Perhaps the most eye-catching fixture at The Land, the off-the-grid rice farm/art project co-founded by Rirkrit Tiravanija outside Chiang Mai, Thailand, is the Battery House. A shimmering plastic caterpillar of a thing, it’s the work of artist Philippe Parreno, who devised it as a way to convert the muscle energy of water buffalo into electricity that could power laptops or lighting. If it seems like something out of science fiction, it is, sort of: Parreno set his 2003 film The Boy from Mars in it; and, due to some inefficiencies, it’s not yet a feasible alternative source of energy. The original plan called for elephants to provide the muscle power:
In front of them is a structure made of still-inert plastic leaves holding a 20-tonne concrete counterweight, hanging vertically like clothes in a European miners’ locker room. Their job: to lift them patiently, one by one, using a system of cables and pulleys, moving with animal slowness. Thus muscular energy (2,000 w/h) is transferred, stored and released, transformed, by means of a dynamo, into electrical energy. This endless cycle from elephant to structure to gravity and then to energy compresses or frees interior space, in rhythm with the occupation of the Land and the movement of the counterweight platform.
Described by Hans Ulrich Obrist as a “laboratory for self-sustainable development,” The Land also features other alternative-energy experiments, including biogas converters developed by the Danish art collective Superflex (they store the methane from buffalo manure in eye-popping orange balloons), and new projects are in the works, including Prachya Phintong’s fish farm that’ll utilize water from the rice fields.
For more on Tiravanija, who speaks at the Walker with Bruce Strling a week from tonight, this 2004 Brooklyn Rail interview is an excellent place to start. Tiravanija will be here installing a work for the upcoming exhibition OPEN-ENDED (the art of engagement), opening March 25.