in reading the book, you can order it from the AAM site.

In a nutshell, the book explains the relationship between energy and culture, and how our value systems change as we experience new energy transitions. Wanting to learn more from the author himself, I invited Barry to MaRS for a Q-&-A session. I am happy to share my takeaways from the session with you and hope you will find them as interesting and useful as I did.

The interview

Barry opened up our conversation by explaining his initial thesis, which is that the fundamental relationship between art and energy has not been fully explored or understood, but that it is crucial that every member of our society understands this relationship. Why? According to Barry, “Because we are so dependent on the values that come to us in order to access and maintain each new energy source, it directly affects who we think we are and how we think of others.”

It is kind of incredible to think that our own individual value systems are connected to our available energy resources, isn’t it? I asked Barry about what various energy transitions have meant to our society and his responses are as follows. (Please note that I chose only a few energy transitions. Detailed descriptions of chronological transitions can be found in his book.)

Who we were and what mattered to us

Fire: Culture of the hearth: “The culture of the hearth is what made us humans. This happened when we started gathering around a burning fire controlled to give warmth, security and sense of togetherness.” Related art piece: The cave paintings of Lascaux (watch video).

Lascaux cave paintings from Dordogne, France

Slaves: Culture of domination: “Slavery was a socio-political institution that provided a renewable source of energy. Almost everyone in slave-owning society accepted the moral propriety of exploiting this source of energy, just as today we accept the values that come from oil and gas. The slave trade was really an energy industry! Slaves were a renewable energy resource – but they could also fight back.” Related art piece: A drove of cattle, from the tomb of Nefer and Kahay at Saqqara.

A drove of cattle, tomb of Nefer and Kahay from Saqqara, Egypt

Coal: Culture of production: “The culture of production that came from coal and steam was so powerful that most of us still live partially in it. Gross domestic product evaluation is a confirmation of it. Distinctions between working class and capitalist class appeared here. So did universal education and our alienation from seeing ourselves exclusively as part of the mass production process that coal and steam made possible.” Related art piece: Edouard Manet’s The Railway, 1873.

The Railway (1873) by Edouard Manet

Electrification: Transforming the world: “Although it is not a source, but an application [of energy], electrification inspired us to become agents of change. We could change night into day with the electric light bulb, we could build in the sky with the electric elevator, we could change entertainment into movies, radio and TV, we can change the climate with air conditioning, and with digitization and IT we can change knowledge, work and just about everything else. A transformative culture, inspiring many of us to believe anything can be enhanced, including who we are and how we live.” Related art piece: Marcel Breuer chair.

Where we are and what matters to us

Oil and gas: Culture of consumption: “Oil and gas does not require the disciplined workforce of coal. The value nexus shifts from production to consumption. How many barrels shall we ship, and what can the price be? Oil and gas brings us the culture of consumption. By 1964, oil and gas replaced coal as the most prevalent sources of energy. The values of consumption were identified early on by Andy Warhol. He knew that the brand of the product replaced the product itself. In this culture, we are not a change agent anymore. What matters is simply being a consumer: acquiring the latest brands and commodities. The culture of consumption teaches us to relax. You’ve got a credit card in your pocket. What’s the problem?” Related art piece: Andy Warhol’s Mao, 1973.

Mao (1873) by Andy Warhol

Mao (1873) by Andy Warhol

When I asked Barry where we are currently headed, he said: “We are again in a period of energy transition.”

Renewable energy: Culture of stewardship: “The impact of renewable energy is already being felt. The United States Energy Information Administration estimates that about 21% of world electricity generation was from renewable energy in 2011, with a projection for nearly 25% in 2040. The values associated with this new cutting-edge source of energy are those of stewardship, both stewardship of the body (our own microcosm) and stewardship of the earth. Related art piece: Edward Burtynsky’s Oil series.

Oil Fields 2 (2003) by Edward Burtynsky

Oil Fields #2 (2003) by Edward Burtynsky

A smiling Barry continued: “It will be interesting [to see] what artists are going to develop as a result of the culture of stewardship.”

He believes that the transition from oil and gas to renewable energy is also an intergenerational conflict. “The older generations know that they have to fight when their energy source is threatened. They fight to defend their culture,” he explained, referring to the culture of consumerism.

