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A glimpse into the future lifestyle of electric travel

Mercedes-Benz commissioned international designer Es Devlin to create an installation that would ignite the public imagination around the future offered by electric mobility. She describes the creative process.

Our landscapes bear the traces of every successive historic transport system overlaid: each new mode of human connection imprints its geometry onto our planet’s geography. First, it was paths traced by human feet, the location of resting places determined by levels of human endurance; then tracks from cartwheels and a network of inns with stables, their frequency determined by the horse’s metabolism. Next, the size of gas tanks in fossil-fuel-driven cars determined the global petrol-station network.

The Zoetrope pavilion – located on Silo Square at the V&A Waterfront – explores how the electric period in transport history will leave its mark. Rapid advances in lithium-battery technology are extending the periods of travel and diminishing the duration of charging stops at an exponential rate. How should we approach the network of electric vehicle charging stations that is set to emerge all over the globe? How should we spend our time while we wait for our electric vehicles to recharge mid-journey?

Mercedes-Benz South Africa asked Design Indaba founder Ravi Naidoo to find a way to interpret electric mobility and he proposed that I create a thought-provoking public piece – a first for South Africa and the first of its kind in the world. The project began in March 2018.

Using solar power and responding to the pioneering Electrical Intelligence (EQ) technology developed by Mercedes-Benz, the Zoetrope, meaning ‘life-turning’, imagines the potential for a future global network of solar-powered pavilions specific to their locations, each one acting as a unique charging station for the mind of the driver.

In conceptualising Zoetrope, I took a map of Cape Town and chose 12 points that express the geographic and demographic range of life within a 100km radius of the site – from an underwater kelp forest and rooftop football match, to choral groups and solar-power installers. Working closely with South African filmmakers, I gathered footage from these locations and edited them into 12 one-minute films that form the narrative inside Zoetrope.

Mirroring a journey through the built environment of the city of Cape Town in both physical and cultural terms, Zoetrope is constructed using only local materials and talent. It comprises a steel frame structure clad in 72 concrete panels that were made using sand sourced from the 12 filming locations and the same cement used to construct the original Silo building. The structure merges with its historic surroundings through its very DNA, as well as the geographic imagery,  experienced once you enter the installation. Roofed with modern solar-power technology, the sculpture is completely off-grid, producing 11.4 kW of energy that powers the audiovisual equipment used inside.

Visitors will walk a labyrinthine route that spans the length of the 12 one-minute films. Through its use of light, colour and sound, the sculpture creates an immersive, thought-provoking journey that leaves the visitor with a greater understanding of place, as well as the relational symbiosis between solar energy, location and electric mobility.

Devlin’s sculptural work Zoetrope in Silo Square at the Waterfront will remain open during 2019, and visitors are welcome free of charge.


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