Towardless: Plant-based Electrical and Art Energy (virtual exhibition)

Solar cells and research material that originate from art_craft, art_science, and scientific investigations, and the questioning of light, energy, bodies, and matter - including the first hand-painted solar panel.
Blck Vlvt soalr panel painting detail
Blck Vlvt solar panel where hand-painted colorants from Aronia m. plant convert light to electrical energy. Photo by Mikko Raskinen (2021).

The exhibition Towardless: Plant-based Electrical and Art Energy presents work that has been evolving across various schools and labs of Aalto University since 2017. Its artistic inspirational foundations lie at the Baroa belaobara plantation in Aizpute, Latvia, whereas the scientific and technical aspects arise from the research of dye-sensitized solar cells.

  • Blck Vlvt: first hand-painted solar panel with Aronia m. - colorants based upon a painting by JMW Turner. Made in an art_science co-creation process.
  • Blck Vlvt micro-observations video documentation.
  • Archive solar cells from art and science research: objects and photo prints
  • Online video documentary, monograph, and podcast

Organised as part of the Designs for a Cooler Planet 2021 exhibition of Helsinki Design Week 2021, Towardless presents an artistic approach to questioning and envisioning a resource-wise solar-electric future.

Concept & realisation:

Bartaku (Bart Vandeput), Visiting artist researcher at the Department of Applied Physics, Aalto University School of Science (SCI)

Janne Halme, Department of Applied Physics, Aalto University School of Science (SCI)

Anne Kinnunen, Department of Architecture, Aalto ARTS

Released with the exhibition: Painting Energies Podcast

Painting Energies is a podcast about light, colour, plants, microbes, and electrical energy. Conversations with invited guests explore their relations, and our relations to them, through dialogue across science, technology, art, and philosophy. The topics emerge from the transdiscplinary artscience research process that took place in Aalto University since 2017 and led to the creation of the Blck Vlvt solar panel painting. Hosts: Janne Halme and Bartaku.

Painting Energies Podcast

Painting Energies is a podcast about light, colour, plants, microbes, and electrical energy. Eleven conversations with invited guests explore their relations, and our relations with them, through dialogue across science, technology, art, and philosophy.

Painting Energies Podcast logo
Photo showing a demonstration dye solar cell with spontaneous crystal growth inside due to drying of electrolyte
Intracellular growth (ca. 2003-2021). Electrolyte salts spontanously crystalized inside a dye solar cell upon slow solvent leaking and drying during storage. Photo by Janne Halme (2021).

About Towardless

Through artscience enquiries, Towardless contributes to poetico-critical thinking on resource use and discourse in the realm of solar energy and technology. The perception of 'renewable' in global tech discourse is biased. Solar energy is renewable – in the planetary time scale – yet today's solar panels are not renewable: they are made with mined, non-biological, non-renewing materials. How far lies the non-extractivist, bio-ethical, holistic way of harvesting and using light-based electricity?

Towardless shares long-term research in arts and science on plant-based solar technology, transmitting a transcendent narrative that touches upon its poetic limitations. It demonstrates the value of the art of inquiry and the requirement of intimate corresponding with matter, and growing-in making, as a pre-condition for resource wisdom.

Among the artworks on display, Blck Vlvt ties a painting by JMW Turner and Aronia m. through the first hand-painted functional solar panel. Since 2017, the Aamo ArtScience group has developed solar cells with natural dyes from the Aronia m. plant into a new form of visual art and craft. It is used as a nexus for a transdisciplinary artscience practice.

In addition, for the first time, a selection of solar cells from the research archives of Janne Halme and Bartaku are exhibited as objects and photo prints.

As a centerpiece, Pile of e-waste, temporarily self-lit by its left-over solar energy, touches upon the perceptions of waste, raw material use, and bio-solar-matter.

Virtual exhibition

Blck Vlvt solar panel - detail
Blck Vlvt solar panel. Photo by Anne Kinnunen (2021).

Blck Vlvt - Aronia m. solar panel

Blck Vlvt is a hand-painted solar panel based upon JMW Turner's painting `Snow Storm—Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth making Signals in Shallow Water, and going by the Lead. The Author was in this Storm on the Night the Ariel left Harwich (Exh. 1842)´.

The colorants in the glass solar cells originate from leaves, fruits, and stems from the Aronia m. plant. They are the main resource for transforming light into electrical energy.

Solar glass cells: Aronia m. colorants, glass, fluorine-doped tin oxide, titanium dioxide, iodine, lithium iodide, 3-methoxypropionitrile, platinum, thermoplastic polymer, silver, aluminum; plywood, – 40 x 30 cm.

In the gallery: a video with visual details of the making of Blck Vlvt, 3:02 min (loop), produced by Nina Pulkkis, Fotonifilm.

More about Blck Vlvt:

Pile of e-waste, temporarily self-lit by its left-over solar energy

(in vitrine)

pile of e-waste consisting of discarded research solar cells
Photo by Mikko Raskinen (2021)

The temporary installation offers an intimate peek into the past research of dye-sensitized solar cells in Aalto University, and visual grounds for questioning the material intensity of solar energy technologies, the notions of 'plant-based' and 'organic' in solar cells, and the perceptions of solar cell waste and possible ways for its recycling.