To illustrate his point, Barry brought me back again to the culture of slavery. “Why would somebody fight so hard to keep a system of slavery? Especially when they knew that slavery was immoral. It is because it was their energy source. But polluting the planet is immoral too.”

For those like me who are working in the energy and climate sector and want to get their message across, Barry leaves us with a final piece of advice. “By entering a new energy transition we are also entering a conflict of cultures. If all you do is talk about the pros and cons of renewable energy, oil and gas, you won’t be able to convince people. It is important to understand the cultural implications.” And there was my answer.

Finally, I asked Barry: “If you think that energy transition drives cultural change, could cultural change drive the next energy transition? Can we target both at the same time?”

He responded that, ultimately, the culture of stewardship will become dominant only when renewable energy becomes far more important than it is today. However, encouraging the culture will help speed up the process, as resistance to renewable energy is steeped in the commitments to other values that people cling to because their energy sources are at stake. According to Barry, renewable energy’s culture of stewardship of the earth and the body is the cutting edge culture of today.

Attend the book launch in person

Barry will launch his book, Art and Energy: How Culture Changes, on September 23, 2014 at the Gardiner Museum. Admission is free, but attendees should RSVP here.


Studio Y and MaRS Cleantech are promoting a culture of stewardship through an initiative known as Adjacent Possibilities in art + energy, a first-of-its-kind initiative that artistically celebrates the human capacity to take on climate disruption. By showcasing emerging artists as they collaborate with leading entrepreneurs in the cleantech energy sector, Adjacent Possibilities fosters the creation of art that explores themes of inspiration, determination and human innovation.

Join the conversation on Twitter at @AdjacentP.


Jesika Briones
Jesika Briones
Jesika is the Business Development Manager for the Advanced Energy Centre. She works with MaRS cleantech advisors and experts from academia, industry and government to support the development and adoption of clean energy technologies in local and international markets. See more…

To find out more about Art & Energy: How Culture Changes by Barry Lord, click here.

Excursion to Dharavi

By Sushrut Patgaonkar

Mumbai is a city of 20 million dreams, we journeyed to Dharavi where a million of those dreams live, work and pray. We walked for 2 hours to get to the heart of the Dharavi slums. Dharavi houses soap and leather goods manufacturing along with recycling industries.

The first stop on our visit was at a micro-theatre. The micro theatre is a small darkened room with a TV; the latest movies are played here. Entry is 0.3 dollars in Indian currency.

We continued on to a metal recycling area where pieces of metal are melted in a furnace where temperatures reach as high as 60 degrees in the summer!

Dharavi

Next we observed the textile printing sheds where they use liquid wax to make prints. As the wax has to be in a constant liquid state there are no fans for ventilation, in the summers temperatures rise to 45-50 degrees.

Dharavi

Later we visited a plastic recycling centre. Here the workers jobs are to separate the plastics by type, this is determined by burning a small part of each piece of plastic and inhaling the fumes – each type gives off a different smell. This job is extremely hazardous to the workers.

Dharavi

I was particularly surprised to see fully automated embroidery machines in Dharavi.

Embroidery machine, Dharavi.

We also saw the living quarters of the workers. The worker’s homes are about the size of the interior of an SUV, the lanes between living spaces are only a foot apart. It is hard to imagine how someone could live in such a claustrophobic place.

Dharavi

The manufacture of metal sub-assemblies happens here in the slums away from the vibrant Mumbai. Most of the industries here in Dharavi employ the use of people and craftsmen rather than machines for finishing and manufacturing.

Dharavi

In this picture a worker is washing a container with an industrial grade solvent which is used to dissolve and remove oil paint from metal. The worker handles the solvent with his bare hands; this is another example of the everyday living and working conditions here in Dharavi.

Dharavi

The life expectancy of the locals in Dharavi is no more than 50 years due to such hazardous conditions.

Dharavi sweets

This is a new type of treat popular among the kids here; it is candy that is wrapped around a stick to resemble a flower.

Overall this trip was an emotional experience for me. I was born and raised in Mumbai but I had never known this part of my country. But despite of all the harsh living and working conditions the people in Dharavi still have smiles on their faces. It really makes you reconsider your ideas about happiness and the value we assign to life.

