Animal Ecologies in Visual Culture

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Antennae, the Journal of Nature in Visual Culture, and Minding Animals International, a ‘bridge between academia and advocacy,’ are hosting an event entitled Animal Ecologies in Visual Culture at University College London on Saturday 8 October 2011. Information also available on Facebook.

Antennae’s website has all the back issues of the Journal available for download as pdfs.  Themes include insects, taxidermy, Deleuze, plastic bags.

Minding Animals has a range of networks, study groups and organises conferences.

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.

It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge Research, Gray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.
Go to EcoArtScotland

Insulation and Chassis: Conversations With Timeless Travel and Aerogel


1946 Spartan, Timeless Travel

What kind of  insulation to use?  How to balance all the variables – sustainable, healthy materials that are also efficient.  No sense using green materials that aren’t going to be good insulators in a trailer warm or cool, as needed.

I talked with Brett Hall from Timeless Travel who has restored a number of vintage Spartan’s and many Airstreams:

Brett Hall:

Spartans are the best trailers. The body, which is made from airplane material, contributes about 70% of the trailer’s strength; the rest of the strength is in the chassis.  An Airstream is about 50-50%.  For other trailers, it’s all in the chassis [i.e. the body is basically useless.]

Timeless Travel uses PIC insulation

We use PIC insulation which is fiberglass without formaldehyde.  It has an R5 value, which is best you can do with a Spartan, which has an average depth of 2” on the wall.  Insects don’t like it and [I think he said it is fire resistant.]  Once installed, it has an R10-R13 value.  We use foil tape. The PIC has a lot higher R value than other stuff; we install it in panels.  PIC insulation is fairly green, doesn’t outgas.  When installed, it creates a vapor barrier.

There is a lot of exhaust inside the trailer, from cooking, heating, showers, even humans [people give off 2 liters of water/day.] That goes to the outside of the skin.  The air gap helps air from getting in and also air going out.

Steven Harasim, chemical engineer with Aerogel

Q:  We have a limited budget, but we are interested in following up with your idea of using strips of Aerogel (Thermogel) over the ribs along with some other form of insulation.  What is the R-value of Aerogel?

Our product has an R4 value for each layer (the idea is to layer it). Harasim’s idea was to use some other kind of insulation in the gaps and then use strips of aerogel over the metal ribs before putting the paneling on (see the above photo where exposed metal ribs aren’t covered by insulation.)

Harasim says this method would get rid of the thermal bridge where the steel is in direct connection with the paneling which is very inefficient, thermally.

He said steel has a conductivity far greater than wood. When the metal is  exposed and it touches the walls it acts as a much larger sink in terms of conductivity  than even the gap in between where the insulation would normally go.  So the idea is to isolate that contact by putting a strip of Aerogel on the metal beams.

Santa Clara University’s submission for the 2009 Solar Decathlon

Harasim mentioned the Solar Decathlon (, a competition sponsored by the Department of Energy  where college students design homes that are almost entirely net zero homes.  According to Harasim, Areogel was used in 4 out of 10 of the winning designs, including the Refract House (photo above) a collaborative effort between the University of Santa Clara and California College of the Arts (click to download PDF of project manual,  lower right column)

Coincidentally, Harasim actually used to work for the PIC insulation company that makes the stuff that Timeless Travels uses.  He says it is an “adequate solution”.  From looking at the  pictures I showed him he said, he says “It is well insulated.  The only downside is that the still the steel studs are still exposed.”

He continued:  “What is difficult about the Spartan is the varying cavity size.  But I don’t see anything wrong with this solution. The PIC foam would be a mid point solution.  The aluminum foil is 100 percent recyclable.  The foam is not but it has a higher R-value than other foams per mass basis.  It is more efficient than other insulation.

Question:  Is the PIC insulation “green”?

Harasim:  It’s hard to describe insulation as being “un-green” since its primary objective is to save energy [I suppose some people could argue with that statement]

Q:  Does you think it would be more green to use something like a newspaper product?

The newspaper, being 100 percent recycled would be an advantage, but overall probably not because of the insulation value and the difficulty of installing it in a trailer.

Q:  Do you think Areogel might be willing to donate some materials or otherwise help with the cost?

We aren’t against it but they are stretched pretty thin right now. We are a new company and have already been donating (I bet to the Dethlon).  But he would help with advise on the installation.  And the strips actually come from a different company, Thermal Block, and they may be able to work with you as well.  He’ll give me all the info.

Note: Timeless Travel uses a different kind of insulation in the floor. (I don’t remember why).  He may have said the stuff is styrene or else fiberglass??


