February 2, 2022

The Milieux Institute Solar Media Project

The Milieux Institute has formed a research team around a Solar Server project, catalyzed by the December 8th, 2021, event, The sun always shines somewhere, featuring the members of Solar Protocol (Tega Brain, Alex Nathanson and Benedetta Piantella)—an artist collective based in the United States who’ve built a network of solar servers across the globe—and Benjamin Cadon of Labomédia— a non-profit association in France that brings together a medialab, a fablab and a hackerspace. The conversation centered around different ways of connecting and re-imagining energy and communications infrastructure for a low-carbon world where technological progression and green practices are no longer mutually exclusive. 

From this came the Milieux Institute Solar Media Project, a research group that follows a two-prong approach within a two-part structure. The first part of the first structure is the learning-by-doing component, which situates itself at the core as the ethos of the project. This involves researching information from different sites, projects and eco-low-tech servers that the team find inspiring, and want to not only mimic but build on; the real driving force is how can a group of people build a renewable energy server that can host a bunch of things? There is also a line of experimentation which involves investigating other types of renewable power (algae batteries, wind turbines) and exploring synergies between them. 

With these skill sets at hand, skill-sharing will become not only possible but feasible, and it will not only generate exchanges but future collaborations. This brings us to the second part of the approach: collaborations with artists and researchers to create projects that can be hosted on the solar-powered server. These could include hybrid games that combine virtual and analog components, designing threshold systems for data storage based on the changing availability of sunlight, and blogs, interactive learning components, or a curated solar repository that documents and visualizes aspects of the project and related work.  In connection to these potential use cases, the group will collectively reflect on questions such as: How do we engage with photovoltaic media? What does sustainability mean in reference to computing, both in terms of hardware/software and energy provision? What role can reuse & salvaging play in building low-tech computing installations? How can small-scale experimental designs inform large-scale developments for the energy transition? 

The second part of the project is a forthcoming inter-university collaboration with the University of Toronto and Edinburgh called “Photovoltaic Imagination: Solar Strategies for Community Integrated Research-Creation and Graduate Training”. The main goal is to foster and support an international network of early career art, design, and computer science researchers critically engaged in social, technical and ecological challenges associated with energy futures often framed relative to Sustainable Development Goal 7, “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”  

The research group is in its beginnings, but the momentum is at a high; they are currently looking for Institute participants from all backgrounds and clusters with all levels of information/skill regarding the solar servers. To get involved, please contact Janna Frenzel directly at janna.frenzel@mail.concordia.ca, or Lee Wilkins at hello@leecyb.org