Saturday, February 23, 2013

Landscapes of Energy vol. 2: Camouflage, Transparency, Chromatic Fancy.

One of the fundamental elements of many a picturesque landscape, first in painting then in photography, is a windmill. And the people apparently love them. It's difficult to imagine a Dutch landscape without a windmill here and there. So, what's wrong with the new generation of wind turbines sprouting around our landscapes?

I won't delve into the opposition between eolic energy investors and protectors of landscape. But, one must admit that there is something uncanny to the sight of wind turbines in the landscape. They cause mixed feelings. It takes some time to get used to their sight. Not because of their shape, which is basically identical to any household fan, but because of their sheer height.  Even if they are far smaller than many urban structures, is highlighted in their context – flatlands or bare hilltop. We are impressed by them because of our human (or, at least, masculine) fascination (or obsession) with verticality.

Connected with this vertical impact, wind farms put in crisis our still deeply rooted mental and emotional separation between urban and rural environments, or, more precisely, between culture and nature. Wind mills are ultimate man-made artefacts, and they are perfectly urban, so what are they doing amidst the “nature”?! One needs then to put them in perspective with other practices of terraforming. Agriculture has been profoundly changing landscapes for millennia now, but we pretend that we’re just collaborating with nature. Other huge extra-urban structures, such as superhighways or railways are designed in such a manner as to (try to) blend into the landscape. Summing up, these are all essentially horizontal structures, and as such figure less in our orthogonal way of looking.

Not stopping at hilltops, wind farms are now colonising open sea, the protected realm of horizontality (if we forget about oil rigs for a second). In another era, let us say in modern times, it would have been a sign that the man has finally fulfilled his crazy dream of the domination of nature, having now all the resources and elements under control (that is, usufruct). But, although the renewables are in fact paving the path towards sustainability, they still attract critique from all sides of political spectrum and stir the public opinion in terms of their visual impact.

Still, there is a sublime beauty in wind turbines, a beauty which signifies our rethinking of the way we live with the environment. They embody and make visible the bond between the man and wind, in this sense they are symbolic. (Solar panels can be analysed in similar terms, too.) Precisely because of this, there is a strong aesthetic potentiality in the renewables. But, it seems like it is not actualised. Putting aside the sublime and symbolic notes, wind turbines are a bit dull or anonymous. In terms of design, there are other sexier solutions, and vertical axis turbines are very attractive. But, in terms of the relationship of wind generators with the surroundings, what can be thought up?

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