The Wind Tree

I am cycling along thinking of not a whole lot. What looks like a sci-fi futuristic tree-like sculpture has been installed outside that very discrete private bank Banque Piguet Galland at the end of my road, Avenue Peschier. I notice the “leaves” are turning in the light, cool January breeze. Intrigued, I stop and take photos. Still thinking this is “art” only, I find a brochure in the bank about the Wind Tree (Arbre a Vent®) and stumble upon a feel good story.

The Wind Tree 1

The Wind Tree is the brain-child of Jérôme Michaud-Larivière, free-thinking engineer and founder of NewWind R&D. Some years ago, whilst walking down a street, Michaud-Larivière noticed that although there was no perceptible wind, the leaves of the nearby trees were still fluttering. This got him thinking about how, in a city environment, the energy from winds from any direction can be harnessed. The outcome of his research is the Aeroleaf® a “biomimetic wind turbine.” The whole arborial structure upon which the 63 Aeroleaves are deployed is a design masterpiece by Geneva’s very own Claudio Colucci.

The Wind Tree 2

NewWind’s aspirations are inspirational. “What was gigantic, NewWind has made small. 
What was unsightly, NewWind has made beautiful
. What was unique, NewWind has multiplied
. What was far away, NewWind has brought close to home. 
What was noisy, NewWind has made silent.”

As a statement of its corporate view of an eco-responsible future, Banque Piquet Galland bought and installed this Wind Tree; one of the first five produced. The brochure tells me that it can produce enough electricity to power 15 street lights, an 100m2 office environment and most of the domestic energy needs of a family of four. Such technology should bring a sustainably greener future for the 70% of the world’s population who live in urban environments.

Beautiful stuff! It brings hope!

An extinct car in Schiphol airport!

Schiphol

I hurry through Amsterdam’s crowded Schiphol airport late for my flight connection. Whooaaaaa! What’s that? I snap a photo. Others do the same. I assume the airport authorities have commissioned some contemporary sculpter to lighten the mood of stressed travellers. But, no! This is an advertisement for Sixt Car Rentals. Well…. they certainly caught my eye. The wooden board reads: “Thanks to Sixt, expensive car rentals are extinct.” Bravo, Sixt! Nice idea!

It works. I love the skeletal dinosaur theme implying extinction. Yet it’s clearly based on a reasonably modern car. And it makes me laugh. I particularly like the spoiler and the little boney rear-view mirror. But of course, it’s basic appeal (for me at least) is because of it’s immediate association with The Flintstones. Talking of whom…. I understand that a recent survey of Middle Eastern countries about American television reveals that the people in Kuwait don’t like Fred Flintstone, but the people in AbuDhabidoooooooo!

Those Swiss cows!

And poster of the week is……. Les Fêtes de Genève!

Cows 1

Most effective posters carry strong subliminal messages. One of the most frequently used visual tricks in poster design is the inclusion of images of beautiful people – usually female. Buy this product and you will become as beautiful as this! Go on holiday to this island and you will meet beautiful people like this! etc. etc. Shallow stuff! Here in Switzerland, the designers of posters dig deep into the national psyche. There is a kind of comfortable, traditional-rustic-alpine and non-threatening feel about the common Swiss identity. The visual key is…. yes….. cows! Images of the female bovine are everywhere. But it kind of makes sense. Milk! Swiss cheese! Swiss chocolate! However, I really don’t understand how invoking the cow theme can attract people to the Geneva Festival which is more about music, fireworks, fairgrounds and parades. I’ve lived in Geneva for twenty years and never seen a pat on a pavement. There must be a sublimimnal message here but I just don’t get it. Let’s look elsewhere!

