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Solar Ears

Angella Mackey, Monserrat Vallejo, Oscar Tomico, Troy Nachtigall, Martijn de Waal

What does it mean to hear solar energy? 

Solar Ears is part of an ongoing research project exploring new ways to relate to the energy we use. Human beings are largely disconnected from our energy sources. We think that energy comes to us from somewhere, far away, like a litre of petrol or electricity from a wall socket , however they don’t really understand what that means. With solar energy, however, we have the opportunity to look outside and see it. On sunny days it's right there!

We present several artefacts from our research called “Solar Ears”, which help us to peel back the layers of our own energy blindness. Each ear hums, ticks, chirps or squeals when it encounters solar energy, a sort of solar energy detector. The more energy there is, the louder the sound. By being able to hear solar energy, we are able to understand it differently over longer and shorter periods of time. We can see the ways it constantly transforms—lingering in the shadows or shining brightly on the floor; whispering behind the clouds, or even screaming brightly. With a more-than-human mindset, we have come to know solar energy differently by listening to it change, and are now able to explore what a new lens on solar energy might mean for solar design. We now invite you at DDW to pick up a solar ear and listen.

“Solar energy sounds speckled when walking under a tree.”
Angella Mackey

More-than-human design (MTHD) is a relatively new approach in design practice and design research. There is no method or “way” to go about it. This project attempts to learn what it could be for solar design, or what it means to design with or alongside a non-human, non-living dimension such as solar energy. These solar ears are tools to help us, as designers and researchers, to take a first step into re-negotiating our relationship with solar energy. These solar ‘prosthetics’ help us newly “see” things we didn’t know were there.

“Did you know there’s solar energy in shadows?”
Angella Mackey


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