The work consists of different types of dye-sensitized solar cells and their materials, discarded after use in scientific research by various authors from the New Energy Technologies group in Aalto University.

Concept by Bartaku and Janne Halme, intuitive in-the-moment assembly by Bartaku (2021).

Various materials with a raw material distribution representative of modern dye-sensitized solar cell energy technology (per m2): Glass with a conductive coating (2 X 10000 g), TiO2 nanoparticles (15 g), Platinum nanoparticles (16 g), electrolyte solution (24 g), silver paint (7 g), metal contacts (varies), dye molecules (0.1 g), and their modifications with experimental alternatives.

Archive solar cell window

Solar archive window
Photo by Janne Halme (2021)

Dye-sensitized solar cells of various sizes from Janne Halme's research archive (2001-2005), made by Janne Halme, Antti Tolvanen, and Jaakko Saarinen. Including:

  • Cells from the first experiments in 2001
  • First dye solar cell module made at TKK (pre-Aalto)
  • Failed module trials; first flexible cells

Quotes from Janne Halme's lab notebook tell a story about learning the craft of solar cell making by trial and error, the careful observing and deducing, and the celebration of progress. The exhibition marked Janne's 20th year in the art and science of solar cell research, with due celebrations.

Glass, fluorine-doped tin oxide, indium tin oxide, titanium dioxide, metal-organic ruthenium complexes - dyes N3 and N719, platinum, graphite, carbon black, antimony-doped tin oxide, iodine electrolyte (iodine, potassium iodide, organic solvents, and additives), polymer sealant, glue, copper and aluminum tape, silver paint and epoxy, electric wire.



Concept & realisation: Bartaku, Janne Halme and Anne Kinnunen.

Blck Vlvt: made by research group Aamo (Aronia Art Morphing) based upon an idea by Bartaku_Baroa. b. Aamo members: Bartaku (Aalto ARTS), Janne Halme & Pyry Mäkinen (Aalto PHYS), Paulo Pinho (Aalto ELEC), Merja Penttilä (Aalto CHEM, VTT). 

Solar e-waste: New Energy Technologies Group, Aalto PHYS, various authors (Kati MiettunenGhufran Hashmi, et al.).

Janne Halme archives: selected experimental solar cells and modules made in New Energy Technologies group, Aalto University, by J.H. and his collaborators Antti Tolvanen, Jaakko Saarinen, and Sannamari Pilpola.

Bartaku archives: selected cells all in co-creation with Christian Thornton, Xaquixe Glass Innovation Studio, Oaxaca, Mexico. 

Photography: Anne Kinnunen (Aalto ARTS)
Technical partners: Biofilia (Lab for Biological Arts) and Biogarage (Aalto University) 
Photo printing: Aalto Photography Workshop

Financial support: AaltoMaterials Platform, Aalto Online Learning, and the Diversity and Inclusivity Fund of the School of Science.


1 - Blck Vlvt – making-of documentary (15 min) 
Nina Pulkkis (Fotonifilm) documented the process of making Blck Vlvt and interviewed the makers.  


2 - Painting Energies Podcast  
Hosts Bartaku and Janne Halme explore Blck Vlvt’s making-of observations in conversation with guests.



3 - Baroa Belaobara: Berryapple 
Background information about the research processes can be found in Bartaku's recently published monograph.  

Doctor of Arts dissertation

Printed book


bioart, transdisciplinarity, art science, SciArt, undisciplinary art science, improvisation science, speculative art science, open science, pataphysics, solarpunk, serendipity, emergence

About the makers


Janne Halme

University Lecturer
Department of Applied Physics

Painting Energies Podcast #0 Introducing - with Janne Halme and Bartaku (external link)

In this episode the hosts Janne Halme and Bartaku introduce themselves and the podcast. They tell about the co-creation process that led to the podcast, and exchange thoughts, wishes and expectations about the forthcoming episodes.

Painting Energies Podcast logo

Painting Energies Podcast #1 Dye-sensitized solar cells - with Anders Hagfeldt (external link)

In this episode, our guest is prof. Anders Hagfeldt who is considered one of the world’s leading researchers in dye-sensitized solar cells. Our conversation ranges over the science, technology and craft of this technology, and scientific breakthroughs, accidental discoveries, combining scientific and artistic careers, and fostering creativity.

Painting Energies Podcast logo

Designs for a Cooler Planet

Resource Wisdom - Designs for a Cooler Planet 2021

Helsinki Design Week 2021 has landed in Otaniemi, showcasing three paths to resource wisdom

Radical ideas and prototypes contributing to a resource-wise future. The exhibitions and online lectures are open to everyone, and they belong to the official Helsinki Design Week programme.

Loving environments visual theme

Loving Environments

Construction gobbles up half of the world’s natural resources. Collaboration between scientists, designers, architects, the public sector and companies generates ideas that can make living environments and the construction industry more sustainable.

Better to Wear exhibition visual

Better to Wear

We get dressed each and every day: clothes protect us and help us express ourselves. We can dress better when we re-design the whole textile process from manufacturing to use to recycling.

Infinite materials theme visual

Infinite Materials

We need to radically cut our consumption of materials and energy by creating materials that are not just renewable but forever reusable.

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