Cows 2

Hi everybody! Swatch! Possible subliminal message: “Buy our cow-bell version and you will become Swiss in spirit because your new purchase will transport you back in time to an era of happy mountain peasants blowing alpine horns in high pastures thick with eidelweiss!” Don’t you love the chunks of holeful cheese flying out of those long horns? And what about the steely stare of the lying cow defying the viewer to walk away without a new Swatch! The traditional mountaineer’s hat on the back of the prozac-free cow is just so photoshopped. The whole thing makes me chuckle. But I figure they’ve done their market research. The real subliminal message may be as simple as: “Buy a Swatch because we all just love cows and laugh about it!” I’ve found that Swiss people really do have a sense of humour. In addition, they are bafflingly law-abiding…..

Cows 3

OK… it’s not a poster. But, I rest my case. Somewhere, an official decided that this radar speed trap on the rue de Lausanne heading out of Geneva should be painted like a cow. Camouflage? Unlikely. Or does it mean: “Breaking the speed limit risks cracking the very foundations of our culture.”? Would it be more effective to cover the device with an image of a pouting glossy-lipped beauty promising a kiss and/or good looks to anyone driving less than 50kph? In this town, I think not.

Disclaimer: No Swiss cows were harmed in the writing of this article. Any link to real Swiss cows is purely coincidental. Talking Beautiful Stuff apologises to Swiss cows for any unintended offense.

Is this beautiful?

Accelerator 1

Talking Beautiful Stuff has written about how an object’s beauty may be derived directly from its function. “That’s a really beautiful car!” “What a fabulous knife!” In other words, one thing we take into account when considering the aesthetic appeal of a particular output of the human creative spirit is what the object in question does. Yesterday, I came across this stunning construction on display in a theme park. I just stopped and stared in fascination. I had no idea what it was but I found it intriguing, intimidating and, yes, beautiful. Could it be – and I can hardly bring myself to say the word – “art”?

So, what do you think? Is it:

  • a prop from a 1960’s sci-fi film?
  • the winner of the Steampunk Festival 2014?
  • a work by a major contemporary metallic sculptor entitled “Devoid of humanity (with head) VII”?
  • a particle accelerator from the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN)?

While you consider these options, take a look at the gorgeous, burnished and exquisitely crafted copper exterior. It hasn’t dulled with exposure to the wind and rain.

Accelerator 2

The answer: this is one of the original particle accelerators built at CERN in 1983. It and 127 others like it (limited edition!) were placed around the famous 27km circular tunnel under the French-Swiss border. The acceleration around the tunnel of both electrons and positrons up to the speed of light was achieved by making them “surf” on electromagnetic waves of 352 MHz. A physicist friend tells me with great enthusiasm that the cylindrical lower part of each accelerator generated the waves whilst the spherical upper part served as a heat-reducing microwave energy store. I nod politely.

Accelerator 3

Photocopyright: CERN 1983

Here it is! With all the bells and whistles all wired up and ready for work!

Isn’t this fabulous? The designers cannot have given thought to the aesthetic appeal of a particle accelerator. This must be design for function only. This is the technical stuff of pure science. This is one hound in the hunt for Higg’s Boson. This is the sort of thing commemorated by the work of Gayle Hermick. But an aesthetic appeal it definitely does have even though I – like most others – have little comprehension of its function and will never see it actually working. However, it stopped me in my tracks and when I told my physicist friend that I wanted to photograph one of the objects  in CERN’s Léon Van Hove Square, he immediately knew which one it would be.

Accelerator 4

Another object on display in the Square and only 30 metres from the accelerator is an electrical staircase that multiplies the voltage of a transformer. Invented in 1932 in Cambridge (UK), this was used to generate the required 500,000 volts for particle acceleration. It’s looks really whacky and has the sci-fi look but, somehow, it just isn’t …. well…. beautiful.

Does my lifetime exposure to wondrous contemporary sculptures, old sci-fi films, steampunk and the world of Heath Robinson ultimately influence whether I perceive an object such as the particle accelerator as beautiful? Am I influenced because the object is part of the glamour of this cutting edge of science? Why is it easily imaginable that this really is a work by a major contemporary sculptor? If it was put up for sale and CERN asked the price of $1million, does this make it “art”?