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Solar Energy at MASS MoCA

Ongoing
MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA


In May 2007, MASS MoCA, with the assistance of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative’s Renewable Energy Trust, mounted a massive 51.6kW grid-connected photovoltaic (solar) array on the roof of the Building 5 gallery.

Installed by Berkshire Photovoltaic Services, the array’s major components were all manufactured in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts including photovoltaic panels from Schott Solar and Evergreen Solar, Solectria inverters, and a Heliotronics data acquisition system.

The layout of the array was designed by artist Michael Oatman who also provided this narrative about the installation currently on view in MASS MoCA's lobby.

Mystery in Building 5

While running cables for the photovoltaic system through the Building 5 basement, workers made a strange discovery. Behind a bricked-up doorway were five sturdy wooden crates, each stenciled with “SPRAGUE” (the name of the electronics company that formerly occupied the MASS MoCA buildings) and an address in Melbourne, Florida. An attached bill of lading from 1973 indicated they had been sealed for shipment. Upon opening the crates, workers found tools, electrical components (many of which were manufactured at Sprague Electric), a small wind tunnel, a stationary bicycle, hundreds of drawings and documents, and two large items designated ‘Console A’ and ‘Console C.’

Records for the Florida address show that the house had been briefly owned by retired Sprague employee Donald Carusi, who moved there in August 1973. In November of that year, Carusi was found dead in his attic, where it appeared he had been electrocuted while hooking up a grounding wire to an oversize, homemade TV aerial. Interviews with other former Sprague employees have turned up little pertinent information other than that Carusi was “a quiet guy,” “a hard worker” and “could fix anything, without ever looking at the manual.” A search of the local newspaper archive showed only that there was an unusual number of power blackouts in Carusi’s North Adams neighborhood in the months prior to his move south. The problem was blamed on a faulty transformer.

During the summer of 2007, artist Michael Oatman requested permission to examine the contents of the crates in more detail. Plugging in the consoles, he was surprised to discover that many of the components ‘powered up.’ Even more curious was the fact that several of the gauges began displaying the same ‘live’ images as Building 5’s closed-circuit security camera system. The signal grows stronger when the consoles are closer to the solar installation as if the array is functioning as a massive antenna. After several months of observation it appears that the consoles are communicating with offsite devices, acquiring images of unknown origin.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
   
 
 
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