Reflecting on "Solar Imaginaries" with Spring Artists-in-Residence, Kristen Neville Taylor and Ricky Yanas
April 2, 2021
This guest post was written with Kristen Neville Taylor and Ricky Yanas, who designed Solar Imaginaries: Play and Pragmatism in Energy Futures, a dynamic program event series with PPEH. Solar Imaginaries was held March 18--April 4, as part of the Transition/Transformation annual theme, under the direction of Dr. Daniel Barber.
Mia D'Avanza, PPEH: The Solar Imaginaries series developed out of The Green Sun. What was The Green Sun?
Neville Taylor & Yanas: The Green Sun was an exhibition and micro-symposium that considered the origins of solar technology, its technical and economic limits, its accessibility and viability to local communities, and its ideological possibilities for crafting a vision of the future. For the symposium, we brought together people from diverse sectors including art, urban planning, energy democracy and solar installation to think through the ways that solar power can be a lens through which we might reenvision energy systems. In The Green Sun exhibition, we highlighted artists that have explored and invented strategies that reimagine our relationship to nature, history and each other within the context of energy. Core to this project, was a quote by JRR Tolkein, which in many ways was a prompt towards a collectively built future:
To make a Secondary World inside which the green sun will be credible, commanding Secondary Belief, will probably require labour and thought, and will certainly demand a special skill, a kind of elvish craft. Few attempt such difficult tasks. But when they are attempted and in any degree accomplished then we have a rare achievement of Art: indeed narrative art, story-making in its primary and most potent mode.
MD: What did you hope to accomplish with that and with this series?
NT & Y: “To Americans, oil is a birthright” is a quote taken from Christina Hemauer and Roman Keller’s film A Road Not Taken. Experts believe that one of the major obstacles to renewables is public resistance. We are curious in our work of understanding what are the systems and events that have shaped current perceptions of energy systems and what would it take to provoke a cultural shift away from established beliefs. We theorize that this is where artists might enter the equation to synthesize research and data into experiences that can connect with people emotionally. We were also curious to see what would happen when professionals and practitioners such as solar installers and advocates for energy democracy came together with filmmakers, designers and artists. How would their individual approaches influence one another and how might we collectively re envision an alternate relationship to energy? What sort of energy would their direct engagement yield?
MD: Why work with PPEH?
NT & Y: There are so many reasons why working with PPEH was beneficial to us and our work. First, it gave us the impetus and support to follow up on the work we began with The Green Sun. The project was funded and executed by us with minimal outside support, financially and administratively. That, plus the pandemic, has made it especially challenging to maintain and follow up on the questions and ideas that were laid out in those initial programs. We are grateful to have been granted the opportunity to continue our research into the ways that art and its practical application might function towards energy democracy.
PPEH and its preceding reputation has offered us a chance to expand our network of mutual thinkers. We welcomed presenters from Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Norway and New York, in addition to Philadelphia. We’ve also been fans of Bethany Wiggin and the work she’s done with PPEH for years. As a graduate student working towards my MFA, I attended a panel on solar power that Bethany moderated at UPenn that has been influential to my practice. It’s an honor all these years later to develop and share a project by way of her leadership. We feel privileged to have worked with Daniel Barber, someone who has dedicated his personal career to researching the sun’s power. Both Daniel and Bethany’s support and mentorship throughout the project has been invaluable to us.
Kristen Neville Taylor’s diverse practice combines drawing, sculpture, and glass which converge in playfull installations. Her process has been described as alchemical and utilizes pseudo-scientific experimentation to reimagine our relationship to nature futures. Taylor’s work has been shown at Vox Populi, the Woodmere Art Museum and the Philadelphia Art Alliance (Philadelphia), Pacific Northwest College of Art (Portland), Richard Stockton and Rowan University Art Galleries (New Jersey), and Expo Chicago. She has organized several exhibitions including Landscape Techne at Little Berlin, The Usable Earth at the Esther Klein Gallery, and she co-curated Middle of Nowhere in the Pine Barrens. Taylor is the recipient of the Laurie Wagman Prize in Glass, a RAIR Recycled Artist in Residence, and a Vermont Studio Center Fellowship. Taylor is a recent alumni of Vox Populi gallery and co-founder of Little Berlin, a Philadelphia art gallery and collective renowned both nationally and internationally for its cutting edge programming and distinct curatorial model. Since 2007, Taylor has taught courses in glass and material studies at The University of the Arts, Tyler School of Art and Architecture, and Moore College of Art Graduate Studies Program.
Ricky Yanas is a Texas born artist, educator, and curator living in Philadelphia, PA. Working within a pragmatic tradition of problem finding, Yanas aims to create intersectional spaces of inquiry and mutual engagement through art making and art thinking. Recent projects include Extension or Communication: Puerto Rico at Tiger Strikes Asteroid Gallery, Philadelphia and Taller Puertorriqueno and The Green Sun, a collaboration with artist Kristen Neville Taylor. In 2016 Yanas founded Ulises Books with Nerissa Cooney, Lauren Downing, Joel Evey, Kayla Romberger and Gee Wesley.