Meet the artists – transforming neighbourhoods through art, sustainability and community participation

Jul 7, 2023

Hello everyone, today we have the pleasure of talking to the artists behind the Transisthor project, photographer Kristof Vrancken and graphic designer Niek Kosten. They are joining us to share their experiences and insights about their involvement in the oPEN Living Lab project in Genk, Belgium. Welcome, Kristof and Niek! 

Let’s start by learning how you became involved with the oPEN Lab project in Genk and what attracted you to it? 

Kristof: Well, the city of Genk put out a call for a participatory design process involving artistic interventions in the public space of Waterschei and Nieuw-Texas. This call aligned perfectly with our art and design research, which focuses on sustainability, local/global context, participation, and fieldwork. We have previously worked on projects addressing the complex challenges of our local context, such as the ‘Not In My Backyard’ project centered around Japanese Knotweed. Additionally, being part of the Inter-Actions research unit of LUCA School of Arts, we are committed to participatory design and involving participants in the process. 

That’s fascinating. Now, could you give us an overview of the Transisthor project and its objectives in educating, sensitizing, activating, and creating public awareness of green, sustainable energy in Nieuw-Texas and Waterschei? 

Niek: Absolutely. Transisthor is a participatory, educational, and artistic research project that combines large-scale visual photovoltaic murals with sustainable energy generation. Our aim is to create a future-oriented vision of sustainability and energy transition while actively engaging the local community. We work closely with residents and stakeholders to visualize and implement the shift from fossil fuels to sustainable energy in the urban fabric. Through co-creation workshops, we encourage residents to think about energy in their community, envision a sustainable future, and explore ways to make the energy transition possible together. By combining art, education, and sustainability, we strive to raise awareness, provide solar energy for the neighbourhood, and foster a sense of community. 

That sounds like a wonderful initiative. Now, I’m curious, what inspired both of you to combine large murals with solar panels to generate sustainable energy for the neighbourhood? And how do you envision these artworks contributing to the project’s overall goals? 

Kristof: The combination of large murals with solar panels is an emerging technology that has gained popularity, particularly in large-scale developments like office buildings. However, we wanted to go beyond the functional aspects of solar power and question the aesthetics of this technology when integrating it into our built environment. By co-designing artwork for the solar panels, we create a space for residents to engage in discussions about the energy transition, making these complex topics more tangible and relatable. The artworks not only generate sustainable energy but also visually represent a future-oriented vision of sustainability. They function as time capsules or messages to future residents, bridging generations and reflecting the identity and diversity of the community. 

That’s truly inspiring. Now, let’s talk about the involvement of tenants, homeowners, and residents of Waterschei and Nieuw-Texas in the Transisthor project. What role will they play in the creation and implementation of the artworks? 

Niek: The involvement of tenants, homeowners, and residents is central to the Transisthor project. We organize a series of participatory workshops where residents are invited to co-design the visuals for the solar panel murals. During these workshops, we use collage and photography techniques to connect existing archive material with new images and create a collective vision for the artworks. Residents play a crucial role in shaping the aesthetics and messages conveyed by the murals, ensuring that they truly represent the community’s values and aspirations. Their active participation and input contribute to a sense of ownership and empowerment, making the project a true collaboration between artists and the local community. 

Thank you, Kristof and Niek, for sharing your insights and experiences with us. It has been a pleasure talking to both of you about the Transisthor project and your involvement in the oPEN Lab project in Genk. We wish you continued success in your artistic endeavours!