Sep 11 2024 - Jan 05 2025

Including works by Ash Arder, Liu Chuang, Gina Folly, Louisa Gagliardi, Ximena Garrido-Lecca, Becky Howland, Jean Katambayi Mukendi, Saba Khan, Agnieszka Kurant, Cannupa Hanska Luger, Vibeke Mascini, Gordon Matta-Clark, Haroon Mirza, Joar Nango, Ruth Nazario, New Affiliates, Otobong Nkanga, Nick Raffel, Gabriella Torres-Ferrer.

Swiss Institute (SI) presents Energies, an international group exhibition that unfolds throughout the entire building at 38 St Marks Pl and expands into numerous partner locations in the surrounding East Village community. The exhibition includes influential historic artworks alongside contemporary positions and new commissions that address ecological affordances and effects, social formations, and political arrangements attached to energy past and present.

A largely forgotten yet influential piece of neighborhood history forms the starting point for the show. During the oil crisis in 1973, inhabitants of one of the first sweat equity co-ops, located at 519 E 11th Street, installed a landmark two-kilowatt wind turbine on the roof of their torched building, generating electricity and supplying the community with light during the many power outages in the city at the time. The wind machine generated electricity for the building, supplying the residents with light during the great power outage of 1977. Paired with solar panels and efforts to insulate the building, it was one of the first in the nation to feed electricity back into the grid, much to the consternation of the largest and near-monopoly utility provider, ConEdison, who retaliated with a major lawsuit. Receiving unexpected support from a former Attorney General, the co-op improbably won the case, which changed US energy regulations forever by mandating that utilities providers accept decentrally generated energy. This little-known, community-driven history thus helped usher in subsequent revolutionary, albeit flawed, advances towards cogeneration, conservation, and green and renewable energy production.

In our current moment of ecological crisis marked by record-high rates of carbon emissions, habitat destruction through fossil fuel extraction, infrastructure disruptions due to extreme weather, competing geopolitical interests, energy poverty, and contentions around green colonialism, Energies will explore global issues related to energy through a specific lens rooted in local history. Expanding outwards from the 1970s East Village wind and solar array, the exhibition looks to this small-scale historical model that collectively led major change to imagine cautiously optimistic, community-driven energy futures.

On SI’s rooftop terrace, in the communal spirit of the co-op, Haroon Mirza will create a solar panel installation that will provide electrical charge for a sound piece by the artist as well as Ash Arder’s installation comprising a fridge housing a sculpture made from perishable, culturally symbolic material. Vibeke Mascini’s installation Instar is powered by the ashes from confiscated and incinerated cocaine, whereas Saba Khan’s sculpture replicating the retro-futuristic shapes of hydropower plants installed with support of the World Bank in the 1960s in post-partition Pakistan addresses geopolitical implications of energy access. Joar Nango’s installation reinvents windows made from stretched halibut stomachs by Sámi communities, utilizing the material’s insulating properties and translucency, while Gina Folly’s simultaneously utopian and dystopian photographs document a floating solar-powered platform housing cows for milk production in the port of Rotterdam. Jean Katambayi Mukendi’s Afrolampe drawings tend to structural inequities in the extraction of copper for the production of renewable energy technologies in Lubumbashi where resources are abundant but power cuts are prevalent, whereas Gabriella Torres-Ferrer’s sculpture references ongoing energy shortages in Puerto Rico after the country’s infrastructure was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017.

The exhibition will sprawl into the East Village, sending metaphoric electric impulses through the neighborhood. These offsite venues will include a new mural installed at the site of the original wind turbine; a community workshop by Cannupa Hanska Luger to create mirror shields, akin to those the artist made for the water protectors at Standing Rock in 2016, which will be exhibited at SI as well as in partner locations; and independent exhibitions at the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space, documenting grassroots environmental and housing activism, and the Loisaida Center, showcasing the organization’s Ecolibrium multi-disciplinary climate science literacy and environmental justice project. On the occasion of the exhibition, Gordon Matta-Clark’s Rosebush (1972), which he installed in the yard of St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, will be replanted at the original site. At SI, a selection of the artist’s Energy Tree drawings and an original copy of his Guggenheim Foundation proposal for “A Resource Center and Environmental Youth Program for Loisaida” will be presented, alongside sculptures and watercolors of energy infrastructure by Becky Howland, who as co-organizer of the Real Estate Show in 1980 addressed the intersection of energy and housing early on.

The exhibition will include archival material gathered during an extensive research period, undertaken together with many of the individuals involved in the original sweat equity co-op at 519 E 11th Street. These include photographs, film, legal documents, and a painting by Ruth Nazario—an artist and central figure in the community at that time. Throughout the exhibition, a public program comprising community and education workshops, lectures and panels, a film program in partnership with Anthology Film Archive, a poetry-focused event with Poetry Project, and various other neighborhood activations, will complement the exhibition.

The exhibition is being prepared with conscious steps towards reducing the institution’s negative climate impact. More details can be found in SI’s recently published 8×8 plan.

Energies is made possible through support from the Office for Contemporary Art Norway, the Royal Norwegian Consulate General, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Artsand Christine and Balz Halter.


The Energies Symposium is made possible in part through support from the Terra Foundation for American Art.

This exhibition is curated by Stefanie Hessler, Director of SI, with Alison Coplan, Chief Curator, KJ Abudu, Assistant Curator, and Clara Prat-Gay, Curatorial Assistant.

Image: Wind Turbine at 519 E 11th Street with Con Edison Power Plant, 1976. Photo courtesy of The News: New York’s Picture Newspaper.