Simon Starling Radiates like the Desert Sun

The titles of artworks that are a little confusing are more likely to discourage viewers from prolonged consideration than those that are totally baffling. Simon Starling's installation entitled C.A.M. Crassulacean Acid Metabolism is an example. This baffling verbal construction sent me rushing to Wikipedia where I discovered that Crassulacean acid metabolism is an adaptation among plants to increase efficiency in the use of water. Thus, it is typically found in cactii and succulents growing in arid conditions. Specifically, C.A.M refers to the process of reducing water loss because the leaves of the plant curl up during the day, which helps them retain water, then open at night. This CO2 is then used during photosynthesis. 

simon Starling - Crassulacean acid metabolism


Simon Starling - CAM detail

By creating a radiator (which consumes energy because it is a generator of heat) in the shape of a big green cactus, Starling leaps from botany to a human energy conservation strategy. This installation is made of functioning cast iron radiators shaped like cacti and connected to a boiler with copper piping.

C.A.M. is extremely efficient among plants, but it seems equally inefficient when the principle is appllied to the radiator Starling manufacture to heat the exhibition space.

Nonetheless, the technique may not be as ludicrous as it appears in the gallery. Indeed, the Swiss are already applying the survival technique of cactii because they purchase cheap-rate electricity from their neighbours at night. They use this power to pump water into holding reservoirs. By day they use the stored water to generate hydroelectric power. Because they generate more than they utilize, the extra energy can be sold back to their less frugal neighbours at peak-rate prices.

Of course, Starling’s agile mind did not stop at this pragmatic proposal. He also re-photographed images made by the America artist Christopher Williams of the Grand Dixance Dam located in Switzerland. It is the tallest gravity dam in the world. Its primary purpose is the generation of hydroelectric power.