A Trip to the Barabar Caves

By Shubha Khandekar

The India team of Lord Cultural Resources has recently visited the Barabar caves located in the state of Bihar, India, in regards to the Bihar Museum’s exhibition design project, in which our firm is currently involved.

Barabar Caves

The Lord India team at Barabar Caves, Bihar. Left to Right:
Last Row: Jan Beringer, Eric Leyland
Mid Row: Poulomi Das, Batul Raaj Mehta, Tanvi Shah, Sushrut Patgaonkar
Bottom Row: Rajiv Kumar, Shubha Khandekar, Yashmi P. George, Akanksha Jain, Barabar Cave Guide.
Photo by Lord Cultural Resources.

Meandering over an exotic landscape of low hills strewn with large, well-rounded boulders, in sharp contrast to the vast Gangetic plains of Bihar, we reached the base of the cluster of hills on which stand the oldest surviving rock cut caves of India, perhaps of the world: four in the Barabar and three in the Nagarjuni groups. For their historical significance, these caves form an important exhibit at the Bihar Museum, for which we are the Master Planning Consultants and also designing the exhibits.

Majestic in the beauty of their rawness, the caves incorporate deep acoustics that make them ideally suited for chanting and meditation in seclusion while the inscriptions at the entrance reveal that they were carved by Emperor Asoka for the Ajivika ascetics 2300 years ago.

The Barabar Caves were featured by the British writer, E.M. Forster, in his novel A Passage To India and in the 1984 movie based on the book directed by David Lean. Forster visited the caves on one of his two visits to India. Struck by their curious echo, he used them as a central location in his book, renaming them “The Marabar Caves” for the story.

To A Long Life…

By Ngaire Blankenberg

This article was previously published at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights’ blog.

Mourners outside Mandela and Machel house Friday Dec 6, 2013. Photo: Ngaire Blankenberg.

Mourners outside Mandela and Machel house Friday Dec 6, 2013. Photo: Ngaire Blankenberg.

On the night Mandela died, I went to his house and joined the gathering- singing, dancing and reflecting. On my way home, at about 2:00 a.m., I was stopped by a roadblock. Suddenly, the whole convoy was in front of me. First the rows of military motorbikes, then the hearse. With crystal clarity, I saw his coffin wrapped in the South African flag, and with that, I knew it was really over. I sat crying, alone in my car on a deserted Johannesburg street- mourning my Madiba and all he represented for me.

Mourners outside Mandela and Graca Machel's house, Thursday December 5, 2013. Photo: Ngaire Blankenberg.

Mourners outside Mandela and Graca Machel’s house, Thursday December 5, 2013. Photo: Ngaire Blankenberg.

What a period of mourning it has been. Charged, emotional, incredulous, tender, sad- all the stages of grief and more. These last weeks, we have been thanking Mandela for many things- for hope, for reconciliation, for leadership, for freedom. I thank him also for reminding us how right it is to mourn a man who lived for 95 years.

Mourner with candle, Friday December 6, 2013. Photo: Ngaire Blankenberg.

Mourner with candle, Friday December 6, 2013. Photo: Ngaire Blankenberg.

I don’t live in South Africa anymore but was there this week- arriving in Johannesburg on the day before Mandela died and then flying down to Cape Town with the Museum of AIDS in Africa. We set up our (Virtual) Memorial at the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa asking people if they would like to remember someone they cared about who had died from an AIDS-related illness.

Tribute in Cape Town.

Tribute in Cape Town.

She was loving and caring to the whole family and I still miss her so much because I can’t live without her, I love you mom. Cecelia Sithembu remembered by Nosipho Sithembu

She was my best friend and the time she died, she had hoped that she was going to be fine. Susan Mandanda, remembered by B Mazanve

I remember you defending me to mom when I couldn’t eat specific foods. You were always so kind and loving. I hope you’re watching over my cousins. Botshelo Sepheka remembered by Ofentse Mohatla

Many people who visited us had lost more than one person to AIDS. One woman had lost 35 people. Many were so busy surviving they couldn’t mourn properly- so busy trying themselves to stay alive, or to take care of others.

People filling out Memorial cards, Museum of AIDS in Africa, ICASA, Cape Town, photo Lindeka Qampi. Photo: Ngaire Blankenberg.

