David Smithson – Solar Powered Electric Chair

Solar Powered Electric Chair / off-grid (S.P.E.C.)

In the early 1990’s many new technological products became available as the military-industrial complex, suffering from the post-Cold War downturn in profits, looked for new markets. While becoming aware of the shifting priorities and yet continued domination of corporate industrial production, I made a sketch for a sculptural installation – the Solar Powered Electric Chair (1992). To employ environmentally friendly renewable energy in the service of capital punishment reflects the direction our global society will continue to develop if we are not careful about realigning our priorities.

The S.P.E.C. is modeled after the mother of all electric chairs, "Old Sparky" from Sing Sing prison. Because of its non-conductivity and recyclability, oak is today even more of an appropriate choice. Two trussed aluminum wings extend outward from each side of the chair, holding the solar panels. Battery storage units are inside the pedestal. Electrodes are attached to the subject/victim, one administered to the head, and one attached to the calf muscle of each leg. The executor’s control panel, the output menu is ergonomically located at waist height on a post on the back of the pedestal.

The 11 power dial settings and corresponding functions of this environmentally friendly electric chair facilitate the lulling of the subject/victim into a relaxed state of euphoric bliss prior to execution. They range from the lowest setting to dry hair, cool the head; to muscle relaxation; to an electrostatic generator which tests the nerves, straightens hair and arches electrical charges to the user; to 3 levels of gruesome sadomasochistic torture prior to Optimum Death in 2 min. (level 9); and 2 levels of overkill ending with the chair catching fire.

This S.P.E.C. is designed to be built as a fully functional off-grid unit. For safety a mechanical governor has been installed between levels 5 and 6, which may not be removed or exceeded without written consent of the attending Governor or local jurisdictional official.

The objective of this sculptural installation is to raise awareness that the unavoidable transition to renewable energies will not turn into the next wave of elitist monopolies exploiting the masses, but will be developed to serve the needs of the many.
David Smithson

Image description:

Solar Powered Electric Chair (off-grid)
digital animation stills
projected size: 2,1 x 11,6 x 2,3 m
courtesy of the artist

We want to thank everyone who helped to make the 18th venue in Erfurt possible!

18. ZNE! Station ERFURT (Germany)

Duration: 28.7.2019 to 22.9.2019

Pictures from the exhibition in Erfurt here!


We mourn our friend and benefactor, the artist and philosopher Prince Rudolf zur Lippe, who died on 6 September 2019.

He made thoughts dance and people move.

During the exhibition in Erfurt, which shows works from the cycle "Learning from the Birds" in the church of the Augustinian monastery, he wanted to talk to us about it and how it is linked to Goethe and Alexander von Humboldt.

We will miss him greatly, not only there.


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