Innovation

E.I. – and the potential to save energy


At the art fair Independent Brussels, In4Art bought the work E.I. LPT 48 from Antony Cairns for the Open Collection. Making us curious- where does E.I. stand for? It appears to be Electronic Ink – a technology that might lower our electronic and energy footprint.

British artist Antony Cairns is a photographer looking for new ways to produce and display his work. Since 2016 he has experimented with a technology called electronic ink (E Ink). This technology is predominantly applied to e-readers since the early 2000’s. He deconstructs old e-reader screens and re-uses them to display his archive of photographs, casting the unplugged screens in special polymethyl methacrylate armatures to house each of the photographs. After uploading the image, the deconstructed e-reader is disconnected, leaving a lasting image. This is possible because E Ink technology only uses energy when the image on the screen is changed. Not changing the image equals not using any energy.

Now isn’t that an interesting observation: not changing the image equals not using any energy. Would that be an attribute that can be of relevance in our electrical trapped world, where all our connectivity and communication depends on the availability and consumption of energy?

A lot of attention has gone to the benefits of electronic ink for applications in screens. Next to applications for reading and writing, we are seeing increasingly attention for this low energy use of displaying in fields like mobile, labelling, tracking, information displays and even architecture. There are many applications where e ink is a cheaper and more sustainable choice compared to latest screen technologies. Think about public transport information panels or traffic signs. London and Sydney are amongst the first cities in the world experimenting with this technology. Although still very early days we can expect a much bigger role for electronic ink in the coming years.

What if we look beyond existing structures and try to translate the added value of E-ink into new structures and applications?

What Antony Cairns is showing us, is a different approach: next to innovation on the application for moving images, we could also look at the potential of the technology to freeze images. Having an electrified technology that still works when disconnected from its energy source, gives us the possibility to conceive unique applications no other comparable technology is capable of. At the same time, when re-connected the  E ink still works and the image can be changed again. Hence, it makes us wonder:  which uses of screens or paper are problematic today because they consume a lot of energy in their use and/ or production while they could be frozen and disconnected for a day, a week or a month?

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