People filling out Memorial cards, Museum of AIDS in Africa, ICASA, Cape Town, photo Lindeka Qampi. Photo: Ngaire Blankenberg.

During apartheid, many people disappeared. Eventually they were assumed to have died. No closure. Stuttered grief. Others died through the violence or were murdered by the state. Funerals were mobilization. Grief fuelled anger, anger fuelled action. In this AIDS epidemic, funerals are also about anger, or they are about silences, desperation. Cause of death unknown. Too little, too late.

But this week. This week. A full outpouring of public and private sadness. We remember, We talk, We cry. There is no uprising. There is no injustice. Tata Madiba died because he was old and it was the end. He survived a lot in his time, and he was rewarded with a hard but rich life. To live with dignity, to die with dignity- to be remembered.

May we live and die in his footsteps.

Ngaire, wearing MAA t-shirt, writing in public condolence book for Mandela, Cape Town, Sunday Dec 8, 2013.

Ngaire, wearing MAA t-shirt, writing in public condolence book for Mandela, Cape Town, Sunday Dec 8, 2013.

Ngaire Blankenberg is a Principal Consultant at Lord Cultural Resources. She is a Canadian-South African currently based in Barcelona. Toronto-Based Lord Cultural Resources is the world’s largest cultural professional practice. They’ve been working with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights since its early days. Ngaire was involved with the cross- country Public Engagement tour as part of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights content development.

Mobile in Museums- still a way to go

By Ngaire Blankenberg

I don’t think we have cracked museum mobile yet. I think there is a lot of mobile in museums, and there’s lots of cool apps from museums (such as MOMA’s impressionist one which is still an all time favourite for the ipad: http://www.moma.org/explore/mobile/abexnyapp)- but I’m not sure how successful the marriage of mobile with exhibitions is yet. I try and download apps and take mobile tours as much as possible and I have yet to find one I think has worked. Most just are complicated and then take my attention away from the exhibit I’m here to see and ask me to do things that I feel I don’t know how to do or have anything to say about at that moment. I get annoyed at apps which keep insisting I “dig deeper”. Museum exhibitions are already deep- they’re so full of content I’ve rarely been to an exhibition and felt like I’ve read or watched or heard everything. If I wanted to dig deeper than that I wouldn’t be here right now, with my grumbling family, trying to enjoy this exhibition which has the right level of depth for the hour that I have. I want apps that will enhance my experience right here, right now- not take me away from it.

Mobile App from Louvre Lens for a smartphone (http://www.culturemobile.net/louvrelens-orange/louvre-lens-appli-pour-smartphone)

Mobile App from Louvre Lens for a smartphone (http://www.culturemobile.net/louvrelens-orange/louvre-lens-appli-pour-smartphone)

The most successful mobile experience I have actually had was such a basic audio tour at the Cite de la Musique in Paris. When you saw the instruments on display you could activate the sound of the instrument playing. It was simple and beautiful and took my experience at that museum to another level. That’s what I’m talking about.

Most of us museum visitors have smartphones now. V&A’s survey in March showed that 60% of visitors are using their smartphones already to enhance their experience in the galleries. (Read more on this http://www.vam.ac.uk/b/blog/digital-media/museum-visitors-using-mobile). I’d guess probably to take photos and post to others. Or maybe just to tell the time… At any rate- I would say most of how people do use their phones in galleries has little to do with how the museum folk intend for them to use their phones in galleries.

Louvre Mobile App for iPhone

Louvre Mobile App for iPhone (http://macdailynews.com/2009/11/06/louvre_museum_
launches_free_app_for_apple_iphone_ipod_touch_users/)

So here’s my list of what I want from a museum mobile experience (for pleasure not for professional research).
• Free wifi with a good connection (please, please please).
• Something that works at the first try without making me feel like a techno-idiot.
• Some way that I can get the tween/teen slightly interested while showing that I am still in charge and know more than they do.
• Good lighting and staging so the photos I take look deep and interesting- including the selfies.
• Some way of bookmarking content I can use later (OK- that might be my professional self talking…)- especially text. I am desperate to cut and paste exhibition text… or photos and videos.
• What other people also liked and why so I can just go there and not have to struggle through forming my own opinion.
• Something magical-that I never expected I would hear or see and I can share which will also make my friends ooh and aah and be impressed by me and it.

