Driving a car powered by discarded wood, across forgotten parts of Germany, is performance art with a difference.

German artist Pablo Wendel has been working on projects using Kunststrom – electricity produced through artworks or artistic methods – since 2012. His latest project aims to bring art to audiences across Germany in the shape of an old red fire engine called Super Duty. The vehicle, which will travel 1 000km across the country, will be powered only by discarded wood. 

Wendel is the co-director of E-WERK Luckenwalde, a former coal power station in Luckenwalde, Germany that has been activated to produce C02 neutral Kunststrom energy with wood gas. He says repurposing the power station gave him the technological know-how to fire up Super Duty. 

“There was a petrol crisis after World War II and this technology was used on vehicles. We had the idea to get this technology back in a vehicle and create a moving platform. We bought a former American fire truck that had good prerequisites for converting to driving with wood gas – for example, the former water tank now stores the wood,” he explains.

His unique project aims to counteract climate fatigue and show people that acting together is a way to work towards a Net Zero future. But Super Duty is also a stage for this well-known performance artist, who created a stir as a student when he posed as a terracotta warrior in an archaeological pit in China. The local police had difficulty distinguishing him from the 2 200 warriors at the dig.

His latest project, which has been supported by a host of local technicians, scientists, and volunteers, is similarly theatrical. He sees Super Duty as Gesamtkunstwerk – that is, a holistic work of art that draws in everyone crossing its path. 

“These are all performative moments,” he says. “The project opens up new ideas to everyone involved. There is something not quite normal, when you think of a vehicle driven using wood gas. I see the project as a long-term performance and a work that builds a bridge from something sculptural to something functional.” 

The journey won’t be without its challenges, like driving with wood gas on motorways. “We want to question and challenge the system,” Wendel asserts, adding that the team will plant trees along the way to replace the idea of petrol stations. “On a practical level, we are excited to see how the truck will run and how far we will really get,” he admits. “I'm especially looking forward to the moment when I drive this C02 neutral truck on the motorway for the first time.”

Wendel and his team will invite people on the road to ride along and use Super Duty energy. The vehicle also stands for an open knowledge transfer. “We want to transfer and share the knowledge we have gained. And then we'll offer partners to use the platform and share their own ideas,” he says. 

Upcoming at E-WERK Luckenwalde:

Power Nights: Being Mothers – a growing exhibition curated by Lucia Pietroiusti (until 31 July 2022). 

Chapter Three: Opening 5 February 2022, Isabel Lewis & Sissel Tolaas and Revital Cohen & Tuur Van Balen.

Chapter Four: Opening 20 March 2022, Tabita Rezaire and Cooking Sections

To sign up for Kunststrom in your own home and to find out more about Super Duty, click here


Read more: 

Morag Myerscough’s #CleanPower installation brightened up COP26.

Kites could generate energy underwater.

Algae energy.

Credits: Diana Pfammatter, Ben Westoby, E-WERK Luckenwalde