Follow the sun, catch the light, and give some shade! – Andreas Hetfeld’s heliotropic sun tree at Nijmegen Technovium

The first weekend of August will see some of the hottest days of this year, with temperatures in the upper 30s Celsius / upper 90s Fahrenheit. The sun will be sending its relentless energy down on us, absorbed by the tarmac and beamed back by the more reflecting surfaces. I remember a photograph I took on one clammy evening last winter, of a solar energy catching artwork positioned on a square nestled in between Nijmegen’s Technovium (a center for educational programs in engineering and technical professions) and a recent student housing facility of nearby Radboud University.

The artwork is a sculpture modeled after the idea of a sunflower grown into a sizeable tree. It is made out of metal and sun collectors and has a built-in heliotropic mechanism. This device, guided by sensors, makes the tree’s blossom-shaped collection of sun panels follow the sun and catch (and store) portions of its light. It generates sufficient energy to have its blossom move during the day, retire into a level position in the evening, and illuminate itself while its dark. Surplus energy can be fed into the regular power network.

Zonneboom Nijmegen #1 (c) Norbert Steinkamp 2012

Zonneboom & Technovium, Nijmegen Heyendaal             (c) Norbert Steinkamp 2012

The tree was installed in may 2012, following a planning and building phase of about five years. It is a collaborative project initiated by members of the town council, the Sun Tree Foundation (Stichting Zonneboom), teachers and students of Technovium, and many others. Stichting Zonneboom is a community-driven initiative pursuing the idea of sustainability by linking art to the mundane activity of power generation, and display the product in public space.

Creator of the sun tree is Andreas Hetfeld, an artist born and raised in Southwest Germany. Since his study time Andreas has been living and working in the Nijmegen area, crossing back and forth borders. The sun tree combines several themes from his earlier work and develops them further. I will come back to some of his work in a later posting.

Those of you who’d like to read a bit more may want to refer to a website with background information in Dutch and to a book from which I borrowed part of the title of this posting: Volg de zon en vang het licht. Follow the sun and catch the light. Its editor is Ad Lansink; the book design was created by up-and-coming graphic designer Sophie van Kempen. I didn’t find much information in English or German by the way, although I think it’d be worth the effort to get to know more about this and other, similar initiatives.

In the meantime, try and enjoy the sunny weekend as good as possible. A weekend during which the sun will appear to be burning down on us …

Zonneboom Nijmegen #2 (c) Norbert Steinkamp 2013

                                                                                                        (c) Norbert Steinkamp 2013

… while in fact it will just be at its place and radiate energy we’re not yet using in all the ways we could. The sun tree will hopefully catch a small portion of it …

Zonneboom Nijmegen #3 (c) Norbert Steinkamp 2013

                                                                                                       (c) Norbert Steinkamp 2013

… and even if it didn’t, it will almost certainly behave like a real tree and give some nice refreshing SHADE.

Zonneboom Nijmegen #4 (c) Norbert Steinkamp 2013

                                                                                                        c) Norbert Steinkamp 2013

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