Electric Fescue

[Studio Project]
Overlook Field School
Fuller Center for Productive Landscapes
Waverly, Pennsylvania, United States
July 2014

Landscapes of Power

OVERLOOK FIELD SCHOOL. For four weeks in the summer of 2014, landscape architecture students from the University of Oregon studied the landscapes of power, building on a spring seminar on the same topic. Through readings, films, and site visits to energy landscapes (landfill methane recapture projects; hydroelectric dams and power plants; natural gas drilling sites, extraction wells, and pipelines; coalmines; wind and solar arrays) students developed an extensive knowledge of energy generation, its infrastructure, and its impacts. This investigation ultimately led to the creation of site-specific art that examines and critiques the sources of electricity and our cultural relationship with resources, energy production, and energy consumption.

THE INSTALLATION. Long, flexible, brightly colored tubes arc skyward, forming a thicket of yellow-green and blue grass-like stems. Pointy metal inflorescences dangle at the end of each stalk, flashing and glinting in the daylight, the reflected light bouncing around the forest clearing as they move gently in response to the wind. Solar panels at the top of each stalk soak up solar energy, mimicking the process of photosynthesis. Energy flows from solar panels, through wires to a battery, where the energy is stored for later use. When the sun sets, the energy is released – in the darkness, a swarm of bright lights can be seen, inviting those who see it to investigate.

This is Electric Eescue, a new species of grass only found in one place in northeastern Pennsylvania. Like other plant species, Electric Fescue gathers energy from sunlight in a photosynthesis-like process. The installation, which takes inspiration from the prevalent, undulating fields of grass at Overlook, explores the use of renewable energy in art.

Electric Fescue was constructed with rebar posts, brightly painted PEX irrigation tubing, solar energy assemblies, and aluminum sheet metal. The solar components were “harvested” from solar lawn lights. Each solar assembly contains a photovoltaic (PV) panel, a light emitting diode (LED), a rechargeable battery, and a light-sensitive switch that regulates how energy from the battery is used. When there is light, the switch directs energy gathered from the PV panel to be stored in the battery. When night falls, the switch flips and directs energy to the LED bulb. This mechanism creates a self-sustaining light display that can be maintained without human input or an external power source, creating an off-the-grid nighttime landscape.