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  • Writer's pictureRitchard Allaway

7/11/21 - Earth Battery

Original post created in late September*

With my mind racing about how to generate work ethically/considering future investigations with materials I decided to research into how to generate power from the landscape.

Years ago, I had been thinking about how I could take my fluorescent tubes to an isolated landscape and power them up. Wouldn't that be cool, just seeing some awesome, neon style, minimalist (almost Dan Flavin) light sculpture just occupying/sharing the landscape. The issue was, how could I supply power to light when out in the middle of nowhere? For the time being and as my practice developed I let that idea fade away however, the Dan Flavin picture has gone but curious me is still thinking about how to generate power from the land. This resurgence for the power idea came about when I was completing my ethics form/talking to DM Witman about climate impact. As part of my research and practice I need to consider my carbon footprint and also how I can use sustainable environmentally friendly energy. I thought back to the light in the wilderness and I thought wouldn't it be handy if I can just plug the light into the ground to turn it on... well it turns out that is actually possible!

After a bit of googling and youtube video searching, I came across Robert Murray-Smith. Bob has created several video experiments but a couple are centred around Earth batteries. (Video link below). The videos are simple and clear and give a good indication as to what materials conduct/generate the most power.

After locating several parts I attempted to create my own Earth Battery. What follows is a series of images of myself putting the battery together along with the final metre reading results.

Materials and parts used:

Copper wire

Galvanised steel bolts

Ice cube tray




As you can see, I made a simple circuit with copper strips wrapped around bolts, creating a daisy chain to each cell. The last two cells were hooked up as a positive and negative for the power outlet. The results were fantastic, reaching 6.81 volts! As this was my first attempt I was clearly over the moon. This was such a simple experiment and with the voltage output I knew I would be able to power my lights and remain within an ethical framework.

The next thought was, 'ok, what if I create large scale cells, what would happen then?'. In theory with a larger cell capacity more current should be generated producing a higher voltage. I did add vinegar and water to the cells which increased the voltage once drained, therefore I can also add that aid to a larger cell. I will plan to create larger cells in the coming months, most likely within my garden.

THE CONCEPT: Could the landscape create a landscape painting? What would happen if I hooked up some sort of machine that could be powered by an Earth battery which in turn produced imagery? Sounds mad I know but exciting non the less. If the research is about re-discovering or re-visualising landscape would that new visualisation be found within the imagery the landscape has created? Is that the sublime, knowing that Earth itself has created its own art without the artist? The Earth carrying on without human interference.. I am thinking about power and the power that comes from Earth like conditions such as lightning.

Caspar Wolf - 'Thunderstorm on the Grindelwald Glacier '(1775)

A form of nature represented many times within the romantic age of landscape painting, electrical power puts fear and awe into the human condition when seen within the context of the natural landscape. Take The Lightning Field (1977) by Walter De Maria, this large scale land art piece invites the 'power of God' to Earth on a daily occurrence and yet, it is just several 20ft high poles planted into the ground capturing lightning. A beautiful and terrifying spectacle. What if I revert that, can the power/lightning be generated and placed onto a surface?

Walter De Maria, The Lightning Field (1977)

Western New Mexico

Ted Kinsman has done just that using a Wimhurst machine and photographic paper. Electrical current generate from the Wimhurst was captured and transferred onto the paper and after developing the paper, beautiful images were revealed that showed electrical current. Hopefully you will be able to see now what I am getting at... l will make a large scale Earth battery in the wilderness which in turn will power a Wimhurst machine. That wilderness will be a selected landscape and that landscape will create its own imagery. Therefore what we understand as that landscape through the visual documentation of it (paintings, photographs etc) will now be seen via a new form of environmentally friendly artistic experiments.

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