An outdoor, sun-powered, recirculating water pond and garden for growing edible plants and fish, co-created with Ken Rinaldo. Our original Farm Fountain research was started in 2007 as an indoor, ecosystem and local food production artwork that we open-sourced for others to reproduce and build upon. While we were very pleased with the original project, we had the desire for it to become more sustainable by using solar power to run the timer and pumps. Ideally the sun would provide all inputs and our Farm Fountain could be completely solar powered.

When we received the invitation from Cultivamos Cultura from Directors Marta de Menezes and Luis Graca, we were ecstatic to finally get the chance to see if we could create a completely solar powered version of our Farm Fountain. In Columbus Ohio where we live, putting this project outside, where the sunlight could sustainably provide this energy, would only work in the summer since our winter climate would kill the plants and fish. We needed a better climate and the Alentejo region of Portugal has it.

The location of the Cultivamos Cultura residency, in the sunny, never freezing agricultural area of Portugal was fortuitous, but even more so, was the particular focus this residency has on the challenging forms of eco-art and bio-art. We have discovered that working with living organisms and water inside galleries and museums it is difficult, since plants tend to like natural light which is not what traditional artworks call for and therefore not what art spaces are designed to supply.

The Naturarte Hotel location took us by surprise. We had expected to construct our Solar Farm Fountain on the farmhouse site of Cultivamos Cultura, but the opportunity to install the project at the hotel meant that it would ultimately have the benefit of watchful caretakers year-round. We felt an instant kinship with the place as it runs entirely on solar power, situated adjacent to a national park. Upon arriving we were instantly struck by the giant piles of cork bark drying out nearby. Our hosts spoke of the sustainable harvesting processes of peeling the bark from trees rather than cutting them down – and how the widespread use of less-sustainable plastic corks has caused a problem for the cork-oak industry. In the hotel, we saw cork used in ways we were unfamiliar with, handmade stools, insulated picnic baskets and drinking spoons. Inspired by this material’s availability, it’s history, it’s lightweight, insulating and waterproof properties, we sought to integrate it in our design for the Solar Farm Fountain.

We were pleased to be able to create a work of functional edible art and to confirm that indeed the sun, which powers all, was also able to integrate well with technological systems in the creation of this garden. Knowledge that the hotel cooks are now using our natural herbs as garnishes and ingredients in the sandwiches they were creating for hotel guests made this experience especially rewarding.

Special thanks to Marta de Menezes, Luis Graca of Cultivamos Cultura and to Nature Arte Hotel for supporting this project.

  • Solar Farm Fountain 2009
  • Materials fish, plants, cork, tubing, water bottles, aluminum, concrete, solar powered pump and timer system.
  • Location Nature Arte Hotel, São Luis, Portugal.
  • Collaborator Ken Rinaldo