Energy Bank: a sacred service

By | November 19, 2011

cloth pathchLOOSE NOTES
Die Sonne tönt, nach alter Weise,
In Brudersphären Wettgesang,
Und ihre vorgeschriebne Reise
Vollendet sie mit Donnergang.
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1829



Quick introduction/recap about Energy Bank:

In his essay Art and the Public Sphere Vito Acconci writes;

Public space in an electronic age, is space on the run. Public space is not space in the city, but the city itself […]. Space on the run is life on the loose. There’s no time to talk, there’s no need for talk, since you have all the information you need on the radio you carry with you. There’s no need for a person-to-person relationship, since you already have multiple relationships with voices on your radio ….

But what if your battery runs dry? How can you access the information you need so badly to keep life running smoothly? Who do you talk to then?

Emerging mobile networked devices are changing the ways people communicate, play, and explore the city, yet their constant cravings for power are cumbersome in more ways than one. On an individual level such reliance and devotion is put on them that running out of power can be uncannily distressful. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to get a quick fix; to charge up where ever you go?

In my project I envisage myself as the director of a bank with no fixed location, but rather works through human “agents”; the demographic “worthless” who commonly draw income from the streets. It offers them a free-of-charge package to enhance their regular income in the form of renewable energy-generating gadgets carried on their bodies. “Clients” (pedestrians) withdraw electricity by plugging in their mobile devices to the appropriate adapters on the agents’ bodies, prompting an intimate social encounter between client and agent. A client decides on how much the encounter is worth in terms of monetary reward for the agent.

Design Research

Last Thursday I attended the opening conference of the Centre for Design Research  at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. Always looking for sources and methods for developing an idea, I found some inspiration in a talk given by Simon Clatworthy conducting research into designing services. I find that is always an aporetic correspondence when viewing design research projects from the perspective of an art project, a rhetoric that is less present when viewed the other way around. For example, design researchers may say that when they speak of choreography, orchestration or composition, then it is a metaphorical way; they borrow a language from another field, and I find an ambiguity in whether they consider it to be part of the “practice” of practice/action based research.

For my part I enjoy to put methods I glean from realms such as design research into practice; to experiment with them and see how they can change my perspective on my own processes, often discovering a hybrid method emerging. At the same time, design research also acts as a rhetorical motor for my projects. One of the entry points for the Energy Bank project was to delve into the realms of Human Battery Interface research, and when I think back the project was actually called Battery Lives, which I started to articulate in 2009. Energy Bank is just one possible idea that could be put into practice, and the Energy Bank Model I’m working on at the moment is just one of many other ideas.

Regarding HBI research, a paper called “Understanding Human-Battery Interaction on Mobile Phones” by Ahmad Rahmati, Angela Qian, and Lin Zhong  evaluates various aspects of HBI including charging behavior, battery indicators, user interfaces for power-saving settings, user knowledge, and user reaction. I was interested to find that most recharges are driven by time and location, instead of low battery. It reflected my own fear of the limits of my battery life when going out into the world. I am, in effect, devoted to my cell phone, and always charge it before going out. One of the research areas Simon Clatworth leads is called Sacred Services. It

looks at where current unaddressed gaps in service design delivery such as consistency in customer experiences and value creation might be addressed through an operationalisation of concepts relating to the sacred.


Since 2009 I have envisaged various machine-based energy banks. The first Energy Bank came with the slogan “faith, hope and charity”. A large scale version, Energy Bank. The Pioneer, has been developed to the point where it can be produced. I even have an industry partner that will build it, but I haven’t managed to raise the funds. Another, Crossing Over envisaged a Battery Lives outcome was not connected directly to charging mobile devices, but more as an expression of the individual and her ability to make a difference in globalized society. In this case it was a kind of reverse pilgrimage from Trondheim to Oslo; a journey by foot in which as much kinetic/solar energy was generated and stored along the way. Upon arrival in Oslo I would try to donate it to the National Grid. Obviously a lot energy would be spent to produce a mediocre amount of power, but statements by leaders of multi-national corporations such as the one below, seemed to egg the idea on (the real challenge is about selling newspapers, not saving the planet! Read HERE)

One person, one victory at a time, day by day, we can and will make a difference. On this challenge we are, truly, in this together ……….
– Rupert Murdoch, promoting echo-friendly lightbulbs for SKY, May 2007

In an early grant application for Battery Lives I described my ideas of the human battery and included the quote from Geothe’s Faust. I also suggested, amongst other things, a study of the forms, functions and aesthetics of vampires, monks, gargoyles, goddesses, deities and cultural icons of light, power and energy. So in a round about way, I am dealing with a kind of reverse-operationalisation of concepts rather than that of design research, but I am still focusing on the customer experience. In both the customer is an audience and a participator in an unfolding drama. For designers the customer can mean the companies who fund their research, as well as the customers of the the companies who buy their services. For me, the customer is the funding body and a public. In Energy Bank I play the role of my own customer in that I am the director of the bank. For design the artist plays the devil’s advocate, and vice versa. The tension is somewhat invigorating.

Now, re-inventing an Energy Bank with no fixed physical location but run through mobile agents with hand-cranked, military surplus generators I am going over some of the notes from Simon’s talk. I’m thinking about servitisation, service design, branding, etc.

Simon say;

“Service” is offerings that provide experiences which happen over time and across different touch-points.

You have to consider the single point of contact in relation to the whole system of service.

Branding (presentation of a service to a customer/public) includes experience personalities. For example; the personality of a telephone salesperson.

Yesterday I spent time revising these issues while sketching out an idea for branding my service. Drawing on a photo of Irene Andersen, a female body builder, I started to design a cloth patch in the style of patches made for secret military missions/units. I have seen such patches in geographer Trevor Plagen’s book; I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to be Destroyed by Me: Emblems from the Pentagon’s Black World.

I decide that it is time to return to the the idea of Battery Lives, to remain within action-based experiments, and involve myself as bank director, design researcher, artist and bank agent. So I now plan to make three Energy Bank back-packs for three agents: one for myself and another known person, and one to be given away to someone who commonly draws money from the streets …..