Eleonore, part 2: Mobile Desires
In my last article, I described Eleonore as a conceptual art work, a non-utopian 'social sculpture'. It carries a proposal for the role of artists in society, working out alternative routes for social-artistic-technological development. It does so without the universalistic-totalitarian notions inscribed into previous avant-garde projects. Yet still, it contains 'future' - therefore its' characterisation as non-utopian. It is real and realistic: small, cheap, livable and as far as possible, environmentally friendly. After spending one week here, I try to summarise my insights.
A couple of weeks ago, before my arrival, a small accident happened, a shortcut between batteries, which sent a burst of high voltage through the system and that destroyed several technical devices. So what we tried to do during the first days, was to repair some of them. Energy self-sufficiency is one of the key aims of the project. Eleonore has three solar panels, each of them theoretically generating a maximum of 100 Watts. That means that there is not that much energy to go around. There is no electrical refrigerator, for instance. If you turn on your laptop and keep it running for a long period on a cloudy day, you may face some difficulties in the evening.There is a generator as back-up, but that feels like cheating, so we have not turned it on much. My work is not that technology dependend as maybe the work of some other guest artists anyway, thus, I enjoy being made aware of the energy which I use. Two of the three solar panels are charging a couple of auto batteries at the back of the lower deck. The third panel charges batteries in a so called 'solar router', a special development by Franz Xaver. It is a WLAN router for wireless community networks powered by photovoltaics. For some reasons I always had thought the solar router would be miniaturised, but this one has quite a rugged design, it is made to survive in difficult conditions - it is surely nothing you could carry around in your backbag.
Also on board is a shortwave radio receiver and an antenna. I have yet to learn more about the ranges it can receive and the different bands and signals. However, playing around with it at night is great fun.The receiver got damaged when the accident happened, but luckily we could repair it. Appearantly, there are vast empty spaces in the electromagnetic territorry which is called 'short wave'. Really busy is the area around 1000 MHz. the majority of the stations seems to be Chinese, while there is also a lot of non-verbal traffic, communications with ships I suppose.
Apart from technology, Eleonore's relationship with nature is also important. Franz Xaver has put up a number of plastic crates and filled them with earth. In a few of them some things were planted, some beans, tomatos, herbs, but most of them were just left to themselves. What is growing there stems from seeds carried by the wind. During the previous heat wave almost no watering has been done - a bit of an experiment of social Darwinism among plants. So the tomatoes and beans are not doing that well. There is only one red tomato so far, I call it the 'tomato of hope'. Since I tended to them a bit more, maybe there will be more 'tomatoes of hope'. But the other crates are also beautiful, just an assortment of grasses and flowers you would find in a summer meadow.
During spring, in one of those crates a duck has been breeding. The duck family now still lives around Eleonore and returns daily asking for bread which we obligingly give. There are other ducks around, some of them big and aggressive. 'Our' ducks use the Eleonore as their shelter. Those ducks are quite antagonistic animals, there is a lot of social rivalry among them.
We also do get visited by humans, sometimes a bit too much for my taste. Then I wished the Eleonore was anchored in the midst of the Danube and not so close to the shore. However, having barbecue at night together with some visitors and long discussions over red wine is at occasions a stimulating experience. Last night we ended up having a controversy about energy. One side proposed that in the long term there would be no alternative to nuclear energy, which was vociferously opposed by the other side. While I am not a fan of 'nuclear' I can also see the point that those alternative, renewable energy sources simply do not generate enough energy to be able to substitute oil, coal and gas. The only way out would be a complete change of habits, a switch away from consumer society, something completely unimaginable within a capitalist economy based on profits and growth. While I am not claiming to have a masterplan that answers those questions, experiencing those issues while on the Eleonore not just in the abstract but as a concrete lived experience is very valuable. Having fewer electric household machines at your disposition also means that you spend much more time doing those things which reduces time for artistic creation or theoretic study. Those things are interconnected, in the small world of Eleonore but also in the bigger world this experiment is part of.
As I have written that the Eleonore is a 'social sculpture' and a non-utopia, this means that it does not propose itself as a universal one-way-for-all utopia. However, what it can do, is set an example. And a number of people have started doing things with boats as well. Robert has welded together some cylindrical former gas containers to create a catamaran, joined by the underside of a container on which he has put a nice wooden house in which he now lives at the far side of a marina near Aschach, some 30 kkm from Linz.. He has also obtained a permission to use his house like any normal boat, so he can go up and down the Danube with it searching for beauty spots. He has also created a second catamaran, driven by a tractor. Yes, the tractor engines is driving a propeller over a 7 meter long shaft. What exactly this is good for I don't know, but it looks great. An artist at Times Up in Linz has used a similar technique of joining gas tanks to make a catamaran with the long term goal of using this structure for crossing the Atlantic.
Driving a further 30 km towards Passau we come to a mountainous region where Willi lives with his partner and four small kids. Willi has realised the dream of mobile living in a different way. He is building whole houses on top of structures originally taken from building-site containers. He has built two such houses so far connected by a beautiful veranda and winter garden which give the family alltogether app 80 sqm of living space. Willi is the complete self-made man in terms of craftmanship, everything is done by himself and mostly alone, without the help of heavy and expensive lifting equipment. The 'houses' can be lifted and put on the back of a truck and driven anywhere where a road goes which is more than 4 m broad. If Willi one day spots that ideal patch of land, he and his family will move.