New chaissis, Timeless Travel

Timeless Travel’s Brett Hall said Spartan trailer chassis often have structural problems, especially from the wheels back.  “We start looking right away for problems.”  About 40% of the Spartans have serious problems, about 10% need work.  (It should be noted, however, that Timeless Travel tends to add 2,000 – 3,000 additional pounds on average to their renovated (high end) restorations.

Note:  Hall said the original Spartan chasis were built by a third party.


Hall added that it’s very important to pay attention to wiring.  The trailer must conform to the National fire Protection Association’s Standards for Recreational Vehicles (NFPA 1192)






click here for PDF:

Hall rattled off all kinds of things that I couldn’t catch (I was taking notes from the floor of the grocery store).

The gas pipe has to be grounded to the chasis, for instance.

The main thing is that you have to be very careful.  He said electricians think they know what to do and they don’t read the code.  He said READ THE CODE!!


He started to tell me about the belly pan but I have to call him back…

This post is part of a series documenting Sam Breen’a Spartan Restoration Project. Please see his first post here and check out the archive here. The CSPA is helping Sam by serving in an advisory role, offering modest support and featuring Sam’s Progress by syndicating his feed from as part of our CSPA Supports Program.

Arup’s Insect Hotel – Core77

Arup Associates have just won the Beyond the Hive Competition, sponsored by the City of London, to design a Bug Hotel for its parks. This one encourages the presence of stag beetles, solitary bees, butterflies, moths, spiders, lacewings and ladybirds by combining all these species’ required environments into one.

The ‘hotel’ consists of a vertical wall with cells divided into a voronoi pattern, where detritus and materials can be stuffed to creaqte the perfect environments for a wide variety of insects. The sides of the hotel are accessible to moths, and the top can absorb rain water through planting.

via Arup’s Insect Hotel – Core77.

Genetically Modified Music: Mixed Feelings.


We’re at that point now. We can talk about growing music. Artist David Benqué’s piece Acoustic Botany is a series of models and diagrams for a genetically engineered music and sound garden. It envisions insects created to chew in rhythm, flower pods designed to explode at certain intervals, and Lily Pads that amplify the death throes of bugs in a vascular speaker structure.

I gotta say this makes me just the slightest bit nauseous, and not for the obvious old-lady-with-a-clipboard reasons (nature is nature! etc). It’s because of the roles and responsibilities of the artist inherent in the work. Here I was all excited about environmental art because it’s such a great example of the logistical application of the aesthetic, of an artist’s capacity to engage and care, a unity of practical and aesthetic reason. Now, again, sing the the memes of art trumping reason, or at least twisting it severely to achieve its goals.

A genetically modified art installation, with no comment to make on genetic modification itself, no analysis really of the human/nature relationship, really just an artistic exploration of the fun and pretty things we could do with plants if given the opportunity to play with their DNA. And I bet it would be stunning.Bugs designed to chew in rhythm! What kind of glorious aesthetic high would visitors to this installation get? Awe and wonder of science, with a little bit of nature, maybe.

Benqué’s vision is far from being realized, but it’s ready to start some serious conversations now.

Go to the Green Museum

Celebrating insects in art, and the art of being an insect

PESTIVAL: Celebrating insects in art, and the art of being an insect, opens tonight at the South Bank Center in London.Glasswing Butterflys

The events for Pestival weekend look extraordinary and include a large Termite Pavilion, Praying Manitis Kung Fu andForensic Entomology (insect experts who are often called on to assist the police in cases of suspicious death). Needless to say there will be  lots of lots of insects.  And some excellent RSA Fellows who have recently worked with RSA’s Arts and Ecology: neuroscientist Beau Lotto is creating a large bee hive in the Queen ‘Bee’ Hall and Architect Michael Pawlyn will present his biomimcry work.

Pestival is a rare creature: an international, inter-disciplinary, community-led festival. Events include insect-inspired comedy, music, ID walks, talks, workshops, experiments, fashion and a termite inspired architectural structure at the centre of Pestival 2009. 80% of creatures on earth are insects, the ‘pests’ without whom humans wouldn’t survive. Pestival celebrates the 100s of millions of years of evolution, which places insects at the heart of human existence. Pestival 2009 celebrates how insects shape our world, and how humans shape the world of insects, in both science and the arts.

Check out the programme for 4 – 6 September: Pestival programme
The events will be broadcast by London’s favourite (and only) art radio station Resonance 104.4 FM and Tweeted on The Guardian’s Environment Blog.

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology