51 Million BTU’s/Metabolism Study/C3H8, e-, NaCl

Video projection for salt crystal screen installation, color, sound, v. I - 00:47:00; v. II - 00: 23:30, 1991-97

Left: Installation study with, multi-video projectors, solar panel system and secondary monitors

Center: Installation, "Constructions of Meaning," University Gallery, Illinois State University, 1991

Right: Equipment Studies: Three Scenarios, 51 Million BTU’s/Metabolism Study/C3H8, e-, NaCl. 1991-97.

51 Million BTU’s/Metabolism Study/C3H8, e-, NaCl
Single channel video / color / sound

51 Million BTU’s/Metabolism Study/C3H8, e-, NaCl, is a video installation engaged with the transformation of energy expended in a group of site-process, kiln/furnace works of the late 1980’s. Using the projection of video on a rock-salt-surfaced screen, 51 Million BTU’s/ Metabolism Study/C3H8, e-, NaCl, visually and metaphorically expatiates upon scientific ideas initiated in the site projects about the ancient solar origin of fossil fuels. These concepts briefly state that Mesozoic-Cenozoic sunlight shining on ancient forests and mats of algae floating on ancient seas was transformed along with atmospheric CO2 by photosynthesis into energy laden organic materials. These materials were later deposited and further transformed by geologic processes into what are now called fossil fuels. The ignition and transformation of fossil fuels in the site projects releases the stored ancient sunlight in the form of radiant energy.

The environmental kiln/furnace works captured on the video are Untitled (Earth Orchid), 1988, Oculus: Dead Sea/Oil Field, 1989 and Humboldt Ship, 1989. These are grouped under the title of “51 Million BTU’s” (British Thermal Unit, is a scientific term for the measurement of energy) which is the total calculated energy expended in the firing of these projects. This series in itself makes an initial exploration through form, image and process of the solar/botanical/geologic origin of fossil fuels and the transformative energy released by their ignition. As an example, Untitled (Earth Orchid) examines botanical form by the ignition of natural gas into radiant energy within the central core of a kiln/furnace shaped to resemble the cross-section of an abstract orchid.


In a prototype version of 51 Million BTU’s/ Metabolism Study/C3H8, e-, NaCl, 1991-1993, a single three-tube video projector was used to project an interwoven sequence of the furnace firings onto the rock salt screen. The salt crystal screen references the generally marine environment in which botanic materials were originally deposited. The crystals also act as prisms to diffract the projected video image breaking down its visual structure. The projected images in this prototype version underwent a partial transformation towards sunlight, still retaining much of their form.

An optimum version of the project employs three, 3-tube video projectors also projecting onto a heavily rock salt encrusted screen and completely powered by contemporary sunlight through the use of solar voltaic panels. The use of three video projectors serves to completely transform the projected image into an intense, undifferentiated light reminiscent of sunlight. Simultaneous sound and image of non-diffracted video is seen on adjacent monitors so the viewer can see the degree of transformation taking place.

The concepts explored in 51 Million BTU’s/ Metabolism Study/C3H8, e-, NaCl have been also examined in an outdoor installation in Pitzer Project: A Prototype System for the Production and Redistribution of Ancient Sunlight, 1996, Pitzer College, Claremont, CA.

John Roloff, 1999