Maria A. P. Woolson

Firefly: A Paintbrush in the Hands of the Wind


Wind, Art, Energy

The Firefly Project was an experience-based pedagogical activity in a course about Climate Change, titled The Role of Language and Culture in the Climate Change Dialogue. The project integrated across commonlly compartmentalized domains of learning, such as applied technical knowledge from engineering and linguistic appreciations in discourse construction, to elicit public responses.

Participants included students registered in the class, guest creator engineer Jito Coleman, Office of Sustainability Integration, Education Technology, Art department as well as interested students not registered in the class. Technology served as a facilitator of creative work, communication, public participation and integration, including a newscast on Vermont television stationWCAX.

WCAX Newscast: Middlebury Firefly Project.


Luminiscent Wind Turbines

The Firefly Project was originally conceived as an artistic representation of wind to engage a discussion about alternative energy. It meant to include how social perception of aesthetics and functionality interacted. Its creator, Jito Coleman, envisioned the installation as an aesthetic/artistic experiment that amplified an existing resource. Turbines propel light energy with the patterns of the wind, arguably with minimal impact that at a distance create a beautiful landscape of fireflies. The viewer is thus encouraged to observe, and at least wonder how and why, to hopefully understand the potential functionality of wind energy in our society.


Pedagogy behind the Firefly Project

Pedagogically, the most significant bridges crossed included:
Across disciplinesScience – Humanities
Engaged learning Academic – Applied
Scholarly approach Theoretical – Empirical
Semiotics of space Old classroom – New classroom
Agency Transfer Teacher – Student
Production of meaning Interpersonal – Collective
Epistemology Natural Sciences – Aesthetics
Processes Rational – Sensory
Analysis Descriptive – Introspective
Visibility Assumed – Stated
Temporality Short-term – Long-term

Bilingual documenting activities included:
1. Photographic documentation 2. Video documentation 3. Compilation of information regarding: a. Creator, engineer Jito Coleman b. Luminiscent wind turbine mechanics and technology c. the concept 4. Documenting the process of lexical compilation and analyisis



The Larger Scope of the Project and the Outcome

The plan for Project FireFly was simple, yet elegant: place light generating wind turbines in frequently trafficked parts of campus, for students, professors and other members of the Middlebury community to view and interpret their significance in the context of the landscape. On the evening of a cold and snowy January 15th, turbines were placed near a busy dinning hall. On the 16th and 17th they were placed near the Center for the Arts, anticipating large numbers of people attending a ball and performance. The class collected public comments in response to carefully crafted questions and used them to analyse public reactions. Photos, video and written comments on the class webpage were used to connect the community'sperception to the theme of alternative energy, and the aesthetic of a material object and the utility of wind as an important source of electricity.

Questions proposed by students and sample responses from the public
1) Do you see beauty behind this work? Please describe what you see.
Sample response 1- FANS, hear noise, wobbly stems, no grace, stiffness, fans are too prominent
Sample response 2- Thank you! Simplicity, universality, stillness, a bit of frozen time

2) How has this artistic representation of wind changed your perception about wind energy?
Sample response 1- noisy, disturbing, pushy. This doesn’t work WITH the wind, it merely reacts to it.
Sample response 2- I have always been a supporter of wind energy. Firefly makes wind beautiful and innocent, people need to see that.