Anyone know where I can find this?

Billboard Tax In Toronto Nets 10 Million A Year For Art

By Andrea Ott

How was it done? Through the efforts of artists in a 12-year campaign to tax billboards for art. I had the opportunity to meet with Devon Ostrom this week. Devon is the co-founder of BeautifulCity.ca – the alliance of over sixty organizations that advocated for the tax on billboards to fund art in excess of 10 million dollars annually. This led to Toronto City Council passing a commitment to allot 17.5 million dollars in additional annual arts spending. The first batch of funding has been recently released by the Toronto Arts Council. Visit www.beautifulcity.ca for the entire story and check out a video at: http://vimeo.com/65066164.

This initiative shows how creative thinking can result in positive impacts in the arts. In fact, Devon is really good at coming up with other community-driven, urban, art-based projects such as also co-founding Arrivals Canada http://www.arrivals.ca and Manifesto Festival – themanifesto.ca. His current project is to develop the Pan Am Path – the project that aims to create a multi-use cycling and pedestrian path with arts hotspots all along the way from Brampton to Pickering in time for the 2015 Pan Am / Parapan Am Games in Toronto. Visit www.PanAmPath.org for details on this project and inspiring video on the concept.

The ‘Living Theatre’ of Landscape

By Ngaire Blankenberg

(What) are the stories of landscapes? It was something I was thinking about during a trip to the fabulous Eden Project close to Cornwall, UK last week.

In the 7-hour bus ride from London (albeit with stops) to the Eden project, the hours passed by with the slowness only truly felt on a long drive in a country that measures distance in miles instead of kilometers. There was plenty of time to look out the window.

This was my first experience of the English countryside- the rolling hills, the sheep, the historic farms, the springtime. It seems incredible I had not seen it before, so vivid were the memories the landscape provoked- of ruddy English children in patched clothing, feeding pigs and milking cows, running in the fields, exclaiming at the poetry of daffodils and reading by candle light.  

It is no surprise that I, a child of New Zealander and South African parents growing up in Canada had the stories of the motherland indelibly imprinted in my memory. England’s enduring legacy in the colonies is found in the images of her stories; her landscapes brought to life in rhymes and fairytales and school texts. 

But what about my traveling companions? Between the American and Taiwanese architects from the New York office of our hosts- Grimshaw Architects -the designers of the Eden Project, and our clients- a group of developers, engineers and property managers from Beijing China- we must have taken hundreds of photos. What did these English sheep and hills mean to each of us?

We passed Stonehenge sitting so innocuously in the field. We all snapped away in awe.  For me, the sight conjured up images of a teenage me, collapsing with my friends into gales of laughter as we watched This is Spinal Tap.  

The Eden Project is about ‘the living theatre of people and plants’ explains founder Tim Smit to us when we finally get there.”We use plant collections as a canvas on which we tell stories of what the future will be like”. In this re-created landscape of 2 indoor biomes (Mediterranean and Tropical) and the real landscape of the outdoor biome, the plants and flowers become alternatively the setting, the protagonist and the plot in a magical story that is as much about the visitor as it is about nature.

Nor is it all giant bugs and wonder- the stories Eden points to are also nuanced socio-political stories.

Throughout, ‘culture’, whether through story-telling, performance, music, exhibition and more- is a major vehicle to create connections between visitors and landscape.

Back in France. On Sunday, we did our customary Easter egg hunt. Every year the Easter Bunny hides chocolate eggs in some place she wants the now much-too-old-for-this children/teens to remember. This year, it was in the St. Germain Forest close to where we live. Among the roots of trees and in the bramble, the children search for bright pink, turquoise and yellow eggs.

We discover bunkers inhabited by Germans in the 2nd World War- covered in moss and leaves.

It’s hard to find a story that will capture all of this- a French spring, a pagan ritual, Jesus’ sacrifice, a Belgian chocolate bestowing bunny, Germans hiding and planning in France divided by war, a forest landscape… and us. But I will. It will be our first-Easter-in-France story- captured in photos and made memorable by the unique smell of this moss, the crunch of these leaves and the particular rustle of the forest.